Hank Williams Jr. is ready for some football. So is the entire ESPN entourage – pregame/postgame pontificators Chris Berman, Steve Young, Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson; and in-game personalities Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser, Michele Tafoya and Andrea Kramer.
For the first time in five years, the Vikings are hosting the entire nation for a Monday Night Football party at the Metrodome when they square off with the New England Patriots at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
The Vikings opened the season by playing ESPN's inaugural Monday Night Football game when they beat the Redskins in Washington in the season opener. But they haven't hosted a Monday night game since 2001, when they lost to the New York Giants. Most of the current Vikings weren't on the team then, so in essence this is their Monday Night Football inaugural ball at the Metrodome.
"It's a nationally televised game. We have everyone in the country watching. It's the only game in town. It's the center stage," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said.
Yet in the very next breath Williams conceded that he hopes to approach it like any other game.
"You're the only one playing that day, but you still put your pants on the same way you do every other week," Williams said. "It's like any other regular season game."
Receiver Billy McMullen played in a few Monday night games with the Philadelphia Eagles. Like Williams, McMullen admitted that the game is accompanied by additional hype and hoopla even though he tries to approach it the same as a regular game.
"It's another game, but it's also not another game," McMullen said. "You have more juice coming in because it's the only game going. It's worldwide – you try to put your best foot forward and win in front of your peers."
It also is an opportunity to showcase individual talents.
"You try to go out and prove that whatever position you're playing, you're the best player in what you do," McMullen said. "That's a big stage and a big opportunity."
Head coach Brad Childress takes a more analytical approach to playing on Monday night. From his perspective, the Vikings win for two reasons. First, they are playing at home so after the game it isn't a major adjustment to move right into next week's schedule. No plane to board equals time saved. Secondly, the Vikings have already played on a Monday night this year so the first-time jitters should be gone.
"It's special because we don't have to get on a plane afterwards and fly back and get back that late," Childress said. "The whole preseason you play night games, so you're familiar with that. Obviously, that forum was a big forum the first week in Washington, so they've been exposed to that."
That said, his players are human. After all, as Hank likes to say, all his rowdy friends are coming home for Monday night.
"You just have to make sure you don't get out of body," Childress said. "Our players love it from the standpoint, all players love it because their peers are watching and they want to put their best foot forward."
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