By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor John Molori
- Football is king
- Past as prologue
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Football reigns supreme
Some interesting viewership numbers for the NFL this season, displaying the popularity of pro football, not only among other sports, but when paired with mainstream programming as well:
* Four of the top 10 programs on network television this season were NFL games. Among men ages 18 to 49, six of the top seven programs were NFL games.
* NFL games on ESPN accounted for nine of the 10 most-watched basic cable programs in 2005.
* NFL viewership on broadcast television finished 61 percent higher than the average primetime viewership among the four major over-the-air networks (9.7 million average on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC).
* NFL games earned the No. 1 spot for the week among all programs in 339 of 489 local ratings weeks this season.
These were the top network television programs nationally, as measured by average total viewers each week, according to Nielsen Media:
  1. CSI, 24.4 million
  2. Desperate Housewives, 22.3 million
  3. FOX national NFL broadcast, 20.4 million
  4. CBS national NFL broadcast, 19.2 million
  5. Without A Trace, 18.35 million
  6. Survivor: Guatemala, 18.30 million
  7. Grey's Anatomy, 17.7 million
  8. CSI: Miami, 17.5 million
  9. ABC Monday Night Football, 16.3 million
  10. FOX single game, 15.7 million  
These were the 10 most-watched regular-season NFL games in 2005, with viewer numbers, according to Nielsen Media (in cases of split regional broadcasts, the game that was seen around most of the nation is listed):
  1. Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving) – Broncos-Cowboys (CBS), 26.4 million
  2. Nov. 27 – mostly Giants-Seahawks (FOX), 24.2 million
  3. Jan. 1 – mostly Redskins-Eagles (FOX), 23.1 million
  4. Nov. 28 – Steelers-Colts (ABC, MNF), 22.6 million
  5. Nov. 7 – Colts-Patriots (ABC, MNF), 21.9 million
  6. Dec. 4 – mostly Broncos-Chiefs (CBS), 21.4 million
  7. Dec. 18 – mostly Chargers-Colts (CBS), 21.3 million
  8. Sept. 11 – mostly Cowboys-Chargers (FOX), 21.3 million
  9. Dec. 11 – mostly Chiefs-Cowboys (CBS), 21.2 million
  10. Oct. 30 – mostly Eagles-Broncos (FOX), 21.0 million  
The following were the 10 most-watched regular-season basic cable programs with viewer numbers, according to Nielsen Media:
  1. Sept. 11 – Colts-Ravens (ESPN), 11.25 million
  2. Nov. 6 – Eagles-Redskins (ESPN), 11.21 million
  3. Dec. 18 – Falcons-Bears (ESPN), 10.4 million
  4. Sept. 18 – Chiefs-Raiders (ESPN), 10.3 million
  5. Nov. 13 – Browns-Steelers (ESPN), 11/13, 9.8 million
  6. Sept. 25 – Giants-Chargers (ESPN), 9.75 million
  7. Oct. 30 – Bills-Patriots (ESPN), 9.7 million
  8. June 6 – NBA Playoff Game (TNT),  9.1 million
  9. Dec. 11 – Lions-Packers (ESPN) 8.9 million
  10. Dec. 25 – Vikings-Ravens (ESPN), 8.8 million
Last weekend, NFL wild-card playoff games ranked as four of the 10 most-watched programs overall last week. Pre- and post-game ABC programming on Saturday took two additional spots.
Been There, Done That
Playoff neophytes Byron Leftwich, Chris Simms and Eli Manning all lost games to more playoff-experienced quarterbacks last week. So, what does playoff experience mean as it pertains to the quarterback position? Some of the "pundits" weighed in last week.

"I think it makes a difference not just for quarterbacks, but for everybody," said Dan Dierdorf, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who played in just three playoff games during his 13-year St. Louis Cardinals career and is now an analyst for CBS.

"It is totally different when you're in the playoffs. Unless you've been there before, you have a tendency to get a little wide-eyed, the throat gets awfully dry and the heart beats a little out of control. It is easy to have happen. Experience is a big factor when it comes to the playoffs."        

Shannon Sharpe was a three-time Super Bowl champ with Denver and Baltimore and is now a member of CBS's "NFL Today" pregame crew. He said, "You need someone who has been there before, who is not easily fazed by it all and takes care of the football."
Sharpe's belief in the importance of experience is one reason why he believes the Bears are in trouble this weekend. Chicago's Rex Grossman is the only starting quarterback remaining who has yet to take a postseason snap in his career and he's up against one of the league's top playoff gunslingers, Jake Delhomme of Carolina.
"Yes, he (Grossman) has been in the National Football League for two or three years (three), but he has not started a whole lot of games (seven)," said Sharpe. "Now he is in the playoffs – you have to score points. I don't care how good your defense is."  

FOX analyst Daryl Johnston, a three-time Super Bowl champion at fullback for the Cowboys of the 1990s, agrees with Sharpe's assessment of the Bears and said that they are the team most likely to be upset this weekend. "Their lack of playoff experience at quarterback will likely come back to haunt them." 
Brady's respect plea strikes nerve
Before the playoffs began, New England quarterback Tom Brady said publicly that his team was not getting the respect that it deserved. This blanket statement was met with disdain from several football media types including ESPN's Michael Wilbon and Michael Smith, as well as NFL Network's Lincoln Kennedy.

Many pundits pointed to the fact that Brady has been showered with praise from the mainstream media, a true but misdirected retort.
Brady never said that HE was disrespected. He said that his team was disrespected. Clearly, Brady's message struck a nerve with several members of the national media.
"When the Patriots lost at Denver on October 16, they were awfully beat-up, and it was the culmination of an absolutely brutal stretch for them," said CBS analyst Phill Simms, who will call tonight's New England-Denver tilt at 8 p.m. "In successive weeks, with an injury-depleted team, they played at Carolina, at Pittsburgh, home vs. San Diego, at Atlanta and at Denver.

"The loss to Denver put the Patriots at 3-3 and I remember exactly what I thought at the time: 'Okay, they survived this brutal stretch with a brutal schedule and so many injuries. Now, their season can really begin.'"

Simms crystallized what Brady was saying with his "respect" comments. Essentially, much of the national media gave up on New England, failing to see that their schedule and injury woes contributed to the mediocre record.

Dierdorf agrees that New England has improved by leaps and bounds, especially in run defense, stating, "I suspect that Denver will struggle to run the football this week. Anyone can take away the run if they really put their mind to it and something tells me that Bill Belichick is going to put his mind to it. Jake Plummer is going to have to win this game."

Said Simms: "I worked that (first) New England-Denver game. The Broncos did hit Tom Brady. They blitzed a lot and caught New England by surprise. I would seriously doubt they can do that again. Denver hit some very big plays against a New England secondary that was giving up big plays week after week at that point of the season. After watching the last six games, though, the Patriots are not giving up those big plays anymore."

As for Brady himself, the respect has grown. "What he is doing is unbelievable," said Sharpe. "Sometimes I still find it so hard to believe that you play this long at this level and the margin of error whether you win or lose is very minute now.

"For (Brady) to be 10-0 in the postseason, consecutively, three Super Bowls the last four years, he could arguably go down as the best big-game quarterback that ever lived. He's going to challenge Joe Montana for that title."

Added Johnston: "Until somebody beats him, Tom Brady's decision making, experience and ability to raise everyone's play around him makes him the most indispensable offensive player in these playoffs."

Blitz Bits
Dan Marino will have an in-depth interview with Brady on Saturday as part of CBS's "NFL Today" coverage, while Sharpe visits with the Broncos' defense. Jim Nantz will be alongside Simms in the broadcast booth.

For the second time in his career, Nantz has been named the 2005 National Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He also won the honor in 1998, breaking the winning streaks of NBC's Bob Costas and ESPN's Chris Berman, who had alternated winning the award since 1987.

John Molori's columns are published at, The Boston Metro, Patriots Football Weekly, The Providence Journal, Boston Sports Review, New England Hockey Journal, New England Ringside Magazine,,,,,, and Email John at