The very first NFL game to be broadcast on the small screen aired on NBC’s fledgling television network on October 22nd, 1939, when only 500 about New Yorkers owned TVs. It featured the Philadelphia Eagles against the Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, a football team, from 1930 to 1943) at Ebbets Field, in a contest won by Brooklyn 23-14. The game was also aired to a crowd of awed viewers at New York’s 1939 World’s Fair.
Football has always been hard-hitting and fast-paced, so much so that viewers at home often didn’t have a chance to digest everything they were witnessing. That all changed on December 7th, 1963, when CBS’ coverage of the Army-Navy Game featured an instant replay of a touchdown, which was followed by announcer Lindsey Nelson explaining to viewers, “Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!” to clear up any confusion. Soon thereafter, the NFL and all other sports organizations began using the technology during their broadcasts.
The First Game Broadcast in Color
On November 25th, 1965, CBS aired the first-ever color broadcast of an NFL game, which fell on Thanksgiving Day and featured the Baltimore Colts versus the Detroit Lions. The game ended in a 24-24 tie.
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John Madden Introduces the First Telestrator
Apart from Howard Cosell, no NFL TV personality is more famous than John Madden. He’s called Super Bowls, changed the video-game industry, and sold his share of hammers for Ace Hardware. But perhaps what he’s most known for to NFL fans is his use of the telestrator—a device that changed the way games are dissected by commentators. It was originally introduced as the “CBS Chalkboard” during Super Bowl XVI in 1982, but after Madden used it to rapidly diagram plays on the screen for viewers, it would forever become synonymous with him.
Football Becomes Big Business for Networks
Since NFL games first started airing regularly on television in the 1950s, networks have been trying to outbid each other to win the broadcast rights. What started out in the thousands of dollars in revenue back then has skyrocketed today to billions generated by the league, which has expanded its audience globally thanks to satellite packages from DirecTV that were first introduced to viewers for the 1994 NFL season.
Fox Is the First to Always Show the Score
For the 1994 NFL season, the Fox network introduced the first-ever full-score bug for its NFL coverage. Dubbed the “FoxBox,” it is a small transparent white graphic in the upper left corner of the screen that shows viewers the score and game clock throughout the entire broadcast.
The Virtual Yellow First-Down Marker
For decades, NFL fans would sit in sports bars and living rooms watching their television sets and agonizing over short yardage plays with bad spots by officials that would ultimately result in first downs or 4th & inches. But that all changed on September 27th, 1998, when a company called Sportvision debuted its “1st and Ten” computer-generated fluorescent yellow line that stretched from one sideline to the other, in an ESPN game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. This showed viewers approximately where the offense needed to advance the ball to in order to keep the chains moving.
NFL Action Goes HD
Nothing makes viewers feel closer to what they are watching on television than when they can see it in high definition. That’s certainly the case with football, which has been broadcasting games in HD since November 8th, 1998, when CBS aired an AFC East showdown between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. That airing was actually a test run by the network, and was only made available in HD to those who watched the game on WCBS in New York.
Throughout its many decades on television, the NFL has continually found ways to make their games more appealing to viewers. Scroll through DYR's 8 innovations that have changed the way we watch football above.