NFL Primetime is a sports television program that has aired on ESPN since 1987. The show is presented similarly to ESPN's own SportsCenter, featuring scores, highlights, and analysis of every game of the week in the NFL.
Until the 2006 season, Primetime aired every Sunday night during the NFL season and it preceded ESPN's coverage of Sunday Night Football (it even aired when ESPN did not have a Sunday Night game, especially from 1990-97 when TNT had Sunday night games the first half of the season). The show was hosted by Chris Berman, with analysis from Tom Jackson. Berman and Jackson recapped Sunday afternoon's NFL games with highlights, statistics, and commentary.
Pete Axthelm was a regular from 1987 until his death in 1991. Through the show's history, other co-hosts included John Saunders, Robin Roberts, Bill Pidto, and Stuart Scott. Pidto was often the target of good-natured ribbing by Berman, since Pidto often did recaps of games featuring losing teams. Roberts also seemed to be assigned to recap almost every game the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played between 1990 and 1992, when the Bucs were fielding some of the worst teams in NFL history. The position of co-host was dropped prior to the start of the 1998 season.
Rather than provide the usual package of scoring highlights, NFL Primetime presented extended highlights which also showed less dramatic plays. This provided context for the greater depth of analysis of each game.
A staple of the show was the various FirstCom Music instrumental pieces that played in the background during the highlights, while Berman and Jackson recapped each game. This often gave the games, even in highlight form, a more epic feel overall. This feature continues during highlights on The Blitz.
For the most part, highlights from the show would feature FirstCom Music scores over the highlights. Some songs were even played on a consistent basis for certain teams. The Buffalo Bills, for example, often had their game played out (regardless of outcome) to a dramatic piece featuring triumphant passages of brass instruments. The Oakland Raiders, meanwhile, were often represented by an ominous-sounding piece that featured extensive use of horns and keyboards. On rare occasions, however, the standard FirstCom Music themes would be replaced by other music themes. For the Raiders-Steelers matchup in 2000, which marked their last meeting at Three Rivers Stadium as well as the stadium's second to last game, the music was replaced by classic NFL Films themes by Sam Spence including "A Golden Boy Again," "March to the Trenches," and "Raiders' Theme," while Berman confused then-current Raiders and Steelers with legendary ones. After the NFL returned in Week 2 of the 2001 season for the first games after 9/11, the first game highlights for the Giants-Chiefs matchup was presented with a more subdued FirstCom theme that was not regularly used by the program.
When NBC acquired the rights for Sunday night games beginning in the 2006 season, NBC negotiated for exclusive rights for extended highlights during its Football Night in America pregame show. ESPN responded by moving the show to Mondays and splitting the program into two versions. ESPN shows NFL Primetime in its old format during the playoffs.
Originally, the first version aired two-and-a-half hours before ESPN's telecast of Monday Night Football, normally 6 p.m. Eastern time. It was hosted by Stuart Scott along with analysts Ron Jaworski and Mike Ditka and aired from the site of the Monday night game preceding Monday Night Countdown. (The program broadcast from a parking lot set, in contrast to Monday Night Countdown, which takes place inside the stadium. When the package began with two Monday night games on September 11, 2006, Primetime aired from McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, California, while Countdown originated at FedExField in Landover, Maryland).
Due to low ratings (partially due to the repositioning of what was a Sunday evening staple), this early edition of NFL Primetime was relocated to the ESPN studios in Bristol, Connecticut every other week starting October 16.
In 2007, this show gained a new time slot, 4 p.m. ET, switching with SportsCenter Monday Kickoff, all programs were moved to the Bristol studio, and the second version's hosts (see below) were also assigned to the earlier show. Scott was sent to a new remote set used by Monday Night Countdown.
The second version airs ninety minutes after Monday Night Football ends, and it originates from the ESPN studios. This edition is hosted by the NFL Live team of Trey Wingo and analysts Merril Hoge, and occasionally Mark Schlereth or Mike Ditka. In 2008, Trent Dilfer joined as an analyst. In 2011, Tim Hasselbeck replaced Dilfer. This is the only version of the show to actually be in primetime, albeit only on the West Coast at 10:00 p.m. PT or slightly later. This version re-airs Tuesday afternoons at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Both versions show highlights, but for a shorter period of time than on the older program and with more extended analysis segments. The highlights on the current incarnation of NFL Primetime tend to be more story driven, emphasizing key player performances or game storylines as opposed to a normal recap that is found on SportsCenter. Both shows are presented by Miller Lite.
On December 24, 2011 during week 16 of the 2011 NFL season, ESPN aired Primetime in its classic timeslot and format, with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson recapping the action. This was due to the weekend's NFL games being played on Saturday of that weekend, and with the NBC contract running for Sunday's only, ESPN its first original Primetime in 6 years.
The Blitz (2006–present)
Following the re-tooling of NFL Primetime, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson were given an extended segment of the Sunday night edition of SportsCenter (11 p.m. ET) called The Blitz. The segment follows the same structure as the original version of NFL Primetime, featuring Berman and Jackson using the same player nicknames, catch phrases, and back-and-forth banter as the original show.
On January 8, 2007, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson returned to NFL Primetime to present highlights of the 2006 NFL Playoffs games between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots and the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, and they remained for the entire postseason that followed.
ESPN has not used the NFL name or logo in the official segment name or in advertising, leading to unconfirmed rumors of not being given permission to do so by the league. In 2007, however, on-screen graphics surrounding the set has referred to both "The Blitz" and "NFL Blitz."
Early SportsCenter (2008–present)
In 2008, an extended version of The Blitz has aired as part of SportsCenter from 7 to 8 or 8:15 p.m. ET. The hosts are Berman, Jackson, Saunders and Trent Dilfer. In addition to highlights, the network has extended additional game statistics, standings, and leaderboards on the right-hand portion of the screen. It is in direct competition to Football Night in America, although it is believed that FNIA still has the official advantage in percentage of the show devoted to highlights. Coincidentally, the revamp of SportsCenter came after NBC hired Dan Patrick to team with Keith Olbermann on FNIA highlights; Patrick and Olbermann were the premier anchor team on that show in the 1990s.
- Chris Berman (Full season host, 1987–2005, contributor and playoff host 2006–present)
- Trey Wingo (Host, 2006–present)
- Merril Hoge (Analyst, 2006–present)
- Tim Hasselbeck (Analyst, 2011–present)
- Steve Young (Super Bowl analyst)
- Pete Axthelm (Host, 1987–1990)
- John Saunders (Host, 1987–1989)
- Bill Pidto (Host, 1995–1996)
- Robin Roberts (Host, 1990–1994)
- Stuart Scott (Host, 1997 and 2006)
- Mike Golic (Analyst, 2006)
- Ron Jaworski (Analyst, 2006)
- Mike Ditka (Analyst, 2006–2007)
- Mark Schlereth (Analyst, 2006–2007)
- Trent Dilfer (Analyst 2008–2010)
- Tom Jackson (Full season analyst, 1987–2005, contributor and playoff analyst 2006–2016)