ESPN Sunday Night Football

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ESPN Sunday Night Football
Also known as ESPN Sunday Night NFL
Starring Mike Patrick
Joe Theismann
Paul Maguire
Suzy Kolber
see below
Country of origin United States
Running time 180 minutes
Original channel ESPN
Original run November 8, 1987 (1987-11-08) – January 1, 2006 (2006-01-01)

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 earned broadcast rights to a series of Sunday night NFL games, which were to air during the second half of the season, beginning in the 1987 season. During the first season of ESPN Sunday Night NFL (as it was then branded) in 1987, the network's announcing booth had Mike Patrick, Roy Firestone, and a weekly "guest color commentator." Joe Theismann took over as lead analyst beginning in 1988. Two years later, the NFL expanded its Sunday night offerings to the full season, with TNT airing games in the season's first half and ESPN taking over for the second half.

ESPN's games were typically simulcast on regular over-the-air television stations in each participating team's local market so that households without cable television could still see the telecasts. During the first season, the game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots (the very first regular season game aired by ESPN) saw WABC-TV[1] (ABC's flagship station out of New York City) produce a completely separate telecast from ESPN's. 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 (now officially rebranded as Sunday Night Football), 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. Also in 1998, Paul Maguire joined Patrick and Theismann in the booth after re-joining ESPN after several years as a color commentator for NBC. Beginning in 1999, Suzy Kolber, who had recently rejoined ESPN from Fox Sports, served as the sideline reporter; Kolber replaced Solomon Wilcots, who joined CBS as a color commentator. In 2002, ESPN's SNF crew covered the new Thursday, opening night kickoff game. 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 picking up the broadcast rights to Monday Night Football from ABC. NBC picked up the rights to ESPN's Sunday night games. To replace Sunday Night Football ESPN moved its late-season Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts back to the network and replaced most of the rest of the open weeks with NBA telecasts.


From 1987-97, ESPN used various themes for its NFL coverage, reflecting its separate management from sister company ABC Sports (now ESPN on ABC since September 2006) at the time.

In 1998, as Disney began consolidating ESPN and ABC Sports, ESPN's NFL coverage began using themes associated with Monday Night Football such as "Heavy Action". In-game use of these themes ended after 2000, in favor of another original theme also referred to as "Sirens" (for featuring sirens prominently).

When ESPN gained the Monday night games, they once again began using the traditional Monday Night Football themes, but with increased frequency. See Monday Night Football for more info on music used during that package.

Significant games[edit]

Joe Namath incident[edit]

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 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).

1988 Schedule[edit]

Date Time Teams Announcers
October 30, 1988 8:00 PM EST Washington @ Houston
November 6, 1988 8:00 PM EST L.A. Raiders @ San Diego
November 13, 1988 8:00 PM EST Minnesota @ Dallas
November 20, 1988 8:00 PM EST New England @ Miami
November 27, 1988 8:00 PM EST N.Y. Giants @ New Orleans
December 4, 1988 8:00 PM EST Pittsburgh @ Houston
December 11, 1988 8:00 PM EST Denver @ Seattle
December 18, 1988 8:00 PM EST L.A. Rams @ San Francisco Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann

1989 Schedule[edit]

Date Time Teams Announcers
November 5, 1989 9:00 PM EST Dallas @ Washington
November 12, 1989 9:00 PM EST L.A. Raiders @ San Diego
November 19, 1989 9:00 PM EST N.Y. Jets @ Indianapolis
November 26, 1989 9:00 PM EST L.A. Rams @ New Orleans
December 3, 1989 8:00 PM EST Chicago @ Minnesota
December 10, 1989 8:00 PM EST New England @ Miami
December 17, 1989 8:00 PM EST L.A. Raiders @ Seattle
December 23, 1989 8:00 PM EST Cleveland @ Houston

1994 Schedule[edit]

Date Time Teams Announcers
November 6, 1994 8:00 PM EST L.A. Raiders @ Kansas City
November 13, 1994 8:00 PM EST Tampa Bay @ Detroit
November 20, 1994 8:00 PM EST L.A. Rams at San Francisco Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Mark Malone
November 27, 1994 8:00 PM EST New England @ Indianapolis
December 1, 1994 8:00 PM EST Chicago @ Minnesota
December 4, 1994 8:00 PM EST Buffalo @ Miami
December 11, 1994 8:00 PM EST New Orleans @ Atlanta
December 18, 1994 8:00 PM EST L.A. Raiders @ Seattle
December 25, 1994 8:00 PM EST Detroit @ Miami


NOTE: Pat Summerall filled in for Mike Patrick who was recovering from a heart attack.

Guest commentators (1987 only)[edit]


Preceded by
(occasional Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night games)
NFL Sunday night broadcaster
1987 - 2005
(with TNT from 1990-97)
Succeeded by