In last week's blog post, we celebrated the music of NFL Films. Since that post, the NFL season has started in earnest and Week 1 is now complete.
It got me thinking about sports music. For those of us who are sports fans, almost all of us got bitten by the bug at a young age. As and much as we love watching live sporting events in person, the heavy majority of our sporting life has been watching games on TV.
That means televised pre-game shows, halftime analysis programs, wrap-ups, weekly highlight, sports channels, etc. When we've all watched so much televised sports, with so much passion, for so long, all at an impressionable age ï¿½" the theme music on these shows would be incredibly rich for all of us.
With last week being an in-depth playlist of NFL Films music, we still have some unfinished business with music and football. I took a deep dive into football show theme music and found it just as resonant as the NFL Films stuff. Thus, the list below that we've compiled.
Going further down the rabbit hole, that took me into theme music for ALL sports shows, not just football. So, it was only natural that we made a list of best overall sports show music. Pretty simple. Enjoy!
NFL Broadcast Theme Songs
1. Monday Night Football theme ("Heavy Action") It's impossible for me to tell people 30 and under how big of a deal Monday Night Football was in the 1970s. It was appointment television. Even Howard Cosell improvising his way through the "Halftime Highlights" recap of Sundays game was huge; this was pre-SportsCenter. You could not find or watch highlights of your favorite team. Sports fans were desperate for more coverage. That said, "Heavy Action" stands on its own as a truly great piece of music.
2. NFL on Fox Iconic and bombastic, but this was introduced when Summerall and Madden were doing games on Fox so it's buried deep in my soul.
3. NBC Sunday Night Football Without even looking this up, upon hearing it I said it's gotta be the same composer as NBC Nightly News theme. After looking it up, yes indeed: both are John Williams pieces.
4. Sunday Night Countdown on ESPN If you can provide 36 minutes of Chris Berman impressions, THIS is your music bed
5. 1970s/80s CBS NFL Today theme You can almost picture Jimmy The Greek punching Brent Musburger when you hear this. Amidst the other more modern themes here, the lack of a well-produced sheen on this oldie is appealing.
6. NFL on CBS Pretty damn solid.
7. ABC Monday Night Football - Hank Williams Jr "Are You Ready For Some Football" This just shows how deep this list is.
8. NFL Network This is usually what you get if you leave a Season Ticket game channel on 30 minutes after the game. Oh, those chimes. This one also was an NFL Films original so it appeared in last week's list.
9. Hard Knocks HBO In our NFL Films article I kind of insinuated that the modern David Robidoux NFL Films music is just noisy bombast with less merit than the classic 60s and 70s Sam Spence / John Facenda stuff. But in this case, the Robidoux theme is perfect for HBO's Hard Knocks. Hard Knocks is secretly the best reality show hiding in plain sight, and this is perfect reality show music.
10. 2012 NBC Sunday Night Football - Faith Hill "Waiting All Day For Sunday Night" Had a great run, Faith Hill’s version was the high point, if you asked me. The song was adapted from Joan Jett "I Hate Myself For Loving You", in case that’s been nagging you.
11. 1970s NFL on NBC Not as iconic or memorable as higher-ranked ones but Jesus Christ every member of this band is working their ass off on this one.
12. NFL Today - Frank Sinatra "Let Me Try Again" Some sweet footage of Bud Grant contemplatively walking in the snow. Stick around for 30 minutes of pure sports and commercials nostalgia.
All Other Sports
We are looking for original pieces of music here, not adaptations of existing songs.
Keeping that in mind, the best opening music of all may be the Olympics Theme - but we are ruling it out since it was a pre-existing classical piece called "Bugler's Dream" - That said, it bears sampling here:
Speaking of the Olympics, Chuck "Feels So Good" Mangionne was commissioned by the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics to write a song: "Give It All You Got" -
The theme song from The White Shadow deserved a nod, but this opens up a can of worms using a fictionalized show; then I'd have to allow Hanging With Mr. Cooper. But I promise you, the "White Shadow Theme" will appear on a best TV theme song post and playlist in the future.
1. Wide World Of Sports "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sportï¿½" the thrill of victoryï¿½" and the agony of defeatï¿½" the human drama of athletic competition" - The music is just as dramatic as the copy on this intro.
2. Wimbledon (1970s/1980s) It takes about 30 seconds to kick into gear in this version but when it does it is sports intro perfection. A Keith Mansfield composition, you'll recognize him from his funkier offerings in the NFL Films list.
3. NBA on NBC (1990s & 2000s) Yes, it's called "Roundball Rock." Yes, it was written by John Tesh. Yes, it was fantastically sent up in a SNL sketch. But it IS the sound of 1990's NBA. I never thought I'd say this, but this is a John Tesh song that rocks.
4. Olympic Fanfare As stated above, we're not counting the first part, "Bugler's Dream." But the rest of this is pure John Williams. Yes, it's very close to his NBC Nightly News Theme. And there a couple of spots where you hear the music from the E.T. bike riding/flying scene. That said, this is high-level sports music.
5. Around The Horn Completely unique. This wasn't done by a veteran film or tv score composer, this is from Umphrey's McGee, one of the best jam bands in the biz. The show is a fun enough concept that eats some daytime innings for ESPN, but this song is so much better than the show deserves.
6. This Week In Baseball This song, "Jet Set", and "Gathering Crowds" were both songs using by NFL Films and cited in last week's article. But when viewed in the context of baseball memories of This Week In Baseball, these 2 songs have a whole other feel. Again, this is pre-SportsCenter and TWIB was an absolute lifeline when it comes to baseball highlights.
7. College Basketball on CBS (1993-2003) It’s hard not to hear this without ghost-hearing Jim Nantz' voice hyping an upcoming college basketball showdown. The main theme has a Pavlovian familiarity but there's some great playing on this one.
8. NHL on ESPN This is such a close, recycled cousin to ESPN's Baseball Tonight theme. But it has a little more gravitas than Baseball Tonight (which we won't count here, since this is pretty much the same thing).
9. ESPN SportsCenter The iconic ba-dah-dah, ba-dah-dah is an incredible iconic short riff. But outside of the commercials, when it got played at the top of SportsCenter it was a long music bed with a surprising amount of saxophone. You can kind of hear how it evolved from this original version.
10. HBO Sports Sports has an odd place at HBO. Circa 1980 you got sports access there that wasn't available elsewhere - Inside The NFL football highlights, Wimbledon broadcasts. This excellent theme was adapted into different versions as intros to their documentary series, to Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, etc.
11. English Premier League (late 2010's) This really wouldn't be that out of place on the radio if it had lyrics. English soccer broadcasts have an extra level of sheen on them and this theme is definitely smooth. But it really works.
12. The Masters We can all make fun of Jim Nantz' pretentious lines, "a tradition unlike any other" and Butler Cabin all we want, but this is an incredibly bold choice for sports music.
13. NBA on TNT It's difficult to separate the merits of this theme from the affection that most of his have for Ernie, Charles, Kenny & Shaq since it is the gold standard for studio shows. But the theme gets a lot done and keeps moving. And is even tolerable after a fourth or fifth minute of highlights.
14. 1970s ABC Bowling You had to be a hardcore or even worrisome sports fan to regularly watch Chris Schenkel call bowling on ABC back in the day. But this theme song is really better than the sport deserved.
15. One Shining Moment In the 1979 Magic-Bird NCAA showdown, Kenny Loggins "This Is It" occupied the "One Shining Moment" spot. But soon in the 80s this song was commissioned for the instant post tournament retrospective and quickly became a thing. Versions of the song evolved, but you'd better bet we're celebrating this Luther Vandross version.
16. NBA on ESPN This one has grown on me. Yes, it's busy. But the NBA is my favorite league and whenever you hear this song you're also in great hands with Mike Breen calling the game. It's all part of a package.
17. Formula 1 As dramatic as what most Fox sports themes are going for, but a little more artistry with more chord changes and feel as it goes.
18. Grandstand I never grew up with this, but as yet another Keith Mansfield piece it's gotta be respected. Okay, maybe it's actionably close to "Sooner Or Later" by The Grass Roots. But it's refreshingly more whimsical than most other sports music on this list. And the big bonnnggg of the kettle drum lightens the proceedings.
19. Fox Sports Net Just as the Mike Breen presence helps the ESPN NBA song, this decent theme is taken down a peg because chances are that you're about to hear Chris Myers call a game when you hear this.
20. MLB on Fox This gets a little bombastic, although I do recognize its professionalism I think my slight complaint with it is that it sounds so high octane just like Fox's football robot music which is a bit anathema to the slow pace of baseball. If this was another football theme, I'd like it more.
21. Hockey Night In Canada This music means so much more to Canadiens than us Americans can realize; it's almost Canada's second national anthem. I think without that context or personal nostalgia it's a middling piece of tv bumper music.
22. MLB on TBS Most of these sports theme songs get a little too busy. This TBS baseball theme is hardly calm, but it has some drive to it that ends up being a little more exciting.
23. ESPN College Football Theme I don't love this one, but I really have to give them props for going all in on the drum-line sound for college football.
24. NBC Sportsworld Kind of a busy theme song. And let's be honest, this sounds kind of like the joke news theme pitch from Broadcast News. Or could be swapped in at the time as the theme for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century starring Gil Gerard.
25. American Gladiators Yes, it was a stupid show where Gemini and Laser would be trying to knock each other off of padded pedestals with a giant Q-tip, but they nailed the gladiator theme music.