40 years ago tonight, Monday Night Football broke the news of John Lennon’s murder

USA TODAY Sports

The world has changed dramatically in the last 40 years. (Hell, it has changed dramatically in the last four years. And in the last four months.)

On the evening on December 8, 1980, few vehicles other than word of mouth spoken into wall-mounted telephones existed to spread news quickly. That night, Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon outside Lennon’s New York City apartment building.

The announcement came courtesy of Howard Cosell of Monday Night Football. Here’s a great behind-the-scenes look at the decision-making process that resulted in Cosell breaking the news.

“Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said that night. “An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead …on …arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which in duty bound, we have to take.”

The game had three seconds left in regulation, with the Patriots and Dolphins tied at 13. New England kicker John Smith trotting out to the field to prepare for a game-winning field-goal attempt provided the background for Cosell’s narration. Miami blocked Smith’s kick, and the Dolphins won on a first-possession field goal in overtime, 16-13.

“The press was talking about two things [after the game],” Smith told ESPN.com in 2010, “the fact that we’d lost the game and we had a lead in the fourth quarter, and then it changed to John Lennon. It put things in perspective.”

It put things in perspective for the millions who learned of Lennon’s murder while watching the game. And it sparked several days of shock and disbelief throughout the nation and beyond.

The Beatles became a worldwide phenomenon in the early 1960s, a prolific, groundbreaking, and charismatic quartet who revolutionized popular music. It’s strange to think that this will be news to some who read these words.

18 responses to “40 years ago tonight, Monday Night Football broke the news of John Lennon’s murder

  1. I remember it well. Was at a Christmas party when the news broke. Even my Dad, who was at the party and not a big fan of the Beatles was upset by the news.

  2. I was a senior in high school, half watching the game while I was working on a paper for my English class. It was the start of a violent 10-month period; it’s easy to forget now, but in the coming months Reagan and John Paul II would survive assassins, while Anwar Sadat did not.

  3. “Hell, it has changed dramatically in the last four years. And in the last four months.”
    _________
    Outside of COVID, what’s changed in the past four years in the real world besides incessant media whining and bashing? Things were fine until year when obviously the pandemic hit. But I noticed no changes in my actual life between the last two presidencies. Probably because I avoid MSM and social media.

  4. A crazy night … I had been humming Beatles songs all day but cried when I heard the news … I have also heard rumors over the years that Yoko Ono may have known Mark David Chapman before the killing.

  5. I remember this like it was yesterday, sitting there watching this with my dad. I still am not nor will I ever be over losing John Lennon.

  6. John Lennon dies young. John Denver, Buddy Holly. Paul Davis, Jim Croce all die before their time. George W. Bush still lives. Bill Clinton still lives. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld still live. What the hell?

  7. They were giants in Rock n Roll. Unlike Elvis who just stole from others they wrote their own music and gave credit to those that influenced them.

  8. I was 7. My parent’s weren’t bug Beatles fans but I knew most of their popular songs. I was also a Dolphins fan who grew up in Massachusetts. I remember this game well. That’s how big the Beatles were, even a decade after their breakup, because almost everyone was devastated, even if they weren’t fans. Also, John Smith taught me how to kick footballs at a soccer camp I went to and met him, around 1980. It makes sense the press would go to him after the game, since he was English…

  9. williamshatnerstoupee says:
    December 8, 2020 at 2:15 pm
    Does anyone who posts here even know who John Lennon is?

    —————

    I remember it. I was 8.

  10. I remember it well, but I was much more concerned with the last second field goal that was blocked and the Pats went on to lose in OT.
    FYI, The Beatles were the most overrated group out of the UK, the Stones were so much better.

  11. I remember that night well. I was 26 and living in Chicago at the time. Always watched Monday Night Football with Cosell, Frank Gifford and Dandy Don Meredith. Cosell could be a pompous PITA, but he handled the shock and pain of that news so well.

    There had been so much violence in the 1970s, what with hundreds of bombings across the country, the SLA, assassinations, you name it. That night it felt like the murder of John Lennon captured the senselessness of it all.

  12. I remember that as well. I also remember the NCAA basketball championship (UNC vs. IU) was played on that same night and they chose to show the game while the other networks (there were only three back then) chose to continue to cover the Reagan story.

    I was never a big fan of the Beatles or Lennon although Imagine is one of my favorites songs. I just love the piano in it although many people believe the song is terrible. It was definitely a loss for the music world.

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