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Monday, November 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hark, what's that trumpet flare? It's football time!

Seattle Times staff reporter

Why mess with a cultural icon?

Certainly ESPN, which took over "Monday Night Football" from ABC this season, didn't ponder the notion for very long. Sure, it decided to change the folks in front of — and behind — the cameras. And speaking of cameras, "MNF" viewers (tuning in tonight, when the Seahawks take on the Packers) are now afforded oodles of angles from some 28 hi-definition cameras including the especially-groovy Skycam.

But that "MNF" theme music — the anthem of football fans everywhere — has remained. Revamped, to be sure. But the melody and the phrasing are still true to what Johnny Pearson, a British pianist, composed. APM Music released the song in 1974.

Monday Night Football's "Heavy Action"

Courtesy of APM Music

Hear it now. Duhn dunh dunh duhn. The horns, the drums, the middle section with that unmistakable '70s vibe and that one part that sounds a little like "The People's Court." Pearson's "Heavy Action" song was initially the jingle of a British TV series that pitted athletes from different sports against one another. Then ABC came calling, forever branding the "Monday Night Football" song into our collective psyches — and later, into our cellphones as a ring tone.

When ESPN acquired the football broadcast for the next eight years, the network maintained continuity by keeping the "Heavy Action" song.

But the song needed a 2006 makeover, ESPN figured. And so APM, the tune's producers, turned to — who else? — the people who write music for video games.

There are now three versions of the song, an orchestral rendering and two rock ones. They all start the same way — which is what you hear at the beginning of every "MNF" broadcast. Each version is also used in edited form throughout each show.

On TV

"Monday Night Football," 5:30 tonight on ESPN and KSTW-TV (Channel 11).

"I tried to make it sound more like a film score," says Cris Velasco. Those trumpets. Those drums. Its singular sound delivered by the 60-member orchestra: testosterone.

"We just wanted to make it huge," he says. "We wanted it to be so big that if you were just listening to this the music would be able to knock you out of your chair."

And now, local football fans, this bit of trivia: The new "Heavy Action" was recorded here in Shoreline in June. No reports of any orchestra member donning a Seahawks jersey. But there was prestige all around.

The performers constitute the Northwest Sinfonia, which recorded the Academy Award-winning "Brokeback Mountain" soundtrack. And the London Bridge recording studio is the one that vaulted the music of Seattle's grunge sound: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains.

Now studio owners boast about their connection to this other piece of Americana.

Says co-owner Geoff Ott: "It's like having a gold record."

Adds Rob Beaton, who mixed the music: "This is as close, for me, to actually playing in the NFL."

NFL Films soundtracks

Composed and orchestrated by David Robidoux, NFL Films Original Music c)2004 NFL Productions, LLC. Cherry River Music (BMI)

Sports music, undeniably, does something to us. (Think: the Olympics' theme; an NFL Films soundtrack; that ditty when the NBA used to be on NBC. For this latter score we thank you, John Tesh).

When the "MNF" theme drills forth from the TV, it's Pavlovian. Grab the beer. Primp up the snacks. Loosen up the sweatpants and settle into the recliner (or the couch if your husband has already claimed that seat).

"From the first three notes you just know: It's time to sit down and watch the game. And you know the city's together watching," Tacoma viewer JD Richards says. "Even if you're at home you can feel the energy from everybody else. It's football fellowship, so to speak."

"It just gets people going," chimes in Chris Johnson, of Renton. The theme music struts on and the stage is set: Miller Lite, bratwurst, Shaun Alexander jersey and a ginormous TV.

For people of a certain age — those of us old enough to remember the seminal Howard Cosell, for example — the "MNF" theme song also whisks us back to our childhoods. Even if we didn't like the song (which, apparently, we all do), we like all that the song evokes.

It sends us back.

To being a kid and watching the games with his pop, Johnson, now 35, says. To being a kid and hurrying up with schoolwork so he could sit with his brothers, reminisces Claude Mitchell. Glory be if his beloved New York Giants were playing. Life orbited around the family TV.

Mitchell is now ESPN's music director, an increasingly busy job since the network several years ago mandated making music a more prominent production feature. He would have been the one to vilify if the music hadn't migrated.

Instead, we keep hearing our cue.

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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