American Football Database

The logo for the 2002 concert event before the Kickoff Game

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 details

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 5 San Francisco 49ers 16 New York Giants 13 Giants Stadium ESPN
2003* September 4 New York Jets 13 Washington Redskins 16 FedEx Field ABC
2004 September 9 Indianapolis Colts 24 New England Patriots 27 Gillette Stadium ABC
2005 September 8 Oakland Raiders 20 New England Patriots 30 Gillette Stadium ABC
2006 September 7 Miami Dolphins 17 Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Heinz Field NBC
2007 September 6 New Orleans Saints 10 Indianapolis Colts 41 RCA Dome NBC
2008 September 4 Washington Redskins 7 New York Giants 16 Giants Stadium NBC
2009 September 10 Tennessee Titans 10^ Pittsburgh Steelers 13^ Heinz Field NBC
2010 September 9 Minnesota Vikings 9 New Orleans Saints 14 Louisiana Superdome NBC
2011** September 8 New Orleans Saints 34 Green Bay Packers 42 Lambeau Field NBC
2012+ September 5 Dallas Cowboys 24 New York Giants 17 MetLife Stadium NBC
2013 September 5 TBA Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium NBC

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 Patriots 2 2 0 0 1.000 57 44
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 2 0 0 1.000 41 27
San Francisco 49ers 1 1 0 0 1.000 16 13
Green Bay Packers 1 1 0 0 1.000 42 34
Dallas Cowboys 1 1 0 0 1.000 24 17
Indianapolis Colts 2 1 1 0 .500 65 37
New York Giants 3 1 2 0 .333 46 47
Washington Redskins 2 1 1 0 .500 23 29
New Orleans Saints 3 1 2 0 .333 58 92
Miami Dolphins 1 0 1 0 .000 17 28
Minnesota Vikings 1 0 1 0 .000 9 14
New York Jets 1 0 1 0 .000 13 16
Oakland Raiders 1 0 1 0 .000 20 30
Tennessee Titans 1 0 1 0 .000 10 13

Pre-game concerts

File:Britney Spears Navy.jpg

Britney Spears performs on the National Mall in Washington, DC, September 4, 2003

  • 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]
  • 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 XXXIX. 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". Faith Hill 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.[9] 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,, 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.)[10]
  • 2009: "NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 Presented by EA Sports" featured Tim McGraw and The Black Eyed Peas performing at Point State Park in Pittsburgh.[11] Nancy O'Dell hosted the 30-minute concert on NBC.
  • 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.[12] 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.
  • 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

Television ratings

Year Network Rating/share Viewers Ref.
2002 ESPN 7.6/14
9.4 (cable)
10.799 million [18]
2003 ABC 12.9/22 19.150 million [18]
2004 ABC 11.4/20 16.879 million [18]
2005 ABC 11.7/21 18.006 million [18]
2006 NBC 12.6/21 19.196 million [18]
2007 NBC 13.0 (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]
2011 NBC 17.2 (overnight)
16.0 (finals)
27.170 million [25][26][27]
2012 NBC (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.