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ESPN Sunday Night Football was the ESPN cable network's weekly television broadcasts of Sunday evening National Football League (NFL) games. The first ESPN Sunday night broadcast occurred on November 8, 1987, while the last one aired on January 1, 2006.

Former NFL Commissioner (1989-2005) Paul Tagliabue credits ESPN with raising the "profile" of the league, from turning "a potential six- or seven-hour television experience into a twelve-hour television experience."


ESPN broadcast Sunday night games from the second half of the NFL season to the end from 19871997 (TNT broadcast the first half from 1990 to 1997). During Sunday Night Football's first season in 1987, the announcing booth had Mike Patrick, Roy Firestone, and a weekly "guest color commentator." Joe Theismann took over as lead analyst beginning in 1988.

During the first season, any game that involved either the New York Giants or New York Jets, had WABCmarker (the American Broadcasting Company's flagship station out of New York Citymarker) produce a completely separate telecast from ESPN's (rather than an over-the-air station simply simulcasting ESPN's broadcast in the competing teams' home markets). The reason behind this was that WABC's union contract at the time prohibited non-union workers, such as those at ESPN, from producing live events for WABC. The WABC broadcasts involved play-by-play man Corey McPherrin and Frank Gifford and Lynn Swann on color commentary.

Beginning in 1998, ESPN broadcast the entire slate of Sunday night games, and had exclusive rights to any night game other than the season opener and regular Monday night games, which aired on ABC. Thus, ESPN would usually have a few weekends each season with games on both Saturday (sometimes Thursday instead) and Sunday nights.

In 2002, ESPN's SNF crew covered the new Thursday, opening night kickoff game.

Patrick, Theismann, and (from 1998 on) Paul Maguire were in the announcing booth, and Suzy Kolber reported from the sidelines. In 2004, Pat Summerall replaced Patrick for the preseason and for several regular season weeks following Patrick's recovery from open-heart surgery.

After the 2005 season, ESPN ended this package in favor of Monday Night Football. The Sunday-night time slot now hosts various sporting events under the name Sunday Showdown. Sunday night NFL games are now broadcast by NBC.

Significant games

Joe Namath incident

During a game between the New England Patriots at New York Jets on December 20, 2003, former Jets quarterback Joe Namath in a sideline interview with Suzy Kolber twice stated, in a nationally televised sideline interview that he wanted to kiss her, and "couldn't care less about the team strugg-a-ling." Namath later apologized and blamed the incident on his obvious intoxication. Soon after, Namath entered an outpatient alcoholism treatment program. Namath chronicled the episode, including his battle with alcoholism in his book, Namath (ISBN 0-67003-329-4).


Guest commentators (1987 only)



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