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NFL on NBC is the brand given to NBC Sports coverage of National Football League games until 1998, when NBC lost the NFL American Football Conference rights to CBS. NFL coverage returned to NBC on Sunday, August 6, 2006 under the title NBC Sunday Night Football, beginning its pre-season with coverage of the NFL Hall of Fame Game.


Beginnings through the 1950s

The program (which has aired under numerous program titles and formats) actually goes back to the beginnings of NBC's relationship with the NFL in 1939, when they (technically, NBC's flagship station out of New York, which was then known as W2XBS) aired the first-ever televised pro football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the now defunct Brooklyn Dodgers football team.

By 1955, NBC became the televised home to the NFL Championship Game, paying $100,000 to the league. The 1958 NFL Championship Game played at Yankee Stadiummarker between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants went into sudden death overtime. This game, known since as the "Greatest Game Ever Played", was seen by many throughout the country and is credited with increasing the popularity of professional football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

From 1955-1963, NBC televised the NFL Championship Game, the precursor to the Super Bowl. The contract for the title game was separate than the regular season contract held by CBS, who started televising NFL games in 1956. Prior to 1962, each team had their own individual television contract.

NBC also had the rights to the televise Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Colts games in 1960 and 1961. The opposing teams however, were carried by CBS to their regions. NBC covered 11 games in 1960 and 13 games in 1961 in a "Game of the Week" format. NBC would take one week off due to their coverage of the World Series.

NBC also during this period, had the rights to the Pro Bowl (which was also under a separate contract from the NFL's regular season and the NFL Championship Game) via the Los Angelesmarker newspapers' charities. NBC televised the Pro Bowl following the 1951 and 1952 seasons and again from the 1957-1964 seasons.


On April 5, 1961, NBC was awarded a two-year contract for radio and television rights to the NFL Championship Game for $615,000 annually, $300,000 of which was to go directly into the NFL Player Benefit Plan.

NBC resumed football telecasts on a regular basis in 1965. With NBC paying the American Football League $36 million on January 29, 1965 to televise its games, and the increased, heated battle over college prospects, both leagues negotiated a merger agreement on June 8, 1966. Although they would not officially merge into one combined league until 1970, one of the conditions of the agreement was that the winners of each league's championship game would meet in a contest (which would eventually become known as the Super Bowl) to determine the "world champion of football."

On December 13, 1966, the rights to the Super Bowl for four years were sold to CBS and NBC for $9.5 million. The first ever AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played on January 15, 1967. Because CBS held the rights to nationally televise NFL games and NBC had the rights to broadcast AFL games, it was decided to have both of them cover that first game, though only CBS' cameras and technical crew were allowed to work the game with NBC picking up their feed. The next three AFL-NFL World Championship Games, later renamed the Super Bowl, were then divided by the two networks: CBS broadcasted Super Bowls II and IV while NBC covered III.

The Heidi Game

One of the most remembered games on NBC was a 1968 game known as the Heidi Game. With its nationally-televised game between the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets running late, the network began to show the movie Heidi just moments after the Jets' Jim Turner kicked what appeared to be the game-winning field goal with 1:05 remaining. While millions of irate fans, missing the finale, jammed NBC's phone lines, the Raiders scored 2 touchdowns in eight seconds during the final minute to win 43-32.

The reaction to The Heidi Game resulted in the AFL, and most other sports leagues, demanding that networks thereafter televise all games to their conclusion. NFL contracts with the networks now require games to be shown in a team's market area to the conclusion, regardless of the score.

To avoid a repeat incident, a 1975 NBC broadcast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was delayed until the completion of a Washington RedskinsRaiders game.

At NBC, the network installed a new phone in the control room wired to a separate exchange, becoming known as the Heidi Phone, to prevent this situation from occurring in the future.

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Beginning in 1970, NBC aired AFC games until the 1997 season (that is, the season that started in 1997 and ended in 1998).

Curt Gowdy, who covered the first five seasons of the American Football League with broadcast partner Paul Christman on ABC, moved over to NBC in the fall of 1965. For the next decade, Gowdy was the lead play-by-play announcer for the network for both AFL football (AFC from 1970 on) and Major League Baseball, but Gowdy also covered a wide range of sports, earning him the nickname of the "broadcaster of everything." Besides Paul Christman, Curt Gowdy's other football broadcast partners were Kyle Rote, Al DeRogatis, Don Meredith, John Brodie, and Merlin Olsen.

On January 17, 1971, NBC's telecast of Super Bowl V between the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys was viewed in an estimated 23,980,000 homes, the largest audience ever for a one-day sports event. On January 14, 1973, NBC's telecast of Super Bowl VII between the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins was viewed by approximately 75 million people. NBC's telecast of Super Bowl IX between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings was viewed by approximately 78 million people.

On December 16, 1973, NBC cameras were there to cover O. J. Simpson as he rushed for 2,000 yards in one season. On that particular day, Simpson's Buffalo Bills would go on to beat the New York Jets at Shea Stadiummarker.

In 1975, because of NBC's coverage of Game 2 of the World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox, NBC's 1 p.m. NFL telecasts were cancelled. All games except New England at Cincinnati were picked up by local stations in visiting team markets. Meanwhile, at 4 p.m., NBC showed Oakland at Kansas City nationally. As the 1975 World Series progressed, NBC would advertise its upcoming weekend schedule during the breaks. They said,

As it turned out, no baseball was played that Sunday. Three days of rain in New England forced Game 6 to be moved to the following Tuesday, October 21, followed by Game 7 the next night.

On January 9, 1977, 81.9 million people (the largest ever to view a sports event at that point) watched NBC's telecast of Super Bowl XI between the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings.

On October 12, 1977, Commissioner Pete Rozelle negotiated contracts with the three television networks to televise all NFL regular season and postseason games, plus selected preseason games, for four years beginning with the 1978 season. ABC was awarded yearly rights to 16 Monday night games, four prime time games, the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, and the Hall of Fame Games. CBS received the rights to all NFC regular season and postseason games (except those in the ABC package) and to Super Bowls XIV and XVI. NBC received the rights to all AFC regular-season and postseason games (except those in the ABC package) and to Super Bowls XIII and XV. Industry sources considered it the largest single television package ever negotiated.

After the 1975 World Series, Curt Gowdy was removed from NBC's baseball telecasts, when sponsor Chrysler insisted on having Joe Garagiola (who was their spokesman in many commercials) be the lead play-by-play voice. Gowdy continued as NBC's lead NFL announcer through the 1978 season, with his final broadcast being the memorable Super Bowl XIII between Pittsburgh and Dallas. With NBC now anxious to promote Dick Enberg (who anchored NBC's coverage of Super Bowl XIII) to the lead NFL position, Gowdy moved over to CBS to call more football, as well as baseball on radio.

NBC's January 21, 1979 telecast of Super Bowl XIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys was viewed in 35,090,000 homes, by an estimated 96.6 million fans.

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NBC made history in the 1980s with an announcerless telecast (a one-shot experiment credited to Don Ohlmeyer, between the Jets and Dolphins in Miamimarker on December 20, 1980 known as the "silent game"), as well as a single-announcer telecast, coverage of the Canadian Football League during the 1982 players' strike, and even the first female play-by-play football announcer (which in its own way set the mold for female sportscasters of today).

Television ratings in 1980 were the second-best in NFL history, trailing only the combined ratings of the 1976 season. All three networks posted gains, and NBC's 15.0 rating was its best ever. CBS and ABC had their best ratings since 1977, with 15.3 and 20.8 ratings, respectively. In 1981, ABC and CBS set all-time rating highs. ABC finished with a 21.7 rating and CBS with a 17.5 rating. NBC however, was down slightly to 13.9.

In 1982, the NFL signed a five-year contract with the three television networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) to televise all NFL regular season and postseason games starting with the 1982 season.

On March 6, 1985, NBC Radio and the NFL entered into a two year agreement granting NBC the radio rights to a 37-game package in each of the 1985-1986 seasons. The package included 27 regular season games and 10 postseason games. Also in 1985, the NFL showed a ratings increase on all three networks for the season, gaining 4 percent on NBC, 10 on CBS, and 16 on ABC.

On January 26, 1986, the Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX at the Louisiana Superdomemarker. The NBC telecast replaced the final episode of M*A*S*H as the most-viewed television program in history, with an audience of 127 million viewers, according to A.C. Nielsen figures. In addition to drawing a 48.3 rating and a 70 percent share in the United States, Super Bowl XX was televised to 59 foreign countries and beamed via satellite to the QE II. An estimated 300 million Chinese viewed a tape delay of the game in March. NBC Radio figures indicated an audience of 10 million for the game.

In 1987, NBC Radio's broadcast of Super Bowl XXI between the New York Giants and Denver Broncos was heard by a record 10.1 million people. Also in 1987, new three-year TV contracts with ABC, CBS, and NBC were announced for the 1987-1989 seasons at the NFL's annual meeting in Maui, Hawaiimarker on March 15.

During September of the 1988 season, NBC brought in some legendary broadcasters to fill-in for their regular play-by-play men. This was because, much of their key personnel (namely, Dick Enberg, Marv Albert, Don Criqui, Charlie Jones, Tom Hammond as well as NFL Live! commentators Bob Costas, Ahmad Rashad, and Gayle Gardner) were away in Seoul, South Koreamarker for NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympic Games. In the meantime, filling-in were names such as Curt Gowdy, Ray Scott, Chuck Thompson, Merle Harmon and Al DeRogatis. Bob Costas' predecessor, Len Berman filled-in for him at the anchor's desk while Gayle Sierens (who a year earlier, made history by becoming the first female play-by-play announcer in NFL history) was also added to the studio team.

NBC's 1989 telecast of Super Bowl XXIII between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals was watched by an estimated 110,780,000 viewers, according to A.C. Nielsen, making it the sixth most-watched program in television history.

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On March 12, 1990, at the NFL's annual meeting in Orlando, Floridamarker, new four year TV agreements were ratified for the 1990-1993 seasons. The networks that were included were ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and TNT. The contracts totaled $3.6 billion, the largest in TV history. The television contract for 1990-1993 had each network having one Super Bowl telecast as part of the package. The fourth Super Bowl (XXVIII) was up for a separate sealed bid. NBC won the bid, and since they were last in the rotation for Super Bowl coverage in the regular contract, ended up with two straight Super Bowls. CBS is the only other network to televise two Super Bowls (I and II) in a row.

On January 31, 1993, NBC's telecast of Super Bowl XXVII between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills was the most watched program in television history and was seen by 133,400,000 people in the United States. The rating for the game was 45.1, the tenth highest for any televised sports event. The game also was seen live or taped in 101 other countries.

On December 18, 1993, the NFL announced new 4-year television agreements with ABC, ESPN, TNT, and NFL newcomer Fox, which took over the NFC package from CBS. The NFL completed its new TV agreements by announcing that NBC would retain the rights to the AFC package on December 20.

On January 30, 1994, NBC's telecast of Super Bowl XXVIII between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills was viewed by the largest U.S. audience in television history-134.8 million people. The game's 45.5 rating was the highest for a Super Bowl since 1987 and the tenth highest-rated Super Bowl ever.

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NBC loses to CBS

NBC's rebound in their overall ratings in both the 1980s and 1990s (after years in the bottom of the ratings cellar) was attributed in part to its continuing coverage of the NFL. But with television contract re-negotiations in early 1998 ushering in the era of multi-billion dollar broadcasting agreements, an era of pro football broadcasting would soon came to an unceremonious conclusion.

CBS, stung by Fox's surprise bid four years earlier, aggressively sought to reacquire some broadcasting rights. CBS agreed to pay $4 billion over eight years ($500 million per season) to air American Conference games. NBC, meanwhile, had indicated a desire to bid for Monday Night Football rights in 1998, but gave up when the financial stakes skyrocketed.

Prior to the 2006 Hall of Fame Game, NBC's final NFL telecast was on January 25, 1998. It was Super Bowl XXXII between the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers, the network's final broadcast as the 33 year home of the AFL/AFC. In an ironic twist, the Broncos (an original AFL franchise) would go on to win 31-24, which snapped a 13-game losing streak the AFC had against the NFC in the Super Bowl. This would also would eventually lead to the AFC being dominant over the NFC up to this day. NBC earned the third-largest audience in U.S. television history with 133.4 million viewers for their Super Bowl XXXII coverage. And so, after six decades, NBC, the network that helped define pro football on television, lost its rights to air the NFL, thus marking the beginning of a slow decline for the Peacock network's sports division. In September 2000, NBC lost baseball; in June 2002, the NBA.


That decline would be stemmed in 2004. NBC took over the National Hockey League's broadcast rights from ABC. And when the new NFL television contracts were negotiated in 2005, ABC exercised its option not to renew their rights (ABC Sports itself dissolved shortly after losing Monday Night Football). Thus NBC, by this time in another ratings slump, chose to take advantage of the opportunity by acquiring the Sunday night NFL package.

On Sunday, August 6, 2006, NBC resumed airing NFL football with an annual package that includes three preseason games, the Thursday season opener (the rights to which was formerly held by ABC), all Sunday night regular season games (rights formerly held by ESPN), the two Saturday Wild Card playoff games (rights formerly held by ABC), two Super Bowls, in 2009 (XLIII) and 2012 (XLVI), along with both year's Pro Bowls.

Al Michaels, having recently departed from ABC/ESPN after a "trade" between the Disney-owned network and the Peacock network that included the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit going from Universal to Disney, is doing play-by-play on the new NBC telecasts, while Cris Collinsworth is serving as color commentator, assuming that role in 2009 after John Madden retired. Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison serve as studio analysts while Bob Costas, Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick are the studio hosts (Sterling Sharpe was an analyst during the 2006 season and was replaced by Tiki Barber in 2007). Barber became an on-site reporter in 2009. Andrea Kremer serves as the sideline reporter, and also contributes to the studio show. Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King also serves as a feature reporter for the studio show. The halftime show is sponsored by Toyota. In the NFL playoffs from 2006-2008, Tom Hammond called the first wild card game with Cris Collinsworth serving as the color commentator.

The NFL also has a strict policy prohibiting networks to run ads during the Super Bowl from the gambling industry, and has rejected ads from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It had been reported that if the television program Las Vegas was still on the air when NBC televised Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, they likely would not have be allowed to promote the series during the entire block of programming. As Vegas ended during the 2007–2008 television season, this was no longer an issue for NBC.

With an average U.S. audience of 98.7 million viewers, Super Bowl XLIII was the most-watched Super Bowl in history, and the second-most-watched U.S. television program of any kind (trailing only the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983). However, the Nielsen rating of 42.1, was lower than the 43.3 rating for the previous year's game.

On April 16, 2009, it was noted that John Madden had retired from broadcasting. Cris Collinsworth would replace him starting in the 2009 NFL season.

See also

Pregame/Studio programs


See also


  2. CFL on NBC
  3. CFL on NBC in 1982
  4. - NFL may ban 'Vegas' promos during games

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