In 1998, Norm Macdonald hosted the ESPYs and did just about everything short of setting the room on fire. It was the last time ESPN even got close to being dangerous, and it was the last time the ESPYs were worth watching.
I've hopelessly searched for this video for years. Then, while doing a random search for Conan O'Brien videos, it appeared: Norm Macdonald's monologue from the 1998 ESPYs.
The video on YouTube was inconspicuously titled "Norm Macdonald @ sports awards 1998", probably for fear of it getting yanked by The Norby Patrol. But now it's here. It's mine. Forever and ever. I remember watching this as it happened, shocked at how much ESPN was letting him get away with. I don't think the full monologue ever ran on any of the re-broadcasts. You can see why.
In 1998 ESPN wasn't the behemoth it is today, but this was still a prime-time event with a roomful of America's most image-conscious athletes, all uncomfortably sitting there through Norm's 9 minute routine. (Honestly, Ken Griffey, Jr. has this "Is anyone going to yank this motherfucker off the stage?" look both times they pan over to him. ) Plus, look at this monologue and compare it to Justin Timberlake's this year. Remember, the one they had to re-edit because Timberlake accidentally said "shucking and jiving?" Given the increased sensitivity over at the WWL, I don't think Norm would have any shot at getting away with the "You should go back to Japan, you dirty foreigner" bit. And, of course, the last joke features an unassuming Charles Woodson, smiling into the camera, completely unaware that he's being set up for that epically ruthless Heisman/O.J line. Not a chance.
I hereby implore any and all future editors of Deadspin to keep this video handy and run it the day after the ESPY awards. I can guarantee you it will be better than anything airing the night before.
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Story originally published April 2, 2009