If you really needed assurance that the NFL is the king of American sports, you got your answer last night. The Monday Night Football broadcast of Brett Favre's victory over his old team drew a phenomenal 13.2 Nielsen Rating and 21.8 million viewers (via Sports Media Watch). That makes it the most-watched cable program of all time, the most-watched ESPN program of all time, and the first cable program to ever crack 20 million viewers.
You really have to take a step back to appreciate how remarkable 20 million viewers is -- particularly on cable. Green Bay and Minnesota are two of the smallest markets in the NFL, and yet their meeting garnered far more viewers than any NBA Finals or World Series game from the past several years. There's no way the NBA could produce 20 million viewers, not even if Kobe Bryant and LeBron James met in the finals -- can you imagine if the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks met in the finals? David Stern would be drawing his suicide note. Same thing with baseball: a Twins-Brewers series would be a ratings nightmare.
The National Football League is the only sports league that can survive and thrive while its big market teams suck it up. That's why there's a stadium in Jacksonville and Carolina and Green Bay, but there's no team in Los Angeles and (technically) no team in New York. In every other league, when a big-market team doesn't get to the championship, the ratings are catastrophic -- even if a Brett Favre is on one of the teams. But not in the NFL. The NFL can do just fine.
Also, with the win, Favre became the first player in NFL history to beat all 32 teams at least once. It's funny. You'd think as long as Favre has been around, he should have run out of milestones to reach by now. For the most part, he has, although one major one still remains: Jim Marshall's record of 282 straight games. Earlier this year, Favre broke Marshall's record of consecutive starts, which had been at 270 straight. Currently, Favre is on consecutive game No. 273 -- nine shy of tying the record.
(Photo by Jamie Squire, Getty Images)