In removing Williams and his song immediately from the broadcast, ESPN said in a statement at the time that it was “extremely disappointed” in his comments. But times change and, with apologies to Carrie Underwood and “Sunday Night Football,” no song has been as iconic or instantly identifiable for the league. Now, a reboot will debut before the Sept. 11 “MNF” regular-season opener between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings.
“I never said, ‘Are you ready for some football’ on stage one time the last five or six years, but I will now,” Williams told the Tennessean, which reported the news on Sunday. ESPN confirmed the report for The Post. “I’m feeling at home and it’s a real good thing … It’s kind of like the Nashville Predators playing for the Stanley Cup, it’s like ‘Wow.’”
The video was filmed Sunday in Nashville and will put two contemporary artists to be named later in the week along with Williams, 68, to freshen the song. As in the past, the lyrics to the song, which was based on his hit “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” and first performed during the 20th anniversary season of “MNF” in 1989, will be tailored to each week’s teams.
“I think it’s a return to our past in that it’s such an iconic song associated with football,” Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior vice president of events and studio production, told The Tennessean. “It was the original. It belongs to ‘Monday Night Football.’ It really is about returning to what fans know. It’s a Monday night party and that’s what we’re all hoping to get back to.”
In 2011, both Williams and ESPN claimed they decided to pull the song, which Williams wrote and owns publishing rights for, from the show and Williams apologized, writing on his website: “I have always been very passionate about Politics and Sports and this time it got the Best or Worst of me. The thought of the Leaders of both Parties Jukin and High Fiven on a Golf course, while so many Families are Struggling to get by simply made me Boil over and make a Dumb statement and I am very Sorry if it Offended anyone. I would like to Thank all my supporters. This was Not written by some Publicist.”
The bottom line is that the parting was instantly controversial and “MNF” could use the ratings boost now. “I’m sure there’ll be some [backlash], but I’m not concerned,” Druley said. “It was the right time. We discussed it internally and it was just the right time to bring him back.”
Maybe it is the right time. In 2011, Williams, who has mulled running for office at times, explained his thinking in terms that, in retrospect, seem prophetic.
“Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood. My analogy was extreme — but it was to make a point. I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me — how ludicrous that pairing is. They’re polar opposites and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will. I have always respected the office of the president.
“Every time the media brings up the Tea Party it’s painted as racist and extremists — but there’s never a backlash — no outrage to those comparisons. …Working-class people are hurting — and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job — it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change.”