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National Football League Kickoff game

The logo for the 2002 concert event before the Kickoff Game

The National Football League Kickoff game, along with related festivities, marks the official start of the National Football League (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.[1] 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 hosts the Kickoff game. But for the 2013 season, the defending champion Baltimore Ravens instead played as the visiting team due to scheduling conflicts with the Orioles, whose home stadiums share the same parking lots and other nearby facilities.[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. 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.

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 9–2 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

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, 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.[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 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.[6]

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 the 2012 Kickoff Game one day earlier to Wednesday, September 5. The New York Giants, winner of Super Bowl XLVI, hosted their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.[8]

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 the Denver Broncos.[9] 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.

2014: The Seattle Seahawks, after winning Super Bowl XLVIII, hosted the 2014 Kickoff Game on September 4 at CenturyLink Field with the Green Bay Packers as their opponent. The game was a rematch of the controversial "Fail Mary" game.


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 TBA New England Patriots TBA Gillette Stadium NBC

Winning team and score labeled in bold.

* – Game was not yet hosted by the defending Super Bowl champions
** – Game played between last two Super Bowl winners
*** – 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


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
Denver Broncos 1 1 0 0 1.000 49 27
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
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
Oakland Raiders 1 0 1 0 .000 20 30
Miami Dolphins 1 0 1 0 .000 17 28
New York Jets 1 0 1 0 .000 13 16
Tennessee Titans 1 0 1 0 .000 10 13
Minnesota Vikings 1 0 1 0 .000 9 14

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.[10]
  • 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).[20] A 34-minute weather delay due to lightning occurred immediately after the concert and delayed the kickoff of the game.

Television ratings

Year Network Household Rating/share Viewers (live plus same day) Ref.
2002 ESPN 7.6/14
9.4 (cable)
10.799 million [22]
2003 ABC 12.9/22 19.150 million [22]
2004 ABC 11.4/20 16.879 million [22]
2005 ABC 11.7/21 18.006 million [22]
2006 NBC 12.6/21 19.196 million [22]
2007 NBC 13.0 (overnight)
11.5/20 (finals)
17.791 million [22][23][24]
2008 NBC 7.5/12 (fast national)
8.6/15 (finals)
13.531 million [22][24][25]
2009 NBC 10.9/18 (fast national)
12.8/22 (finals)
20.909 million [22][24][26][27]
2010 (8:42pm, 163 minutes) NBC 17.7 (overnight)
16.5/28 (finals)
27.485 million [1] [23][24][28]
2011 NBC 17.2 (overnight)
16.0 (finals)
27.170 million [29][30][31]
2012 NBC 16.5 (overnight)
14.7 (finals)
23.9 million
2013 NBC 16.2 (overnight)
14.9 (finals)
25.1 million
2014 NBC 16.8 (overnight)
15.5 (finals)
26.9 million


  1. ^ NFL season-opener to be held Wednesday, Sept. 5
  2. ^ Maske, Mike (March 22, 2013). "Ravens to play NFL’s season-opening game on the road". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  3. ^ Bloomberg: "NHL Borrows From NFL as It Pursues Bigger TV Contract"
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sunday Night Football to be streamed LIVE. 28 July 2008.
  7. ^ Bouchette, Ed (March 19, 2010). "Rooney: Steelers won't open in New Orleans". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  8. ^ "Giants to host NFC East rival Cowboys in 2012 season opener". 2012-03-27. Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  9. ^ McIntyre, Brian (April 18, 2013). "Broncos, Ravens to kick off NFL's 2013 regular season". Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  10. ^ (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 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 2003-11-10. pp. 117 Stat. 1280 – 117 Stat. 1281. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  11. ^ "Thousands pack Downtown to start NFL in style". 2007-09-07. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  12. ^ National Football League (2008-08-12). "Keith Urban and Usher to headline NFL's Kickoff celebration from NYC". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  13. ^ National Football League (2009-09-10). "Kickoff Concert - Tim Mcgraw and The Black Eyed Peas Concert". Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  14. ^ "Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift to Play at NFL Kickoff Concert". 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  15. ^ "Party in the works for NFL Kickoff at Lambeau Field". WFRV-TV. 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  16. ^ "NFL Kickoff concert preps underway". WLUK-TV. 2011-08-31. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  17. ^ Hiestand, Michael (2011-09-07). "Obama speech shifts NBC NFL pregame". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  18. ^ "'NFL Kickoff 2011 presented by EA Sports' to celebrate Packers". 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  19. ^ "NFL legends participating in pregame". Fox 11. 2011-09-07. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  20. ^ Chase, Chris (2013-09-06). "Ryan Seacrest and the NFL did their best to ruin opening night". USA Today. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  21. ^ "'2014 NFL Kickoff presented by Xbox' to start NFL Season". National Football League. 2014-08-03. Retrieved 2014-08-03. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h "Titans/Steelers scores touchdown for NBC". SportsMediaWatch. 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  23. ^ a b "Vikings/Saints Earns Kickoff Record 17.7 Overnight; 60.0 In New Orleans". Sports Media Watch. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  24. ^ a b c d "Multiple Viewership Records For Vikings/Saints; Game Scores Over 27 Million". Sports Media Watch. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  25. ^ "From Inside the Box - September 2008 - Zap2it". Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  26. ^ "TV ratings: 'Vampire Diaries' has a bloody good premiere; NFL kickoff also strong". 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  27. ^ "Sunday 4pm NFL Games TV Ratings Often Bigger Than NFL Primetime". 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  28. ^ "Updated TV Ratings: ‘NFL Kickoff’ Soars ; ‘Vampire Diaries’ Falls; ‘Nikita’ Equals ‘Supernatural’". 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  29. ^ "Saints/Packers Opener Down, Still Second-Best Kickoff Game". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  30. ^ "Thursday Final Ratings: Packers/Saints Ratings; ‘CBS Fall Preview’ Adjusted Up - Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2012-09-05. 
  31. ^ "Despite Decline, NFL Opener a Success For NBC". 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2011-09-12.