It didn’t take long for America to embrace the 2010 football season.
ESPN opened to its highest household total ever with college ball on Labor night, as Boise State’s last-minute triumph over Virginia Tech averaged 7.25 million households. The Sept. 6 game scored 9.88 million watchers, in which the No. 3 Broncos nipped the then-No. 10 Hokies to keep their BCS championship dream alive (that’s the beauty or folly of the college game, fates being decided in the first week).
That trailed only the 10.6 million for ESPN’s presentation of Ohio State and USC last season. The Sept. 6 game matched the Trojans-Buckeyes 7.3 rating, the highest-rated college contest on the Bristol behemoth since Florida State-Miami averaged 7.7 on Oct. 8, 1994.
Perhaps more impressively: Boise State-Va. Tech didn’t even play out on the Broncos’ blue field.
For its part, NBC registered several records with its Sept. 9 coverage (even Snookie, JWoww and The Situation barely got in the way) of the rematch of last year’s NFC championship game, even though the New Orleans Saints’ 14-9 defeat of the Minnesota Vikings was a lackluster affair on the turf at the Superdome.
Still, the prospect of watching the still feel good story of the Saints’ initial defense of their Super Bowl crown in NOLA, with the Hattiesburg Hamlet, Brett Favre, back in the house was just too good to ignore as some 27.5 million tuned in on average.
That was the most for any league primetime telecast since ABC tackled 31.5 million with the Monday Night Football matchup between Dallas and Green Bay (a much younger Favre was in Texas Stadium) on Nov. 18, 1996.
Moreover, Thursday night’s game, the most-watched primetime NFL contest in NBC history, now stands as the top “NFL Opening Weekend” confrontation since Dallas-Chicago on Sept. 2, 1996 on ABC.
Does this set the stage for the NFL to surpass the 2009-10 campaign, its best TV season in a generation, capped by America’s top ever telecast, the 106.5 million that watched the Saints take Super Bowl XLIV over the Indianapolis Colts and that quarterback from New Orleans first family?
We might get a sense on Monday night. That’s (actually, it won’t be until the Nielsen check on Tuesday afternoon) when we’ll see if HBO’s Hard Knocks has suitably primed the public’s perception of Ross Greenburg’s favorite team, as the New York Jets and their rambunctious (if somewhat less rotund) coach Rex Ryan hosts his former charges the Baltimore Ravens (sorry, the Kansas City Chiefs-San Diego Chargers nightcap of ESPN’s doubleheader isn’t anywhere near as enticing).
Of course, many Big Apple fans can’t wait to extend an oh so warm welcome back — not to mention more than a few Bronx cheers — to Benedict Brett, when the former Jet and Minny invade the New Meadowlands on MNF on Oct. 11. Rest assured, more than a few ESPN execs and Nielsen families will be watching.