Tonight’s Monday Night Football season opener on ESPN between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens (7 p.m. ET) provides a unique opportunity to look back on a historic ESPN game featuring these same two teams 14 years ago.
It was ESPN’s Sunday Night Football then, and on Sept. 27, 1998, something happened that would change the way fans viewed NFL games forever: the virtual “1st and Ten” line made its debut. The Ravens beat the Bengals, 31-24, but viewers were the true winners that night.
A technical advancement developed by Sportvision in conjunction with ESPN, “1st and Ten” displayed a yellow line that appeared to be painted across the football field at the first down marker. Suddenly, viewers watching at home or in bars could clearly see exactly how far an offensive team needed to go for a first down.
This ESPN innovation was such a success that within a year every network broadcasting NFL games had adopted it. Today, it is used on practically every college and pro football game telecast. In fact, it’s so popular we probably wouldn’t know what to do without it.
ESPN senior vice president & executive producer Jed Drake, who was primarily responsible for the company’s decision to develop “1st and Ten,” discusses its impact: “’1st and Ten’ was risky business — we’re talking about the NFL here. But we believed that it would be one of those rare advancements that would truly change the coverage of a sport, undeniably for the good. It took a year to develop, and we were all a bit nervous when we debuted it. But now you cannot watch a football game without it. I’m not a fan of the phrase, but in this case it’s appropriate: ‘game changer.’”