“The NFL Today” is the longest-running pregame show in sports television history, serving as the first live pregame show, the first to show halftime highlights of other games, and the first to wrap up as a post-game show — changing the way sports games were covered forever.
With memorable hosts like Brent Musburger, Greg Gumbel, Jim Nantz, and James Brown, “The NFL Today” has thrived as the go-to pregame show around the United States. Musburger, Irv Cross, Phyllis George and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder led the way for over a decade, followed by Gumbel, Terry Bradshaw, Lesley Visser, Pat O’Brien, and Jim Gray.
When CBS got the NFL rights back for the 1998 season, “The NFL Today” returned with Nantz, Deion Sanders, Randy Cross, Jerry Glanville and Mike Ditka ushering in a new era. James Brown returned to CBS to host in 2006, pairing with Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe for nearly a decade as Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason came aboard.
Brown, Cowher, and Esiason are still with “The NFL Today,” with Nate Burleson and Phil Simms joining the team in 2017. The same pregame crew has been together since, set to be the pregame panel for their third Super Bowl together in Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII.
On Super Bowl Sunday, CBS Sports will present “YOU ARE LOOKING LIVE! The Show That Changed Sports Television Forever” — a one-hour original special about the story of “The NFL Today.” The special debuts on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+, leading directly into a four-hour edition of “The NFL Today” ahead of CBS Sports’ presentation of Super Bowl LVIII.
The four hosts — Musburger, Gumbel, Nantz, and Brown — shared memories of their time hosting the show and what “The NFL Today” meant to them. Nantz choked up when the original score from “The NFL Today” came on.
“Hearing that music come on and the opening animation,” a joyous Nantz reminisced. “We have a contemporary version — I guess you would call it — of that theme. I don’t know how it doesn’t still exist. That’s not up to me to make those decisions.
“It’s right up there with ‘The Masters’ melody and these other scores you associate with a television program.”
Gumbel hosted when Bradshaw was an analyst in the early 1990s. Most of his recollections occurred off the set, which he wanted to share on the show when “The NFL Today” went live.
“He used to say so many things that were so memorable when we were out to dinner that I couldn’t wait to get that on the air on Sunday,” Gumbel said. “Of course, by the time Sunday rolled around, maybe I couldn’t say that.
“All those shows that we all did, the background was football but the makeup was the people we all worked with. I was fortunate to work with Terry (Bradshaw), Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpe, Boomer Esiason. They’re the ones that made it pretty memorable from one day to the next.”
Nantz cherished his time hosting “The NFL Today” from 1998 to 2003, choking up about the memories he shared with that group. CBS lost the NFL rights in 1994, making “The NFL Today” dormant for four seasons. When CBS got the AFC rights for the 1998 season in the next television deal, Nantz was installed as the new host for “The NFL Today.”
“The first day we returned to the NFL in 1998, it was magical feeling,” Nantz said. “I worked with with a lot of different partners, including Boomer. Dan Marino, Deion Sanders (chokes up) — he was tremendous in there. Mike Ditka, working with him was reminiscent of Brent’s days, trolling around New York with (Jimmy) The Greek.”
Nantz told a story about his time with Ditka, showcasing the caring and carefree person the Hall of Fame tight end was off set.
“When I think about those six years was hanging out with all my teammates, and the biggest imprint on my mind was hanging out with Ditka. He was a bigger than life character,” Nantz said. “He was always tipping everyone $100. Coat check, bar. Not $20 or $50. We’d go out to dinner, $100 — keep the change. Most generous guy I’ve ever seen.
“I asked him once, ‘Coach do you ever carry any 20s, 5s or singles?’ He said ‘Here’s the way I look at it. This is supposed to be fun for me. I just made up my mind we’re gonna have 20 weeks a year and I’m not gonna think about money. I allocated $5,000 a week for my play money, so I bring 50 $100 bills to New York every weekend. I like to think I go home without any in my pocket.’
“‘My goal was the day they drop me six feet under, somehow in my casket there’s little opening and that last $100 bill is flying out in the air in my name. That’s how I wanted to live my life in the last moment.'”
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Coming from a reporting background, Brown’s memorable moment happened during one of the weirdest moments in Super Bowl history.
“Maybe this is the Brent Musberger in me. I focused on the event itself and the newsworthiness in it. The power outage in the SuperDome,” Brown recalled. “I just really wish I could have gotten up from the desk and did some reporting on it.
“That’s the reporter in me. I tried to stay in the moment. I just try to make sure I kept my finger on the pulse on what’s going on.”
As the 84-year-old Musburger smiled as he shared his own stories from the host’s chair, the rest of “The NFL Today” hosts looked at him in admiration for what he did for the industry.
“When (CBS Sports) said, ‘Hey, we want you to do this and all you have to do is step into the shows that Brent Musburger filled,’ it was daunting because Brent wrote the book on it,” Gumbel said. “I don’t think that anybody has done it better.”
Nantz is thrilled Musburger is going to get his due for this show and all he accomplished in his decade-plus as the host who made “The NFL Today” the phenomenon that still stands.
“I think that everyone who has hosted a studio show owes a great deal of gratitude to him,” Nantz said. “Brent set the standard.”