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 and the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
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.
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.
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. Later in the year, however, the decision was reversed, and instead a 10-second broadcast delay was put in place.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
|New England Patriots||2||2||0||0||1.000||57||44|
|San Francisco 49ers||1||1||0||0||1.000||16||13|
|Green Bay Packers||1||1||0||0||1.000||42||34|
|New York Giants||3||1||2||0||.333||46||47|
|New Orleans Saints||3||1||2||0||.333||58||92|
|New York Jets||1||0||1||0||.000||13||16|
- 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 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. 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.
- 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, 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.
- 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
|2008||NBC||7.5/12 (fast national)
|2009||NBC||10.9/18 (fast national)
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