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Amped Up For "Monday Night Football"

There are more options now, but appearance on a Monday night still holds meaning


The Cardinals will host the 49ers on "Monday Night Football," the fifth straight time the division rival has been the Cardinals' opponent for ESPN's primetime event.

LaRod Stephens-Howling started to get excited.

His smile grew and his voice rose.

He was thinking about all the late nights he stayed up watching "Monday Night Football" at his childhood home in Johnstown, Pa. He was !thinking about all the Tuesdays he went to school and talked with his friends about who won and lost.

"That's one of the biggest things, dreaming that one day you're going to be on that screen," Stephens-Howling said.

Part of that dream was to be a starting running back on "Monday Night Football" and introducing himself and his school – "LaRod Stephens-Howling, Pittsburgh" – to a national audience.

Well, only half of his childhood dreams will come true Monday night.

He'll be the Cardinals' starting running back when the San Francisco 49ers come to University of Phoenix Stadium next Monday. But when ESPN inherited the package seven seasons ago, the network stopped doing the player introductions.

When Stephens-Howling found out, all he could do was smile.

Introductions or not, the Cardinals are ready for some football.

With the addition of "Thursday Night Football" on NFL Network and the increased popularity of "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, Monday Night Football has become only one of many options for fans to quench their never-ending thirst for football. It used to be the apex of the NFL week, but the days of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, or even Al Michaels and John Madden, are gone.

But, as the saying goes, the best is still saved for last. Throughout the Cardinals' locker room, players said "Monday Night Football" still holds the same prestige as it used to.

"The build-up is pretty high and you have some pretty good announcers," linebacker O'Brien Schofield said. "Everyone's excited to see the main game, the nation's watching. It's one of those things a lot of teams gear up for and take pride (in) because you want to look good when you're in front of all the NFL teams."

The Cardinals have played on Monday night as a franchise 21 times. Despite losing eight of their last nine on Mondays, the Cardinals have been part of some memorable Monday night games.

The Cardinals' penchant for late-game nail biters didn't just spring up in the last couple seasons.

Their last MNF win came in 2008, when the Cardinals stuffed the 49ers at the goalline in the closing moments, en route to a 29-24 win. Quarterback Kurt Warner had 328 passing yards, 124 of which went to Steve Breaston.

There was the 2007 game, when the 49ers – the Cardinals' opponent in five of their last six Monday night games – won in San Francisco on a touchdown with 26 seconds left, and the infamous Monday Night Meltdown in 2006 at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Bears.

!Monday night is also woven into Cardinals' history. Their first home game in Arizona as the Phoenix Cardinals was against the Dallas Cowboys in 1988 on Monday. As the St. Louis Cardinals, they played in the only overtime tie in "Monday Night Football" history, 20-20 against the New York Giants in 1983. In 1970, the Cardinals appeared during the show's first season.

"It was always good because you would get home from school and you would get to watch it," said center Lyle Sendlein, who grew up in Scottsdale and benefitted from MNF games starting at 5 p.m. in the West. "It wasn't like we had to wait long to watch, like back East. I just remember watching it with my dad and my siblings. It was something as a family we always watched."

Punter Dave Zastudil, who has played in five Monday night games, said teams use MNF to show their counterparts throughout the league what they're "capable" of.

The Cardinals know everyone will be watching Monday. Not just the fans, not just their families, but the entire league.

That adds to the Monday night aura.

"You can't say people try harder but there's just a different feel about playing a Monday night game," Sendlein said. "It's like a playoff game. It's always intense and I don't know if that's because everyone's watching or just because it's a night game and you're waiting around thinking about it all day and you want to go out and hit somebody.

"You're the only game on and everyone's watching you. It definitely still has that mystique about it."

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