The National Football League Kickoff game, along with related festivities, marks the official start of the 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 hosted by the previous season's 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 played in the kickoff game every year, and hosted the game in all but one year (2013 being the lone exception, in which the champion played on the road because of a stadium conflict).

History Edit

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. 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 "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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Defending Super Bowl champions are 11–2 in the Kickoff Game. The New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens are the two only 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.

Selected details Edit

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 it was not desired 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 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 for coverage of the Republican National Convention to not 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.[7]

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: Similar to the situation in 2008, the NFL was faced with the prospect of having to compete with the Democratic National Convention. Instead of moving the kickoff to 7:00 p.m. like in 2008, or even opening up the season on a Thursday like in past years, the league instead decided to move 2012 NFL Kickoff Game one day earlier to Wednesday, September 5. New York Giants, winner of Super Bowl 46, hosted their rivals, Dallas Cowboys.

2013: After winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens were originally slated to host the 2013 Kickoff Game on September 5. However, due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles, whose stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, shares parking with the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens instead played on the road against Denver Broncos. The 2013 Kickoff game was 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 both Republican and Democratic conventions were both scheduled for July 2016, there will be no scheduling conflict with them as there was in 2008 and 2012, nor are there conflicts with any other sports team in Denver that night.) Denver 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.

Results Edit

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 Baltimore Ravens 27 Denver Broncos 49 Sports Authority Field at Mile High NBC
2014 September 4 Green Bay Packers 16 Seattle Seahawks 36 CenturyLink Field NBC
2015 September 10 Pittsburgh Steelers 21 New England Patriots 28 Gillette Stadium NBC
2016 September 8 Carolina Panthers 20 Denver Broncos 21 Sports Authority Field at Mile High NBC

Winning team and score labeled in bold.

* – Game was not yet hosted by the defending Super Bowl champions. ** – Game played on a Wednesday instead of the usual Thursday. + - Defending Super Bowl champions played on road due to scheduling conflict with MLB.

Overtime Result

Standings Edit

Team GP W L T Pct. PF PA
New England Patriots 3 3 0 0 1.000 85 65
Denver Broncos 2 2 0 0 1.000 70 47
Dallas Cowboys 1 1 0 0 1.000 24 17
Seattle Seahawks 1 1 0 0 1.000 36 16
San Francisco 49ers 1 1 0 0 1.000 16 13
Pittsburgh Steelers 3 2 1 0 .667 62 55
Indianapolis Colts 2 1 1 0 .500 65 37
Green Bay Packers 2 1 1 0 .500 58 70
Washington Redskins 2 1 1 0 .500 23 29
New Orleans Saints 3 1 2 0 .333 58 92
New York Giants 3 1 2 0 .333 46 47
Baltimore Ravens 1 0 1 0 .000 27 49
Carolina Panthers 1 0 1 0 .000 20 21
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 Edit

Britney Spears performs on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., 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 9/11memorial 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.[11]
  • 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 Bowlchampion, 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 Yearwoodconcluded 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.[12] 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 Cityon 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.)[13]
  • 2009: "NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 Presented by EA Sports" featured Tim McGraw and The Black Eyed Peas performing at Point State Park in Pittsburgh.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, and Maroon 5 performed.[17] 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 G4due to President Obama's primetime address to Congress.[18] 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.[19] Bart Starr entered the stadium to represent the Packers. The other participants included:[20] 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).[21] A 34-minute weather delay due to lightning occurred immediately after the concert and delayed the kickoff of the game.
  • 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.[22]
  • 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 Daysang the National Anthem.[24]

Television ratings Edit

Year Network Household Rating/share Viewers (live plus same day) Ref.
2002 ESPN 7.6 10.8 million [25]
2003 ABC 12.9/22 19.2 million [25]
2004 ABC 11.4/20 16.9 million [25]
2005 ABC 11.7/21 18.0 million [25]
2006 NBC 12.6/21 19.2 million [25]
2007 NBC 11.5/20 17.8 million [25]
2008 NBC 8.6/15 13.5 million [25]
2009 NBC 12.8/22 20.9 million [25]
2010 NBC 16.5/28 27.5 million [25]
2011 NBC 16.0 27.2 million [25]
2012 NBC 14.7 23.9 million [25]
2013 NBC 14.9 25.1 million [25]
2014 NBC 15.5 26.9 million [25]
2015 NBC 16.2 27.4 million [25]
2016 NBC 14.6/27 25.2 million [26]

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