NFL Kickoff Game
The National Football League Kickoff game, along with related festivities, marks the official start of the National Football League (NFL) regular season. A single game is held, preceded by a concert and other ceremonies. This first game of the season is usually scheduled for the Thursday following Labor Day and since 2004, it was hosted by the current Super Bowl champions. However, in 2012, the game was moved to Wednesday to prevent conflicts with the acceptance speech of the Democratic National Convention. The remainder of the league plays their opening weekend games the following Sunday and Monday.
The Kickoff Game was introduced in the 2002 season. From 2004 onward, the defending Super Bowl champion has hosted the Kickoff Game with a couple of exceptions -- in 2013 the defending champion Baltimore Ravens opened on the road because of a conflict with a previously scheduled Orioles baseball game the same day, and in 2019 the defending champion New England Patriots did not play at all in the Kickoff Game as the league instead scheduled the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears for that game to celebrate its 100th season of operation (the Patriots instead played on Sunday Night Football).
The Kickoff Game was introduced in the 2002 season, under the leadership of then–NFL marketing executive John Collins and then–NFL Senior Vice President of Special Events Jim Steeg. It was conceived as an effort to boost economic recovery in the New York and Washington areas in the wake of 9/11. It was considered a success, increasing NFL sponsorships by $1.9 billion over the next 14 months.
ESPN televised the first game. In order to do so, ESPN eliminated its traditional late-October Thursday night game (held the weekend of Games 1 and 2 of the World Series), and replaced it with the opening night kickoff game. Because of the success of the first game, the rights to televise both the Kickoff Game and the pregame concert were transferred immediately after the season to ABC as part of their Monday Night Football package. In 2006, NBC acquired the television rights to the Kickoff Game as part of their Sunday Night Football package.
The concept of the NFL champion playing in an opening game was not altogether new, however. From 1934 to 1976, the first game of the pre-season was the Chicago All-Star Game, an exhibition match featuring the previous season's NFL champions against an all-rookie team of college all-stars held annually in Soldier Field in Chicago.
After the merger of the NFL with the All-America Football Conference in 1949, the opening game of the 1950 NFL season was a Saturday night showcase game between the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles and the AAFC champion Cleveland Browns. Billed as the "World Series of Pro Football" the game matched the four-time champion Browns against the two-time champion Eagles and with an attendance of 71,000 was one of the largest pro football crowds to that date.
With the advent of Monday Night Football in 1970 it became common for the Super Bowl champion to appear in a "showcase" game the first weekend of the season. This was the case in 1978–1979, 1983, 1987–1988, 1990–1993, 1996–2000, and 2002–2003.
Defending Super Bowl champions are 13–3 in the Kickoff Game. The New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots are the only three defending Super Bowl champions to have lost. The Giants are also the only home team to have lost in the Kickoff Game twice—once in the very first edition of the contest, when the defending Super Bowl winner was not yet a regular participant, and again in 2012.
ABC Monday Night Football
2003: The game's popularity and success saw it move to ABC as part of the Monday Night Football package. In order for the kickoff game to fit into the schedule, ABC dropped the Monday Night Football game held in the last week of the NFL season. This game had become increasingly unpopular because it often lacked playoff significance, and because of the (undesirable) possibility that a team playing on Monday night in week 17 might have to play a playoff game the following Saturday. In return, ESPN (which, like ABC, is owned by Disney) received a week 17 Saturday night game. While defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay were not selected for the Thursday night game, they did play a nationally televised game at Philadelphia four nights later on MNF. Instead, the Washington Redskins defeated the New York Jets 16–13.
2004: The tradition began that the kickoff game would be hosted by the current Super Bowl champions. After the "wardrobe malfunction" incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII, the NFL initially canceled future plans for concerts in conjunction with the NFL Kickoff game. Later in the year, however, the decision was reversed, and instead a 10-second broadcast delay was put in place.
NBC Sunday Night Football
2006: With the change in television contracts, the Kickoff Game was moved to NBC, who held the rights to Sunday Night Football. The game opposite the first weekend of World Series games was once again removed to compensate.
2008: The league and NBC agreed to move up the opening kickoff of the kickoff game, to 7 p.m., in order for coverage of the Republican National Convention not to compete with the game. That game featured the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. The game was also be the first to be carried by Internet television in the United States, as were all Sunday Night Football games in the 2008 season.
2010: The New Orleans Saints, winners of Super Bowl XLIV, hosted the kickoff game at the Louisiana Superdome against the Minnesota Vikings, a rematch of the previous season's NFC Championship Game. There was consideration of a match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers (to create a contest between the last two Super Bowl champions) but it did not come to fruition due to various logistical reasons.
2011: The Green Bay Packers hosted the 2011 Kickoff Game after winning Super Bowl XLV. They defeated the New Orleans Saints, a match-up of the winners of the two previous Super Bowls, the first time this has occurred. The Saints are only the second team to have played in two consecutive kickoff games, and the first to do so not by winning two consecutive Super Bowls. In the third quarter, the Packers' Randall Cobb returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, tying the NFL record for the longest such return.
2012: Similar to the situation in 2008, the NFL was faced with the prospect of having to compete with a national political convention, this time the Democratic National Convention. Instead of moving the kickoff to 7 p.m. like in 2008, or even opening up the season on a Thursday like in past years, the league instead decided to move the 2012 Kickoff Game one day earlier to Wednesday, September 5. The New York Giants, winners of Super Bowl XLVI, hosted their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.
2013: After winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens were to have hosted the 2013 Kickoff Game on September 5. However, this was on the same day as a home game for the Baltimore Orioles, whose stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, shares parking with the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium. (The Orioles did not move their game to the afternoon, because they and their opponent were playing night games in other cities the preceding day.) The Ravens instead played on the road against the Denver Broncos in a rematch of the previous season's AFC Divisional Playoff game. During this game, Peyton Manning became one of only six players to have thrown seven touchdowns in a single game. He added to this feat by doing it without throwing an interception, something that has only been done once before by Y. A. Tittle during the 1962 NFL season. The Ravens also had the most points scored against them in franchise history. They also suffered the biggest margin of defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion on opening day in NFL history.
2015: The New England Patriots, after winning Super Bowl XLIX, hosted the 2015 Kickoff Game on September 10 at Gillette Stadium, with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their opponent. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was originally not going to play due to his four-game suspension as a result of his involvement in the Deflategate scandal, but a court threw out the suspension on September 3, 2015 and ordered the league to let him play. It also marked the first time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not attend a Kickoff Game, stating that he did not want to be a distraction.
2016: The Denver Broncos hosted the 2016 Kickoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High against the Carolina Panthers on September 8, in a Super Bowl 50 rematch. (As the Republican and Democratic conventions were both scheduled for July 2016, there was no scheduling conflict with them as there was in 2008 and 2012, nor were there conflicts with any other sports team in Denver that night.) The Broncos debuted Trevor Siemian as their new starting quarterback after both quarterbacks who started games in 2015 left the team; Peyton Manning (who played the entirety of Super Bowl 50) retired and Brock Osweiler left as a free agent.
2017: The defending Super Bowl LI champions, the New England Patriots, hosted the Kansas City Chiefs for the 2017 Kickoff Game at Gillette Stadium. Goodell visited Gillette Stadium for the Kickoff Game, having been absent from the venue since the 2014 season.
2018: The defending Super Bowl LII champions, the Philadelphia Eagles hosted the Atlanta Falcons for the 2018 Kickoff Game at Lincoln Financial Field, in a rematch of their 2017 Divisional Playoff Game.
2019: The Chicago Bears hosted the Green Bay Packers to begin the Bears' 100th season, which would be a reverse of a Week 1 matchup in 2018 where the Packers were the host on Sunday night to begin their own 100th season. This broke the tradition of having the Super Bowl champion host the game; the Super Bowl LIII champion New England Patriots instead hosted a Sunday Night Football game on opening weekend, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
2020: The Super Bowl LIV champion Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Houston Texans, in a rematch of a divisional playoff game from the 2019–20 NFL playoffs, a game the Chiefs won 51–31 after trailing 24–0 in the second quarter.
Winning team labeled in bold.
* – Game did not feature the defending Super Bowl champions.
** – Game played on a Wednesday instead of the usual Thursday.
*** – Defending Super Bowl champions played on the road because of parking conflicts with Major League Baseball.
|Kansas City Chiefs||2||2||0||1.000||76||47|
|San Francisco 49ers||1||1||0||1.000||16||13|
|New England Patriots||4||3||1||.750||112||107|
|Green Bay Packers||3||2||1||.667||68||73|
|New Orleans Saints||3||1||2||.333||58||92|
|New York Giants||3||1||2||.333||46||47|
|New York Jets||1||0||1||.000||13||16|
|Las Vegas Raiders||1||0||1||.000||20||30|
- 2002: "NFL Kickoff Live from Times Square" started at 4:30 p.m. and led up to kickoff of the game at the Meadowlands. The concert was headlined by Bon Jovi (who also performed at halftime), and also featured Enrique Iglesias, Eve and Alicia Keys. The event included recognition and support of New York City's 9/11 memorial events.
- 2003: The event moved to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and was billed as "NFL Kickoff Live From The National Mall Presented By Pepsi Vanilla." Britney Spears, who was introduced by Air Force Staff Sergeant Richard W. Duken II from Leesville LA, stationed at Tinker AFB, Aerosmith and Mary J. Blige headlined the concert. The activities started at 6 p.m. and featured a tribute to troops active in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was attended by thousands of American military personnel. ABC televised the concert live from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. eastern. Aretha Franklin concluded the concert by singing the national anthem from the National Mall leading up to kickoff. Three weeks later, the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that, when enacted into law, limited displays of commercial sponsorship on the Mall.
- 2004: After initially being cancelled, the event was reinstated, and the 2004 "NFL Opening Kickoff" took place in two locations. At Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the New England Patriots were honored as Super Bowl XXXVIII champions. Performers at the stadium included Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Elton John, Toby Keith and Lenny Kravitz. Jessica Simpson performed from Metropolitan Park in Jacksonville, Florida, site of the upcoming Super Bowl. The concert aired live on ABC from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., just prior to gametime. The 2004 festivities firmly established the tradition of holding the game and concert at the home of the defending Super Bowl champion, and also linking the event to the location of the upcoming Super Bowl.
- 2005: The fourth annual "NFL Opening Kickoff" featured concert activities from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Detroit (host of the upcoming Super Bowl XL), and Los Angeles. The Super Bowl XXXIX champion New England Patriots again were honored at the event, hosted by Freddie Prinze, Jr., and broadcast live on ABC. Performers at the stadium included Green Day, Carlos Santana, Michelle Branch, and a surprise appearance by Ozzy Osbourne, who emerged from a giant-sized helmet. The Rolling Stones were shown on video from a taped broadcast in Detroit. Kanye West, Maroon 5, Good Charlotte and Rihanna performed from a red-white-and-blue stage in Los Angeles. Trisha Yearwood concluded the hour-long concert by singing the national anthem back at Gillette Stadium.
- 2006: The Thursday night concert and game switched to NBC for 2006, and was billed as "NFL Opening Kickoff 2006 Presented by Sprint." The 30-minute concert broadcast live from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and from a special stage in South Beach in Miami Beach, near the home of the upcoming Super Bowl XLI. Diddy and Cassie entertained from Miami Beach, while Rascal Flatts were in Pittsburgh, along with Martina McBride, who sang the national anthem.
- 2007: "NFL Opening Kickoff 2007 Presented by Sprint" was aired on NBC as a thirty-minute special hosted by NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen. Kelly Clarkson was the first performer, singing on a sloped, outdoor stage at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. The concert moved indoors to the RCA Dome with Indiana native John Mellencamp singing his classic hit "Small Town". Billy Joel followed, back outside at Monument Circle. Hinder also performed. Back inside the RCA Dome, Colts owner Jim Irsay unveiled the Super Bowl XLI championship banner. The event was marred by the death of a man who fell or jumped off the ninth-floor pool deck of the Sheraton City Center overlooking Monument Circle. Keyshia Cole wrapped up the show singing the national anthem with the Voices of Unity Youth Choir of Fort Wayne. Unlike in past years, there were no performances in the host area of the Super Bowl, in this case the Phoenix, Arizona area (Super Bowl XLII was held at University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale).
- 2008: Keith Urban and Usher were the featured performers at an afternoon concert at Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan in New York City on September 4. The concert was officially called "NFL Opening Kickoff 2008 Presented by EA Sports." Media coverage included NFL Network, NFL.com, and streaming on Sprint-branded mobile phones. NBC intercut portions of the concert into a broadcast of their 2008–09 season fall preview show the next night, September 5 at 9 pm ET/PT, 8 pm CT. (Unlike in past years, there was no live broadcast on NBC because of the early kickoff and later coverage of the 2008 Republican National Convention.)
- 2009: "NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 Presented by EA Sports" featured Tim McGraw and The Black Eyed Peas performing at Point State Park in Pittsburgh. Nancy O'Dell hosted the 30-minute concert on NBC. The Tim McGraw part of the concert was a part of the Music Video for song Southern Voice.
- 2010: "NFL Opening Kickoff 2010 Presented by EA Sports Madden NFL 11" featured Dave Matthews Band and Taylor Swift performing at Jackson Square in New Orleans. The network telecast – which for the second straight year was simulcast by NBC and NFL Network – was expanded to one hour. Pregame events ended inside the Superdome, where Harry Connick, Jr. rode in a Mardi Gras-style parade float into the stadium with team owner Tom Benson and introduced the unveiling of the Saints' championship banner from Super Bowl XLIV.
- 2011: "NFL Kickoff 2011 presented by EA Sports" was held at the parking lot of Lambeau Field near the Veterans Memorial. Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, and Maroon 5 performed. The hour-long concert was to begin at 7:30 p.m., and was to be simulcast by NBC and NFL Network. However, for most of the nation, the pre-game coverage was switched to a simulcast at 7:00 p.m. on NFL Network, Syfy, Versus, USA, and G4 due to President Obama's primetime address to Congress. In contrast, the pregame coverage aired live as scheduled in New Orleans and most television markets in Wisconsin.
- During the pregame, 32 legendary NFL players held team flags representing each of the 32 franchises. Bart Starr entered the stadium to represent the Packers. The other participants included: Ron Wolfley, Steve Bartkowski, Matt Stover, Andre Reed, Muhsin Muhammad, Richard Dent, Ken Anderson, Kevin Mack, Jay Novacek, Randy Gradishar, Charlie Sanders, N. D. Kalu, Bill Brooks, Don Davey, Willie Lanier, Dwight Stephenson, John Randle, John Hannah, Deuce McAllister, Harry Carson, Al Toon, Ted Hendricks, Eric Allen, Dermontti Dawson, Aeneas Williams, Junior Seau, Dwight Clark, Cortez Kennedy, Mike Alstott, Eddie George, Larry Brown.
- 2012: "NFL Kickoff 2012 presented by EA Sports" was held in New York City with a concert held by Mariah Carey, No Doubt and Cee Lo Green.
- 2013: "NFL Kickoff 2013 presented by Pepsi" featured a concert at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, with performances by Danielle Bradbery and Keith Urban. The introduction to the game was done on the field by Ryan Seacrest, and culminated with a "countdown" to the start of the season starring 32 legendary NFL players (one from each franchise). A 34-minute weather delay due to lightning occurred immediately after the concert and delayed the kickoff of the game, pushing the kickoff to 9:10 ET, 7:10 local time in Denver.
- 2014: "NFL Kickoff 2014 presented by Xbox" was held outside Seattle's CenturyLink Field, with Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden performing. Ariana Grande performed the national anthem.
- 2015: "Kickoff to 50 presented by Hyundai" was held at the Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, California, the home of Super Bowl 50, with Ellie Goulding and Train performing. Dropkick Murphys, T-Pain, and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra performed at Gillette Stadium. Grace Potter sang the National Anthem.
- 2016: "NFL Kickoff 2016 presented by Hyundai" was held at Civic Center Park, with Dierks Bentley and OneRepublic performing live. Andra Day sang the National Anthem.
- 2017: "NFL Kickoff 2017 presented by Hyundai" was held at the Christopher Columbus Park at Boston Harborwalk, with the Boston-based Guster performing in place of Miguel, who was unable to perform due to an illness. Flo Rida also performed at the concert. The concert took place after a special screening of America's Game: The 2016 New England Patriots. Maren Morris performed the National Anthem.
- 2018: "NFL Kickoff 2018 Driven by Hyundai" was held at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, with Shawn Mendes performing.  Boyz II Men sang the National Anthem. A 45-minute weather delay due to severe thunderstorm occurred immediately after the concert and delayed the kickoff of the game, pushing the kickoff back to 9:05 ET.
- 2019: "NFL Kickoff 2019 presented by EA Sports Madden NFL 20" was held at Grant Park in Chicago, with Meek Mill, Meghan Trainor and Rapsody performing. The concert was part of the league's Inspire Change initiative of which the three artists performing at the event were among the first advocates of the season. Chance the Rapper, was originally supposed to appear in the concert, but his performance was scrapped by the league. Chicago Blackhawks anthem singer Jim Cornelison sang the National Anthem.
- 2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL Kickoff Concert was canceled for this year, instead, the title sponsorship was given to EA Sports' Madden NFL 21 video game for this year's event. NBC aired the Queen Latifah hosted "Inspire Change" special a day prior to the kickoff. Alicia Keys sang Lift Every Voice and Sing while Chloe x Halle sang the National Anthem.
|Year||Network||Household rating/share||Viewers (live plus same day)||Ref.|
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