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Nevius: Just like the old days, 'Monday Night Football' a big deal for 49ers

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Back in the day, Monday Night Football was like the circus came to town. Dandy Don Meredith, ever-vanilla Frank Gifford and the most hated man in America, Howard Cosell, would have the host city buzzing.

They were a cultural phenomenon. Cosell was so wildly unpopular that a Denver bar set up a TV target so a patron could throw a brick through the screen the moment Howard’s face appeared.

And yes, for all of you saying “OK, Boomer,” that was a long, long time ago. And those announcers have long since passed away.

But it is worth noting that Monday Night Football has been remarkably durable. In all of 2018 — and for the first eight games of this year — MNF was the most-watched cable TV show in America.

In a year when the World Series drew some of the lowest ratings ever, last Monday night’s Cowboys-Giants game was watched by some 14 million viewers.

So, even without the winning records, Monday's 49ers-Seahawks game would be a big deal.

And don’t think the Seattle and San Francisco players are treating it like a check mark on the schedule. As Kyle Shanahan said last week, “It’s the one time all your peers really get to watch you.”

That’s not to be underestimated. Professional football players are members of a small fraternity. They are acutely aware that the entire NFL is watching and evaluating. Who knows if some GM or coach spots you on a Monday night and then adds you to his roster the next year?

It is also a name-check for two teams on the Left Coast, which doesn’t get much attention back east because nothing important has ever happened west of Chicago.

Unfortunately, with heightened attention comes a propensity for nitpicking. Say, for example, you are the only 8-0 team in paycheck football and are headed to an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it Monday Night Football game with Seattle. You might be caught unaware by the extra scrutiny.

And so we find quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo going viral after a postgame interview with Erin Andrews on Halloween. It was described on one website as “Jimmy G awkwardly flirts with Erin Andrews.” (Programming tip: if you can get “Jimmy G” and “flirts” in the same headline, you have found click-count gold.)

Garoppolo, asked by Andrews how he felt, replied, “8-0. Feels great baby.”

Andrews, perhaps surprised to get a spontaneous response from the typically buttoned- downed Garoppolo, paused a moment and then laughed uproariously.

But there were those who took offense, so that had to be cleaned up. First, in an “I am Spartacus” moment, Joe Staley tweeted, “8-0!! Feels great baby.” Which Andrews retweeted with multiple handclap emojis.

And then Garoppolo was asked about in his press conference. He gave it a Chicago shrug.

“I was excited,” he said. “Eight and 0, baby. I say ‘baby’ like 500 times throughout a game, just to my teammates and stuff.”

To which Andrews said in a tweet, “Exactly.”

So, if Andrews isn’t offended and Garoppolo says he never intended to flirt with the married announcer, exactly what is the problem? The 49ers even say they checked in with Andrews, who said what we didn’t see was her answering with something like, “OK, baby.”

So whew. Crisis averted. And yet, the media just won’t stop with the inane angles. Once a team is hot, every little thing gets picked apart.

Last week, one reporter, obviously desperate for a fresh angle (OK, it was me) asked Shanahan about his wardrobe.

There actually was a point. Last year it seemed he wore a different outfit on the sideline every game. This year he’s been exclusively in a white jacket. Is there any superstition involved?

Shanahan, of course, said it was nothing like that. Because, as we know, the one thing that ruins a lucky superstition is talking about it.

“I guarantee I wore it in the preseason and we lost a preseason game,” he said. “So we have lost in it.”

So he IS keeping track.

“But now,” another reporter asked, “are you going to wear white every game the rest of the season?”

“I think about that right when I get to the locker room,’’ he said. “Not a lot of thought into it right now. I’m glad you guys are thinking about it.”

Which was a nice touch. A little wink to say we all know what’s going on here. And who knows, maybe he enjoys some offbeat questions from time to time.

But now I’m wondering about Monday night. Does he wear white because as he said last week, “we’ll stick with what works?” Or does he break out something different to show that it is no big deal?

And obviously, a piece of fabric isn’t going to make any difference in how the game turns out. Just like the lucky cap I wore to every single one of my kids’ swim meets was completely meaningless.

It’s silly really. He can wear white or not. Entirely his choice.

Still, I wouldn’t risk it. Not on Monday Night Football.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@gmail.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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