ESPN is bringing Hank Williams Jr. -- and all his rowdy friends -- back into the Monday Night Football fold, six years after the sports network parted ways with the brash country rocker following controversial remarks involving then-President Barack Obama.
Williams' new version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night," with his trademark opening: "Are you ready for some football?" will debut before a Sept. 11 game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings.
“I think it’s a return to our past in that it’s such an iconic song associated with football,” said Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior vice president of events and studio production.
“It was the original," Druley told The USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee. "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.”
The music video, which will air during ESPN’s Monday Night Football each game week of the 2017 NFL season, was filmed in Nashville Sunday and includes two additional contemporary music artists to freshen the song's presentation. The new acts will be named later this week and each artist will be featured in every Monday Night Football opening, the song lyrics being changed each game to reflect the competing football teams.
For Williams, returning to ESPN is an unexpected homecoming.
“I never said, ‘Are you ready for some football’ on stage one time the last five or six years, but I will now,” said the singer, seated in his dressing room during a break in filming the commercial. “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.’”
Williams first performed the song, based on his hit “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” during the 20th anniversary season of Monday Night Football in 1989.
ESPN dropped Williams from the program in 2011, following remarks Williams made after a golf outing between Obama and then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Williams described the outing, famously dubbed "the golf summit" as "one of the biggest political mistakes ever."
As Williams then put it on Fox News' Fox & Friends: "It would be like Hitler playing golf with (Israeli leader) Benjamin Netanyahu." When asked on Fox to explain his analogy, Williams said Obama and Vice President Biden are "the enemy."
Williams later responded to criticism over the remarks, saying he was "simply trying to show how stupid it seemed to me -- how ludicrous that pairing was."
Druley said she was not concerned about backlash over bringing Williams back.
"I'm sure there'll be some, but I'm not concerned. It was the right time. We discussed it internally and it was just the right time to bring him back."
ESPN's move to renew its relationship with Williams comes amid a tumultuous period at the network.
Several high-profile on-air personalities, including Trent Dilfer, Jayson Stark and Ed Werder were among those laid off from the network in a round of April cuts that reportedly numbered nearly 100.
Bringing back Williams may be one way that the network is trying to get back its mojo as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports."
"In listening to the recent cuts that I’ve gotten, it’s phenomenal," Druley said of the new version of the song. "It just immediately gets you psyched for the game you’re going to watch and for football fans, that’s a big deal. I think people will be really, really excited about it."
Williams said he wanted to come back for the fans.
“I hope there will be some happy people on Monday night again,” said the singer. “It feels natural, fulfilling and satisfying at this point when you’ve kind of done it all.”
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CindyNWatts.
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