The one thing related to the NFL that everyone can agree was good.
Update, 9/13: NFL Primetime with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson is coming back! It will stream every Sunday night during the 2019 season on ESPN+, starting on Sept. 15. Check out our ode to the show below, originally published on July 19, 2019.
NFL Primetime was the best NFL show to ever exist — and it still hasn’t been topped, despite the most popular form of the program ending over a decade ago.
I remember sneaking down into the living room after it was time for bed to watch Chris Berman and Tom Jackson recap a day’s worth of NFL games in rapid-fire form. It was such an integral piece of the NFL cycle that it was worth getting in trouble to watch.
As someone who didn’t have NFL Sunday Ticket, this was really the only way I could see all the action of the day before starting a new week. The highlight packages, Jackson’s analysis of what was happening on the field, and Berman’s ad-libs made it appointment viewing for football fans of all ages.
The sounds of NFL Primetime instantly drew viewers in
NFL Primetime had the perfect soundtrack to hook people. The music was commanding and attention-grabbing, intertwining with the fast-paced highlights that took over the screen.
As the music played in the background, short clips of the games would appear while Berman rattled off puns that not even world class comedians could come up with.
Let’s take this episode from the first week of the 2001 NFL season.
In the first 35 seconds of show, Berman gives us:
- “Elvis gets ravin’ review from Ray in his Baltimore debut,” in a reference to Elvis Grbac starting his first game in Baltimore.
- “What else is new. Winke, dinkie, doo,” referring to former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke.
- “The Marshall plan is in full effect!” with a clip of Marshall Faulk evading an Eagles defender.
- “Flutie and the Bolts surge past [Washington].” Get it, like surge? Electricity? Chargers? Ha!
- “The Colts have the Edge with Peyton Manning at the helm,” with a highlight of Edgerrin James running into the end zone.
- “Will Favre and the Packers give Ahman the Green light?”
Just a master class in puns on the fly.
Berman and Jackson worked together seamlessly
The first game they detail in that episode is a 28-6 win for the Green Bay Packers over the Detroit Lions. The third clip that they show is an 83-yard touchdown run by Ahman Green. After Green clears the defense, Berman lets off his trademark phrase.
Right after Berman makes a joke about Lions general manager Matt Millen not being too pleased with the outcome, the cool voice of Tom Jackson comes in to break down the play.
Jackson points out the three Lions defenders who failed to make the tackle. The first was defensive end James Hall, who slipped.
Then, defensive back Terry Fair had the misfortune of slipping.
And the last defender got cut down by Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman in the open field.
In roughly 30 seconds, Berman hits you over the head with the excitement of the play while Jackson explains what happens — all with that legendary music in the background. It was the ideal level of stimulation for both the casual fan and people interested in the minute details.
Just like that, they were on to the next play.
While the structure of the show made for great entertainment, it was the lively ad-libs of Berman that became burned into the minds of fans.
For me, the Berman’s one-liners became the best part of NFL Primetime — and his “Whoop!” was easily the king of all his catchphrases.
Berman was able to bring character and flavor to a play with just a couple simple words. He had other phrases like “Zip!” and “Rumblin, bumblin, stumblin!”, but nothing beat him yelling “Whoop!” as a ball-carrier made a defensive player look silly.
Bermanisms added a little extra juice to the highlight package and helped make the show such a unique experience.
Berman and Jackson have been on and off the program since 2006, but they do get to come back and rewind the clock during the playoffs.
And with the rise of NFL Redzone and fans having the ability to pull up pretty much any play on the internet, the OG version of NFL Primetime might not be as necessary as it was in the early 2000s.
The current version of the show features Trey Wingo, Matt Hasselbeck, and Jeff Saturday going over the previous week’s NFL action. It’s an hour long like the original version of NFL Primetime and even airs at the same time, but it doesn’t quite capture the excitement that Berman and Jackson brought.
Although shows like NFL Primetime may not be essential anymore, nothing will ever replace the feeling that Berman and Jackson gave football fans on a weekly basis. It was fast-moving, informative, colorful, and most importantly: it was fun.
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