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Thursday Night Football
Thursdaygames 118x100-1-.gif
Genre Sports
Starring Bob Papa
Matt Millen
Rich Eisen
Marshall Faulk
Deion Sanders
Steve Mariucci
Country of origin United States
Running time 180 minutes+
Original channel NFL Network
Original run November 23, 2006 (2006-11-23) – present

Thursday Night Football is the brand name used by NFL Network for its schedule of live regular season telecasts of National Football League games on Thursday, Saturday and (rarely) Friday nights.

The eight-game package debuted on November 23, 2006, with the Kansas City Chiefs handing the visiting Denver Broncos a 19–10 Thanksgiving defeat. Most games kick off at 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time (ET). Five games aired on Thursday nights, the other three on Saturday nights. Each game would be called either Thursday Night Football or Saturday Night Football, depending on the night on which it appears; the package as a whole was known as the Run to the Playoffs. This format carried over to the 2007 season. However, starting in 2008, NFL Network eliminated all but one of the Saturday night games as well as starting their Thursday night package three weeks earlier. This was to accommodate the earlier schedule and the league's antitrust exemption, which prohibits Saturday games during college football season. In the 2009 season, all references to "Saturday Night Football" were dropped and any games not played on Thursday were referred to as Thursday Night Football Special Edition.

The game package is highly controversial mainly due to the relative unavailability of NFL Network compared to other cable stations such as ESPN or over-the-air affiliates. In most markets NFL Network is only available through premium tier packages, with war of words frequently being exchanged between the NFL and cable companies to get the channel moved to basic cable. Due to anti-trust regulations the NFL is contractually obligated to offer the broadcast to a local over-the-air station. Therefore the away team and (assuming a sellout) the home team markets will see the game regardless of cable availability of the channel. This stipulation also applies to ESPN broadcasts of Monday Night Football.

The controversy hit a new high in 2007. First the match up between the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys and 10-1 Green Bay Packers drew large attention to the issue, the fact that such a high profile matchup would be unavailable to a majority of the country was seen as unacceptable to fans. This controversy was surpassed when NBC and CBS both bought the broadcast rights from the NFL Network to air the New England Patriots' season finale, as they were 15–0 and vying to be the first team to finish the regular season with a perfect 16–0 record. The game was the first ever three-network simulcast in NFL history, and first simulcast since NBC and CBS both aired Super Bowl I in 1967.[1]



The NFL Network's coverage was not the first time games were covered on Thursday or Saturday. Prior to the new contract, ESPN carried a handful of sporadic Thursday night games (usually those displaced from Sunday night) and the broadcast networks used to air several national games on Saturday afternoons (a practice which has since been discontinued). Incidentally, the only reason the league is even allowed to televise football games on Saturday night stems from a legal loophole: the league's antitrust exemption, Public Law 89-800, was written when the NFL regular season ended in mid-December, and as such, it contains specific language that prohibits televising NFL games in most markets on Friday nights and all day on Saturdays between the second week of September and the second week of December, to protect high school and college football. Since most high school and college seasons have ended by mid-December, other than a smattering of state championships and bowl games, there has been little desire to close this loophole, even though the regular season has expanded well beyond mid-December since the law's passage.

In 2005, when the NFL negotiated a new set of television contracts, Comcast-owned OLN (now Versus) offered to pay $450 million for an eight-year contract to carry NFL games in prime time. In exchange, Comcast planned to add NFL Network to its digital cable lineup. The channel was added, but NFLN decided to air the games itself, foregoing a rights fee.[2] The other TV deals generated $3.735 billion per year over an eight-year period for CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and DirecTV.

TNT and ESPN were also reportedly interested in these games before they were awarded to NFL Network.

Bryant Gumbel served as play-by-play announcer from 2006 through 2007, resigning in early 2008. He was replaced by Bob Papa, Cris Collinsworth was the color commentator until taking over for John Madden as NBC lead analyst. Matt Millen will be the new analyst for the series. There was no sideline reporter until 2009 when Scott Hanson assumed that role, however, Adam Schefter and Marshall Faulk of NFL Total Access contributed from the field at various times. Dick Vermeil served as color commentator for Saturday games in 2006.

Each game telecast is preceded by NFL Total Access on Location. Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Deion Sanders, and Faulk report live from the site of each game. In 2008, they were joined by Warren Sapp. Schefter contributes insider information, and Kara Henderson and Michelle Beisner also contribute. The show generally begins three hours before game time (5 p.m. ET). The same Total Access team hosts the halftime and postgame shows. In 2006, the sponsors were: Vonage (pregame), Wendy's (halftime), and Home Depot (postgame).

In 2009, NFL Total Access on Location was replaced by Thursday Night Kickoff. The sponsors for that year were: Sears (pregame), Lexus (pre-kick) and Sprint (halftime).

Games are shown in approximately 45 million cable and satellite households, and on broadcast stations in the media markets of the participating teams. The home-team broadcast is technically subject to the NFL's blackout rule. However, since the games in the package generally feature top-flight teams which sell out their home games, it is unlikely that games will be blacked out. These games can also be seen in Canada on TSN (except for Buffalo Bills games, which are instead seen on Citytv) and in the United Kingdom on Sky Sports.

NFL Network also presented two preseason games before the 2006 season, using the staff that now works on this package. Spero Dedes was the play-by-play announcer, Sterling Sharpe was the analyst, and Kara Henderson was the sideline reporter.

Westwood One provides national radio broadcasts for the games, with Ian Eagle calling play-by-play, Randy Cross handling color analysis, and Hub Arkush on the sidelines for Thursday Night Football.

Each of the games were advertised on NFL Network through an episode of Joe's Diner, which had Joe Montana and patrons in a fictional diner discuss issues surrounding the game in a humorous and original way. The end of the ads usually had a man turning a sign, revealing the NFL Network logo.

Game announcers



(NFL Network)



(D) - deceased


(Westwood One)


Digital on-screen graphics

The digital on-screen graphics during the 2007 Patriots-Giants game.

When the games started showing on NFL Network in 2006, a red score banner that spanned the top of the TV screen was used. The team logos were in oval shapes, like most NFL Network programs used since the start of the 2006 NFL season, and with their respective scores next to the ovals. During the Texas Bowl, and the Insight Bowl, the score banner was gold, instead of red.

In 2007, the on-screen graphics went to a complete overhaul. The scoreboard is located at the middle of the top of the screen. The the team logos in ovals were kept; with the visiting team's logo and their respective score or on the left side, and the home team's logo and score are on the opposite side. In the middle, we see a red background, with the game clock in white, yellow bars to indicate quarter, and the NFL Network logo at the bottom. When a touchdown is scored, the scoring teams side opens, and a light goes through, revealing "TOUCHDOWN" in white in the team's color background. The side closes, and what appears to be a black graphic "wipes" away the score, thus changing it. Like in 2006, the scoreboard got a change in color, during bowl coverage, except that the red area was light orange.

In 2008, the on-screen graphics had minor changes, including listing the quarter underneath the game clock instead of using the yellow bars from 2007.

On Thanksgiving in 2009, NFL Network introduced timeout indicators above the team logos and their respective scores. As of December 2009, Fox is the only network not to use timeout indicators during their game telecasts.

2007 season

At the end of the 2006 season, NFLN ran a free preview of the network, from December 24 through December 30, 2006, which ended at kickoff of the New York GiantsWashington Redskins game. The broadcast was unnecessary in the target market of the New York metropolitan area because it was available on a local television station in the area. (Cable systems in the NYC area did not carry the free preview week on a digital tier, but made the telecast of the Texas Bowl game available to all subscribers, which was the only way local college football fans could watch Rutgers play in the game.)

During the offseason, the network hoped to reach carriage agreements with Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and other cable television providers that were at odds with the network over carriage. But that time came and went with no new agreements. In fact, fewer households were available than in the previous year due to the downgrading of the service by Comcast to a specialty tier.

The 2007 season opener was again on Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2007. That night, the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Falcons, 34–13.

None of the games featured two division teams playing against each other, in contrast to 2006, in which seven of the eight games fit this description.[3]

NFL Network also carried two preseason games: the AFC-NFC Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints on August 5, 2007, and the Washington Redskins at the Tennessee Titans on August 11.

The pre-game show was broken up into two parts. Part one (5-6 p.m. ET, except for the opener, which was 6:30-7 p.m.) now originated in the network's studio in Culver City, California (near Los Angeles). The commentators there were Fran Charles, Rod Woodson, and Jamie Dukes. The stadium crew came in at 6 p.m. ET; for the opener, that portion began at 7 p.m. Finally, Sears replaced Vonage as the presenting sponsor.

On the radio side, Westwood One named former coach Dennis Green as the 2007 analyst on Thursday night games alongside Dick Enberg.[4]

In December 2007, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking for the league to settle their differences in time for the New England Patriots–New York Giants game on December 29 that was broadcast on Saturday Night Football. Kerry urged for a solution to be decided upon in time so that Americans can witness "a historic event."[5] The game turned out to be the Patriots' record-sealing win that made them the first team to finish the regular season with a perfect record since 1972.

On December 26, the NFL announced that the Patriots–Giants game would be seen on free broadcast TV nationwide in a simulcast between the NFL Network, NBC and CBS, the first simulcast of a game since Super Bowl I. WCVB-TV in Boston, WMUR-TV in Manchester, NH, and WWOR-TV in New York would still carry the game under the original arrangement in their broadcast areas; in Boston this meant that all three of the Big Three network affiliates (WCVB and WMUR are both affiliated with ABC) would carry the game [6].

2007 Run to the Playoffs Schedule[7]
Date Game Station airing game
in visitors' market
Station airing game
in home market
November 22 Indianapolis Colts at Atlanta Falcons WTHR (Channel 13) WXIA (Channel 11) Thursday Night Football
November 29 Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys WFRV/WJMN (Channels 5/3)
WISN (Channel 12)1
KDFI (Channel 27) Thursday Night Football
December 6 Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins WPWR (Channel 50) WDCA (Channel 20) Thursday Night Football
December 13 Denver Broncos at Houston Texans KWGN (Channel 2) KTXH (Channel 20) Thursday Night Football
December 15 Cincinnati Bengals at San Francisco 49ers WLWT (Channel 5) KNTV (Channel 11) Saturday Night Football
December 20 Pittsburgh Steelers at St. Louis Rams KDKA (Channel 2) KTVI (Channel 2) Thursday Night Football
December 22 Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers KDFI (Channel 27) WCNC (Channel 36) Saturday Night Football
December 29 New England Patriots at New York Giants WCVB (Channel 5)
WMUR (Channel 9)
WWOR (Channel 9) Saturday Night Football

1 - The Packers' media market is made up of both the Green Bay and Milwaukee DMAs. WJMN, a WFRV satellite in the Marquette/Escanaba market was originally not allowed to carry the game [8] (though they carried an NFL Network Packer game the year before), but the network allowed them to at the last minute [9].


2008 season

The 2008 season will feature a change in scheduling. The eight games allotted to NFL Network will now be spread over seven weeks instead of six, will start on Week 10 (November 6) instead of Thanksgiving, and will not air a game during Week 17. Furthermore, instead of five Thursday and three Saturday games as has been the case the past two years, the 2008 season will feature seven Thursday games and one Saturday night game.

Another change was the resignation of Bryant Gumbel as play-by-play announcer. He was replaced by Bob Papa.[10]

2008 Schedule
Week Date Visiting Score Home Score Broadcast
10 Thursday November 6 Denver Broncos 34 Cleveland Browns 30 Thursday Night Football
11 Thursday November 13 New York Jets 34 New England Patriots 31 (OT) Thursday Night Football
12 Thursday November 20 Cincinnati Bengals 10 Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Thursday Night Football
13 Thursday November 27 Arizona Cardinals 20 Philadelphia Eagles 48 Thursday Night Football
14 Thursday December 4 Oakland Raiders 7 San Diego Chargers 34 Thursday Night Football
15 Thursday December 11 New Orleans Saints 24 Chicago Bears 27 (OT) Thursday Night Football
16 Thursday December 18 Indianapolis Colts 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 24 Thursday Night Football
Saturday December 20 Baltimore Ravens 33 Dallas Cowboys 24 Saturday Night Football

All game times 8:15 p.m. Eastern Time.

Additional note

The Cowboys-Ravens game was the last ever scheduled home game for the Cowboys at Texas Stadium; the venue has been the team's home since 1971.

2009 season

The 2009 season featured a Friday night game on December 25, as the Thursday that week is Christmas Eve, and the NFL tries not to schedule games that night in deference to the holiday (a lone exception being a Monday Night Football game in 2007 due to scheduling conflicts caused by ESPN's broadcast contracts). Also, the start times were pushed back by five minutes, to 8:20 p.m. Eastern time.

2009 Schedule
Week Date Visiting Score Home Score Notes Broadcast
10 Thursday November 12 Chicago Bears 6 San Francisco 49ers 10 Thursday Night Football
11 Thursday November 19 Miami Dolphins 24 Carolina Panthers 17 Thursday Night Football
12 Thursday November 26 New York Giants 6 Denver Broncos 26 Thanksgiving Classic Thursday Night Football
13 Thursday December 3 New York Jets 19 Buffalo Bills 13 Bills Toronto Series Thursday Night Football
14 Thursday December 10 Pittsburgh Steelers 6 Cleveland Browns 13 Thursday Night Football
15 Thursday December 17 Indianapolis Colts 35 Jacksonville Jaguars 31 Thursday Night Football
15 Saturday December 19 Dallas Cowboys 24 New Orleans Saints 17 Thursday Night Football
Special Edition
16 Friday December 25 San Diego Chargers 42 Tennessee Titans 17 Christmas game Thursday Night Football
Special Edition

Additional notes

With Cris Collinsworth moving to NBC to take over for John Madden, there was a new analyst: former Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen. Also with the death of Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster and longtime NFL Films narrator Harry Kalas in April, sponsorship announcements were taken over by former CBS and Fox play-by-play man Pat Summerall.

Weeks 13 (the Toronto game) and 16 (the Christmas game) both featured two original American Football League teams, but neither was part of the 50th Anniversary celebration.

The Toronto game was broadcast on Buffalo flagship WKBW-TV as well as on a local affiliate in Toronto, CITY-TV, which is owned by Rogers Communications, the company leasing the Bills from owner Ralph Wilson for the Toronto Series, mainly because of different rights for Canadian stations compared to American stations. In addition, in place of TSN, Rogers Sportsnet (also owned by Rogers Communications) acquired national cable rights for the NFL Network broadcasts in Canada.

Due to the Giants-Broncos game on Thanksgiving night being part of the NFLN schedule, Papa had to give up his usual seat as play-by-play announcer for the Giants on radio. Chris Carino filled in.

"Run to the Playoffs" all-time standings

San Francisco 49ers 3 0 0 1.000 54 33
Pittsburgh Steelers 3 1 0 .750 101 51
Dallas Cowboys 3 1 0 .750 119 101
New York Jets 2 0 0 1.000 53 44
Kansas City Chiefs 2 0 0 1.000 39 19
Houston Texans 1 0 0 1.000 31 13
Miami Dolphins 1 0 0 1.000 24 17
Denver Broncos 2 2 0 .500 83 86
Indianapolis Colts 3 0 0 1.000 31 13
Baltimore Ravens 1 1 0 .500 40 37
Green Bay Packers 1 1 0 .500 36 44
New England Patriots 1 1 0 .500 69 69
New York Giants 1 1 0 .500 69 66
Washington Redskins 1 1 0 .500 52 50
Cleveland Browns 1 2 0 .333 50 67
Cincinnati Bengals 1 2 0 .333 36 54
Carolina Panthers 0 1 0 .000 13 20
Minnesota Vikings 0 1 0 .000 7 9
Oakland Raiders 0 1 0 .000 9 20
Seattle Seahawks 0 1 0 .000 14 24
St. Louis Rams 0 1 0 .000 24 41
Buffalo Bills 0 1 0 .000 13 19
Carolina Panthers 0 1 0 .000 17 24
Atlanta Falcons 0 2 0 .000 41 69
Chicago Bears 0 2 0 .000 22 34


The move to air games on the NFL Network has been criticized for the following reasons:

  • Moving Thursday and Saturday night games to NFL Network has caused problems in the scheduling of other night games. In the past, Thursday and Saturday were used as overflow nights in the event that playing a Sunday night or Monday night game was not possible or desirable (for instance, during the World Series, the final week of the season, or Christmas Eve) so that the respective broadcaster could be compensated. The new television contract with NFL Network eliminated that leeway, which has especially impacted Monday night. In 2007, not only did ESPN have to air a doubleheader on Week 1 to compensate for the lack of a game in Week 17, but the league also had to play a game on Christmas Eve, a day when the league has historically avoided playing in prime time.
  • The games are not available on many cable systems (excluding those shown over-the-air in home markets), including Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Charter Communications. Others (like Comcast and Cox Communications) make the service available only on expanded-service or digital tiers. Some exceptions are Northeastern Pennsylvania's Service Electric; that system added the network in 2006 on the normal tier. AT&T's Uverse, which offers 4 tiers of service, includes NFL Network in all but their entry level U100 tier.
  • Gumbel's role was thought to be in jeopardy in late August 2006 after he made a commentary on his HBO program, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, in which he accused NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw of being a lap dog of outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL.[11] The controversy died down quickly and Gumbel was in the booth when the package began.

See also


External links


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