The History of NFL Today on CBS

For fans of sports, especially football, there are now lots of shows on ESPN, HBO, and other channels where you can watch the games of your most favorite teams. But what do you think is the first sports personality show that has set the standards for all of the sports shows we have in the present time? Well, for us, and probably for many people, too, there’s no doubt that it’s “The NFL Today” on CBS back in the 1970s and into the 1980s.

The NFL on CBS is the name used for broadcasts of National Football League games. The show is produced by CBS Sports, which is the sports division of the CBS television network in the United States. It aired NFL game telecasts since 1956. And from 2014 to 2017, it also broadcasted Thursday Night Football games during the first half of the NFL season through a partnership with NFL Network.

If you are curious about how NFL Today on CBS started and how it became popular, you’re in the right place. Today, we are giving you the history of NFL Today on CBS.


The primary television partner of NFL, which was the DuMont Television Network, ended network operations in August 1956 due to years of decline. But before that, DuMont had already sold the rights to the NFL Championship to NBC in the previous year. Therefore, when DuMont ended its regular-season coverage, CBS was able to acquire the rights.

It was on September 30, 1956, when the coverage of CBS began before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The first regular-season broadcast was a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers against the visiting Washington Redskins. Before 1968, CBS had an allotted crew for each NFL team. As a result, it became the first network to broadcast some NFL regular-season games to selected television markets across the country.

When Fox earned the broadcast television contract to that particular conference, CBS aired NFL games from the National Football Conference from 1970 until the end of the 1993 season. Game coverage has been headed by the pre-game show “The NFL Today” since 1975. It features game previews, extensive analysis, and as well as interviews.

  • 1950s

The first attempts of CBS to broadcast the NFL on television were noteworthy because there was no broadcasting contract with the association as a whole. As an alternative, CBS had to strike deals with individual teams to broadcast games into the own markets of the teams. Many of these were purchased by CBS from the declining DuMont Television Network.

Every club joined forces with CBS but not including Cleveland. In order to broadcast regional games to regional audiences, CBS set out to divide its network into nine regional networks, which would be in Chicago, New York, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and on the Pacific Coast or Los Angeles and San Francisco. The games were usually broadcasted with “split audio,” wherein a game between two franchises would have the same picture in both networks of the teams. Each network had different announcers, who were usually working in their home markets.

In 1957, the Pro Bowl was first offered to NBC and then to CBS. However, both networks declined to carry the game. ABC was then offered to televise it and accepted it. But it could not gain enough clearance of affiliates in time to make it a money-making venture. With that, they also dropped out, and the game was not televised. CBS had 11 teams under contract by 1959, and the Cleveland Browns were still not included.

  • 1960s

In the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys were added to the NFL. During this time, out of the 13 NFL teams, 10 were aligned with CBS. The Colts and the Steelers joined forces with NBC, while the Browns rejoined its partner, which is the syndicated Sports Network. The Chicago Cardinals also moved to St. Louis. Therefore, both the expansion Cowboys and relocated Cardinals would cut severely into the monstrous Chicago CBS Network. But the silver lining of this was that WBBM viewers would at least be able to see games of their Bears on TV after it was virtually shut out from pro football telecasts for years.

1961 was the final year that each NFL team would be on its own TV coverage. There were 11 teams under contract on CBS, including the expansion Minnesota Vikings. CBS Sports broadcasted the first remote 15-minute pre-game show, which was the first of its kind on network sports television.

The NFL followed the American Football League or AFL’s suite with its own revenue-sharing plan after CBS agreed to telecast all regular-season games for an annual fee of $4.65 million in 1964. On April 17, 1964, CBS also acquired the rights to the championship games for 1964 and 1965 for $1.8 million per game.

The executive vice president of CBS, James T. Aubrey, warned the network’s affiliates on May 9, 1963, that the high cost of rights for professional sports could price them off the television. But in January 1964, they agreed to pay $28.2 million to air National Football League games for two years, with 17 games each season. Along with acquiring the rights to the NFL Championship Game, he also agreed to extend the deal for another year in April 1964, for a total of $31.8 million. And with this deal, CBS was able to have full rights to air all of the games of NFL.

On November 24, 1963, two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the NFL played its normal schedule of games. However, CBS Chairman Bill Paley ordered no telecasts of any NFL games played during the period of mourning. With that, since on the afternoon of the 22nd, just after the president had been pronounced dead, Frank Stanton, president of CBS, ordered that all regular programming be pre-empted until after President Kennedy was buried at his funeral procession. All the normal programming, including the NFL, were replaced by non-stop news coverage without commercials.

In 1964, CBS tried the half-and-half set-up for their anchors. The first half of each broadcast would be called by commentators of the home teams, while the other half would be done by the visiting commentators. In the same year, CBS also ditched the concept of using pooled video and split audio feeds.

CBS featured the first color program of a regular-season NFL game on November 25, 1965, which was the traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. In December of the same year, CBS acquired the rights to the NFL regular-season games in 1966 and 1967, with a selection to extend the contract up to 1968 for $18.8 million per year.

The 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship games or the Ice Bowl rights were sold for $2 million per game to CBS. Aside from that, 1967 also marked the last year that CBS had separate commentator crews for each team.

On January 15, 1967, the very first AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played. Since CBS held the rights to nationally televise NFL games, and NBC has the rights to broadcast AFL games, the newly merged league decided to have both of them cover the first game. The next three AFL-NFL World Championship Games, which were later on renamed the Super Bowl, were then divided by the two networks. CBS televised Super Bowl II and Super Bowl IV, while NBC covered Super Bowl III.

  • The NFL Today Debuts

CBS debuted The NFL Today in 1975. It’s a pre-game show that was originally hosted by journalist Brent Musburger and former NFL player Irv Cross, with Phyllis George, former Miss America, serving as one of the reporters. In 1976, Jimmy Snyder joined the program but was later on dismissed by the CBS after the 1987 season due to making comments about racial differences among NFL players in January 1988 during Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The first year that that Sports Emmy Awards were awarded to sportscasts was in 1979, and the NFL Today was among the recipients.

Interestingly, it was also in the 1970s when CBS created a toy division aptly called “CBS Toys.” CBS Toys produced toys for the Sesame Street television show from 1973 to 1984, and the division also acquired the Ideal Toy Company, the makers of the Teddy and the original sellers of the Rubik’s Cube, in 1982. If you want to learn more about the Ideal Toy Company and CBS’s eventual acquisition of the business, read our article titled “Learn About the Ideal Toy Company, the Inventor of the Teddy Bear.”

From the 1980s, a lot of things happened on NFL Today on CBS. The 1980s marked the beginning of the Summerall-Madden era. The 1982 NFL strike also happened, and as well as the shifting of announcers. CBS also began broadcasting in stereo in the 80s.

In the 1990s, CBS broadcasts their final Super Bowl as the NFC package holder. From 1994 to 1997, CBS lost NFL to Fox and attempted to replace its programming. But the network was able to regain NFL in 1998.

In the 2000s, CBS started HDTV coverage, and it also introduced the CBS Eye-lert, which is a service that lets viewers be notified via e-mail and text messages when the start time of a program will be delayed. In the 2010s, CBS broadcasts via a secondary audio program and the internet. From 2014 to 2017, Thursday night games were shown. In the following years, many other developments are made on CBS’s football game coverages, making it more popular.

With this, we can truly say that the original NFL Today was the one that set the standard for all of the sports shows and channels that we have today.