Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Bengals light up stadium Monday

ABC brings 'MNF' to Cincinnati after a 15-year absence

By Kevin Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

Three days from now - well before Hank Williams Jr. harmonizes his rhetorical question to a football-mad network audience - Paul Brown Stadium will be abuzz.

"Monday Night Football" is returning to Cincinnati after a 15-year absence, and there is work to do. The weekly undertaking, in its 35th season on ABC, is a production in every sense for the network and the participants.

"It's what every team wants," Bengals business manager Bill Connelly said. "You want these broadcasts. And you want to make them go as smoothly for all parties as can be."

ABC's caravan of employees and equipment trucks starts arriving Saturday morning at Paul Brown Stadium.

It's then that the 170-person workforce - some are temporary local hires - begins on-site preparations for the 9 p.m. game between the Bengals and Broncos.

Announcers Al Michaels and John Madden (traveling in his Madden Cruiser) in addition to sideline reporter Michele Tafoya also get into town Saturday.

"I compare (our production) to a football team or a coach organizing 53 players, 25 coaches and the entire organization to put on their best performance every week," said Fred Gaudelli, who is in his fourth season as "Monday Night Football" producer.

"That means everybody has to be on the same page. You have to have a very definitive plan. You have to have a lot of talented, dedicated people."

Added Gaudelli: "And they all have to come together for three hours on Monday."

The physical labor of interconnecting six communications trucks, setting up 19 cameras, a slew of microphones and other technical gizmos like the virtual first-down marker starts this weekend.

But the preparations have been going on for months.

The NFL opens discussions with its partner networks regarding the upcoming season's broadcast schedule each January. The schedule is finalized and released in early April.

A handful of "Monday Night Football" personnel visited Bengals officials in May to familiarize themselves with Paul Brown Stadium.

"It's such a physically larger production than a regular game in terms of equipment and people," said Jack Brennan, Bengals public relations director. "When we had people here in for site surveys and meetings, we talked about everything from camera angles to where all the trucks are going to park to credentials."

Of course, this event also affects the Bengals and Broncos themselves.

The Bengals' weekly practice and media schedule has been modified to accommodate the Monday game. Among the schedule changes is a night practice Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.

"It also affects the hotel before a night game," Connelly said. "We'll check in Sunday night as opposed to a typical Saturday night check-in. So we'll have our team meetings Sunday night and meetings on Monday."

Selected players and coaches will meet with ABC's on-air talent and producers for production meetings before Saturday's practice.

Coach Marvin Lewis will participate in an extended production meeting Sunday.

"You're really just trying to gather information," Gaudelli said. "With the Bengals, to be honest, it's going to be a lot of educating us."

"Monday Night Football" remains television's longest running and most successful primetime sports series.

Yet the Bengals have been but a bit player during the construction of this American institution.

It has been a dozen years since they last appeared on a "Monday Night Football" broadcast, and 15 since they hosted a Monday night game. They have a 7-16 record in Monday night games.

" 'Monday Night Football' just comes with a lot of national notoriety," Gaudelli said. "When you come into town, or come to the stadium for a Monday night game, there's a different feeling than there is for any other game of the season. There's a buzz."

That buzz begins Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.

"If you're a Cincinnatian, it will be a proud night for you," Gaudelli said. "Your city will be front and center on prime time."

BENGALS: Tight end Ronnie Ghent, a rookie from Louisville, was signed to the practice squad.

Ghent (6 feet 2, 253 pounds) opened 2004 training camp as a free agent signee with Philadelphia. He had two receptions for 19 yards in preseason for the Eagles and was released Aug. 31.


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