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ESPN, Williams Jr. part after singer's controversial comments

Monday night might look a little less rowdy from here on out.

ESPN announced Thursday that it had ended its relationship with Hank Williams Jr., whose celebrated "Monday Night Football" introduction song has set the stage for the primetime NFL clash since 1989.

"We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams, Jr.," ESPN said in a statement. "We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue."

The move comes after Williams made controversial comments Monday morning on the Fox News program "Fox & Friends." Talking politics, the country-music star riffed on President Barack Obama's golf game with Speaker of the House John Boehner during this summer's debt-ceiling negotiations, labeling their outing as "one of the biggest political mistakes ever" and invoking Adolf Hitler while making an analogy.

ESPN responded by pulling Williams' intro from Monday night's game between the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Williams issued a statement Monday night insisting his remarks were misunderstood, then apologized Tuesday.

ESPN's announcement Thursday elicited a response from Williams, who claimed on his website that he bid farewell to "Monday Night Football," not vice versa.

"After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision," Williams Jr. said in a statement. "By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It's been a great run."

Williams' song, titled "All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night," is a remixed version of his 1984 hit, "All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight." ESPN no longer will have access to the music or words because Williams owns the publishing rights, the master recordings and the song.

For next Monday's game between the Bears and Lions, ESPN will run before kickoff the preview segment that had been used at the start of the telecast. The intro will be narrated by former Detroit Lions star Barry Sanders.

"This is the format we'll likely use for the remainder of the season," spokesman Josh Krulewitz wrote in an email. "We haven't made any decisions beyond that."

Whether you side with Williams or ESPN, it's somewhat eerie to imagine "Monday Night Football" minus the jingle that has been etched into our collective consciousness over the past 22 years.

Any thoughts on who should replace him? Our Adam Rank had some a few days ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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