(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Dick Ebersol interview, fast-forward to 24;45 of the attachment above)
Dick Ebersol didn’t play a down of NFL football nor was he part of an NFL team. Nevertheless, come this August you can find his name in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That’s because the Hall recently named the former head of NBC Sports its 2019 winner of the Pete Rozelle Radio and TV award, given annually to those persons who make "exceptional contributions" in football to radio and TV.
For Ebersol, it’s the latest in a litany of honors, including a Peabody Award, an Emmy for Lifetime Achievement, the Olympic Order and inductions in both the U.S. Olympic and Broadcasting and Cable Halls of Fame.
Except this one is different. Because this time Ebersol will be honored during the August Enshrinement Week that includes Denver owner Pat Bowlen, a former business associate who became Ebersol's close friend as the two worked through TV contracts and the creation of "Sunday Night Football."
So where does this award rank?
“I’d have to say it’s probably at the very top of the list,” Ebersol said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I’ve gotten all types of awards from the Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee and the various international sports.
"But this one is very near the top because in those years ... starting in the mid ‘90s … I got very close to Pat. And when I had a vision toward changing the course of prime-time football in the NFL, as the head of the TV committee -- fortunately for me – he was, in the beginning, the only person who got it.
“The idea of moving off of Monday Night, where (the NFL) had never been the No.-1 show, to Sunday … to a lot of owners it was considered that no, no, no, by Sunday night they’ve seen too much football already in the course of the day. And I was adamant. If we can work together every year to create a schedule of games that, if it isn’t the Game of the Week, it’s a traditional rivalry game like the Packers and the Bears. Or Dallas and Washington. Or New York and Philadelphia. And he made sure the league lived up to the standard.”
But it wasn’t just Bowlen who was involved. It was Dallas owner Jerry Jones and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and together they helped the NFL move toward a program – Sunday Night Football – that has dominated the ratings since its inception. And one of the reasons is a concept that Ebersol pushed – a flexible schedule that allows the league the last six weeks of the season to move its most attractive games to the Sunday Night platform.
“I very much wanted ‘flex’ and was willing to pay for it,” said Ebersol. “With Bowlen and commissioner Tagliabue, in particular … they paved the way not only for the owners to accept it but more importantly to lay it out in such a manner that you didn’t have the coaches going nuts that a game's (schedule) could be changed on one week's notice.
“It obviously has borne great fruit. Sunday Night Football has been a Top-10 show since the week it went on the air in September of ’06. That had never happened with any sports series, let alone an NFL series.
“But then in the years that followed that it became the No. 1 television show. No sports show had been the No. 1 television show for a season. And it did that in a way that we had gotten used to when we were kids – like when Bonanza was No.1 or Laugh-In. And here was football – the third game of the day – I think because of the scheduling, because of the production team … and (because of) the announcers.”
Ebersol was one of the most outspoken and persuasive voices behind the Bowlen candidacy when he was considered by the Hall’s contributor sub-committee. He stepped forward on Bowlen’s behalf in 2018 before former GM Bobby Beathard was inducted and he pushed him again for this year when Bowlen and former Dallas executive Gil Brandt were named.
“He was totally truthful about what he said on his word and commissioner Tagliabue’s word,” said Ebersol. “That was good enough for me.
"And that’s pretty rare in the world, period. Forget about the NFL. It's pretty bizarre in the world where your word is truly your bond. And that's what Bowlen was all about as a man.”