The NFL on NBC was 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.
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 aired the first-ever televised pro football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and what was then known as the Brooklyn Dodgers. 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 Stadium 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. NBC resumed football telecasts on a regular basis in 1965. With NBC paying the American Football League $36 million in 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 to determine the "world champion of football." 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. 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 not follow a repeat incident, a 1975 NBC broadcast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was preempted until the completion of a Washington Redskins–Raiders game. At NBC, the network installed a new phone in the control room wired to a separate exchange, becoming known as the "Heidi Phone."
Beginning in 1970, NBC aired AFC games until the 1997 season (that is, the season that started in 1997 and ended in 1998). NBC made history in the 1980s with announcerless football (a one-shot experiment credited to Don Ohlmeyer), one-announcer football, and even the first female play-by-play football announcer (which in its own way, set the mold for female sportscasters of today). The television contract for 1990-1993 had each network having one Super Bowl telecast as part of the package. The fourth Super Bowl (XVIII) 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. 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. 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 would lose baseball (to FOX); in June 2002, it lost the NBA (to ABC). However, it has also gained television rights to NASCAR (ending in 2006), Arena Football and the NHL. When new and recent television contracts were negotiated in 2005, ABC exercised its option not to renew their football broadcast rights, thus NBC, by this time in another ratings slump, chose to take advantage of the opportunity by acquiring an affordable 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, all Sunday night regular season games (the rights of which were formerly held by ESPN), two postseason Wild Card games, two Super Bowls (in 2009 and 2012), and two Pro Bowls (also in 2009 and 2012). 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 John Madden is serving as color commentator. Cris Collinsworth, the recently-retired Jerome Bettis, and five-time Pro Bowler Sterling Sharpe are studio analysts and Bob Costas is the studio host. Andrea Kremer will serve as the sideline reporter, and is also contributing to the studio show. Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King will serve as a reporter for the studio show. The halftime show is sponsored by Toyota. 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 has been reported that if the television program Las Vegas is still on the air when NBC televises Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, they may not be allowed to promote the series during the entire block of programming.
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