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New Monday Night Football open debuts tonight with something for everyone

Michael “Spike” Szykowny
Michael “Spike” Szykowny (Bill Hofheimer/ESPN)

Senior Director of Motion Graphics Michael “Spike” Szykowny manages the group that builds graphics which run across all parts of the ESPN networks.

And while fans likely don’t know anything about him, his team’s work can be seen on ESPN’s presentation of college football, Major League Baseball, X Games and, most notably, Monday Night Football.

After helping to develop the on-screen graphics, new shield logo and other enhancements for the series in recent years, Szykowny played a key role this offseason in creating a new MNF show open.

The collaboration with filmmaker Peter Berg and Hollywood trailers house Ignition Creative debuts tonight — at 6:58 p.m. ET, before the Philadelphia Eagles-Washington Redskins opening game. Szykowny spoke with Front Row about the project.

Michael “Spike” Szykowny with Peter Berg. (Bill Hofheimer/ESPN)
Michael “Spike” Szykowny with Peter Berg.
(Bill Hofheimer/ESPN)

How was the experience of working with Peter Berg?
It was awesome. Peter is a great guy — real down to earth, has great vision, but he’s also open to suggestions. He looked at the project as a collaboration. He respected what we knew about doing this and we obviously respected him. That’s what makes this really unique because everyone was able to contribute. The company, Ignition Creative, that we worked with normally does movie trailers and, obviously, Peter makes movies. So, there was a little bit of a learning curve for everyone. They were playing in our world but we were also playing in theirs.

How did you go about securing all the football and pop culture images?
Each image has its own unique story. There were some artists you wouldn’t think would have given us permission so fast, but they did. There were others that we thought would be easy to get for the piece, and some of those took the longest for us to get. As we got one image committed, it sometimes changed how you would approach the next image, in terms of balancing each decade and making sure each was represented. On top of that, everyone on the project had their own idea of the images we should use, so that was a process in itself.

What feedback did you get along the way?
We worked closely with Lucasfilm to get Star Wars and Indiana Jones images. Some of their directors saw the piece and they were very complimentary. At Pixar, [Chief Creative Office] John Lasseter likes to see everything that involves Toy Story, and he was complimentary as well of the piece and how we used the characters Woody and Buzz. A lot of people said they wanted to be in it right away, like Tom Cruise, Shaun White and the folks from PAC-MAN®, so it was really an interesting process.

The response the piece has gotten is exactly what we hoped for. Everybody who has watched it thinks it’s cool and interesting and then they have questions like, ‘why didn’t you use this person?’ It’s very impactful and it raises debate about why things were or were not included.

What do you want fans to take away from the new open?
Peter said it best – that we all grew up watching football and staying up late for Monday Night Football. If it can connect people back – if a kid today is watching with a parent or a grandparent and says, “Who is that at the beginning,’ whether it’s Howard Cosell or a player like Earl Campbell or Bo Jackson, that’s the kind of connection we hope this piece will bring. Football is such a great game and MNF, specifically, is such an American institution, so those are the kinds of conversations we hope it really evokes.

I’ve been working on MNF for a while now. You are working on something that is etched in everybody’s mind. Even though it seems there’s football everywhere on multiple nights of the week, it has a thread of history of something great that started a long time ago and has continued to be great through the years. Having the chance to work on this means a great deal. As a kid I used to stay up late and watch MNF with my dad and now I get to work on the series and build the open of MNF. How cool is that?

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