ESPN earned broadcast rights to a series of Sunday night NFL games, which were to air during the second half of the season, beginning in the 1987 season. ESPN kept this contract until the 1997 season, by which time the NFL had expanded its Sunday night offerings to the full season and added Turner Sports as a broadcast partner. During the first season of ESPN Sunday Night NFL (as it was then branded) in 1987, the network's announcing booth had Mike Patrick, Roy Firestone, and a weekly "guest color commentator." Joe Theismann took over as lead analyst beginning in 1988.
During the first season, the game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots (the very first regular season game aired by ESPN), had WABC-TV (the American Broadcasting Company's flagship station out of New York City) produce a completely separate telecast from ESPN's (rather than an over-the-air station simply simulcasting ESPN's broadcast in the competing teams' home markets). The reason behind this was that WABC's union contract at the time prohibited non-union workers, such as those at ESPN, from producing live events for WABC. The WABC broadcasts involved play-by-play man Corey McPherrin and Frank Gifford and Lynn Swann on color commentary.
Beginning in 1998, ESPN broadcast the entire slate of Sunday night games (now officially rebranded as Sunday Night Football), and had exclusive rights to any night game other than the season opener and regular Monday night games, which aired on ABC. Thus, ESPN would usually have a few weekends each season with games on both Saturday (sometimes Thursday instead) and Sunday nights. Also in 1998, Paul Maguire joined Patrick and Theismann in the booth after re-joining ESPN after several years as a color commentator for NBC. Beginning in 1999, Suzy Kolber, who had recently rejoined ESPN from Fox Sports, served as the sideline reporter; Kolber replaced Solomon Wilcots, who joined CBS as a color commentator. In 2002, ESPN's SNF crew covered the new Thursday, opening night kickoff game. In 2004, Pat Summerall replaced Patrick for the preseason and for several regular season weeks following Patrick's recovery from open-heart surgery.
After the 2005 season, ESPN ended this package in favor of picking up the broadcast rights to Monday Night Football from ABC. NBC picked up the rights to ESPN's Sunday night games. To replace Sunday Night Football ESPN moved its late-season Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts back to the network and replaced most of the rest of the open weeks with NBA telecasts.
Read more about this topic: ESPN Sunday Night Football
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