The NFL Kickoff game, and related festivities, mark the start of the National Football League season. A single game is held, preceded by a concert and other ceremonies. Since the 2004 season, the defending Super Bowl champion has hosted the showcased Kickoff game. The remainder of the league plays their opening weekend games the following Sunday and Monday. The pregame concert and game is televised live on NBC.

The first game of the season is usually scheduled for the Thursday following Labor Day. In 2008 and 2012, the game was moved to prevent conflicts with the acceptance speeches of the 2008 Republican National Convention[1] and the 2012 Democratic National Convention.[2]


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.[3] 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.

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 "The World Series of Pro Football" the game matched the 4-time champion Browns against the 2-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 8–1 in the Kickoff Game. The New York Football Giants are the only defending Super Bowl champions to have lost. They 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.

Selected detailsEdit

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, which had become increasingly unpopular because it often lacked playoff significance (and also the possibility that a team playing on Monday night in week 17 might have to play a playoff game the following Saturday was not desired). In return, ESPN (which is owned by ABC) 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.

2004: The tradition began that the kickoff game would be hosted by the defending 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.[4] Later in the year, however, the decision was reversed, and instead a 10-second broadcast delay was put in place.[5]

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. (The Monday night game at the end of the season, however, was not revived. Instead, after an impromptu experiment in 2005, a Monday night doubleheader was scheduled for the same weekend as the kickoff game.)

2008: The league and NBC agreed to move up the opening kickoff of the kickoff game, to 7:00 p.m., in order that John McCain could address the nation during the Republican National Convention without having to compete with the game. That game featured the Redskins and Giants. The game was also be the first to be carried by Internet television in the United States, as did all Sunday Night Football games in the 2008 season.[1]

2010: The Saints, winners of Super Bowl XLIV, hosted the kickoff game at the Superdome against the Vikings, a rematch of the previous season's NFC Championship Game. There was consideration of a match-up against the Steelers (to create a contest between the last two Super Bowl champions) but it did not come to fruition due to various logistical reasons.[6]

2011: The 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: Instead of opening up the season on a Thursday like in past years, the 2012 Kickoff Game was moved one day earlier to Wednesday, September 5, in order that Barack Obama could address the nation during the Democratic National Convention without having to compete with the game. The New York Giants, winner of Super Bowl XLVI, hosted their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.[7]


Season Date Visitors Score Home Score Location Network
2002*September 5San Francisco 49ers 16 New York Giants 13 Giants StadiumESPN
2003*September 4New York Jets13Washington Redskins16FedEx FieldABC
2004September 9Indianapolis Colts24New England Patriots27Gillette StadiumABC
2005September 8Oakland Raiders 20 New England Patriots30Gillette StadiumABC
2006September 7Miami Dolphins17Pittsburgh Steelers 28Heinz FieldNBC
2007September 6New Orleans Saints10Indianapolis Colts41RCA DomeNBC
2008September 4Washington Redskins7New York Giants16Giants StadiumNBC
2009September 10Tennessee Titans10^Pittsburgh Steelers13^Heinz FieldNBC
2010September 9Minnesota Vikings9New Orleans Saints14Louisiana SuperdomeNBC
2011**September 8New Orleans Saints34Green Bay Packers42Lambeau FieldNBC
2012+September 5Dallas Cowboys24New York Giants17MetLife StadiumNBC
2013September 5TBABaltimore RavensM&T Bank StadiumNBC

Winning team and score labeled in bold.

* – Game was not hosted by the Defending Super Bowl champions
** – Game played between last 2 Super Bowl Winners
+ – Game played on a Wednesday instead of the usual Thursday
^ – Overtime result


Team GP W L T Pct. PF PA
New England Patriots22001.0005744
Pittsburgh Steelers22001.0004127
San Francisco 49ers11001.0001613
Green Bay Packers11001.0004234
Dallas Cowboys11001.0002417
Indianapolis Colts2110.5006537
New York Giants3120.3334647
Washington Redskins2110.5002329
New Orleans Saints3120.3335892
Miami Dolphins1010.0001728
Minnesota Vikings1010.000914
New York Jets1010.0001316
Oakland Raiders1010.0002030
Tennessee Titans1010.0001013

Pre-game concertsEdit

File:Britney Spears Navy.jpg
  • 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.[8]

Television ratingsEdit

Year Network Rating/share Viewers Ref.
9.4 (cable)
10.799 million [18]
2003ABC12.9/22 19.150 million [18]
2004ABC11.4/20 16.879 million [18]
2005ABC11.7/21 18.006 million [18]
2006NBC12.6/21 19.196 million [18]
2007NBC13.0 (overnight)
11.5/20 (finals)
17.791 million [18][19][20]
2008 NBC 7.5/12 (fast national)
8.6/15 (finals)
13.531 million [18][20][21]
2009 NBC 10.9/18 (fast national)
12.8/22 (finals)
20.909 million [18][20][22][23]
2010 NBC 17.7 (overnight)
16.5/28 (finals)
27.485 million [19][20][24]
2011NBC17.2 (overnight)
16.0 (finals)
27.170 million [25][26][27]
2012NBC (overnight)
14,7 (finals)
23.9 million


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sunday Night Football to be streamed LIVE. 28 July 2008.
  2. NFL season-opener to be held Wednesday, Sept. 5
  3. Bloomberg: "NHL Borrows From NFL as It Pursues Bigger TV Contract"
  6. Bouchette, Ed (March 19, 2010). "Rooney: Steelers won't open in New Orleans". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  7. "Giants to host NFC East rival Cowboys in 2012 season opener". 2012-03-27. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  8. (1) "Message concerning passage of Senate amendment to HR2691, 108th United States Congress". National Coalition to Save Our Mall Inc.. 2003-09-24. Archived from the original on 2012-12-29. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
    (2) "Sec. 145" (pdf). Public Law 108-108: Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 2003-11-10. pp. 117 Stat. 1280 - 117 Stat. 1281. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  9. "Thousands pack Downtown to start NFL in style". 2007-09-07. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
  10. National Football League (2008-08-12). "Keith Urban and Usher to headline NFL's Kickoff celebration from NYC". Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  11. "Kickoff Concert - Tim Mcgraw and The Black Eyed Peas Concert". Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  12. "Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift to Play at NFL Kickoff Concert". 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  13. "Party in the works for NFL Kickoff at Lambeau Field". 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
  14. "NFL Kickoff concert preps underway". WLUK. 2011-08-31. Retrieved 2011-09-01.
  15. Hiestand, Michael (2011-09-07). "Obama speech shifts NBC NFL pregame". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  16. "'NFL Kickoff 2011 presented by EA Sports' to celebrate Packers". 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2011-09-01.
  17. "NFL legends participating in pregame". Fox 11. 2011-09-07. Retrieved 2011-09-09.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 18.7 "Titans/Steelers scores touchdown for NBC". SportsMediaWatch. 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Vikings/Saints Earns Kickoff Record 17.7 Overnight; 60.0 In New Orleans". Sports Media Watch. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "Multiple Viewership Records For Vikings/Saints; Game Scores Over 27 Million". Sports Media Watch. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  21. "From Inside the Box - September 2008 - Zap2it". Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  22. "TV ratings: 'Vampire Diaries' has a bloody good premiere; NFL kickoff also strong". 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  23. "Sunday 4pm NFL Games TV Ratings Often Bigger Than NFL Primetime". 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  24. "Updated TV Ratings: ‘NFL Kickoff’ Soars ; ‘Vampire Diaries’ Falls; ‘Nikita’ Equals ‘Supernatural’". 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  25. "Saints/Packers Opener Down, Still Second-Best Kickoff Game". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2011-09-09.
  26. "Thursday Final Ratings: Packers/Saints Ratings; ‘CBS Fall Preview’ Adjusted Up - Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
  27. "Despite Decline, NFL Opener a Success For NBC". 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
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