When one reflects on a lifetime of sports fanhood, it’s actually quite interesting to think about how some of the themes of the games or shows are inextricable from the games we watch. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much they bring to the table, but they’re an element without which the sports viewing experience would certainly not be the same. Here are our top 10, all of which you will surely agree with one-thousand percent.
10. Pardon the Interruption
There’s still something about when the PTI theme hits at 5:30 ET that makes you feel like the most important stories of the day are about to be discussed in an authoritative and funny manner. Work is out, but it’s not yet dinner time, and the notes on theme signify that it is indeed Happy Hour.
9. Sad NFL on Fox Injury Music
Look, this one is all class. It would be uncouth to go to break with punchy, upbeat tones. Serious moments deserve a serious soundtrack. And there’s nothing more morose than when a guy goes down with an apparently-serious injury. The oxygen tends to go out of the building and the energy through the television severely tempers off. Sad Fox music is appropriate and respectful. We can only hope they play it at our funerals.
8. The Masters
Take all the most heralded meditation music and throw it in the trash. There is nothing more relaxing than this once-a-year treat. One can practically hear the azaleas blooming and the allure of succumbing to a mid-afternoon nap creeping in. The only way it could be improved is by switching to the full version with singing.
7. Baseball Tonight
The theme still harkens back to the halcyon days of ESPN, when Baseball Tonight was your vessel to find out who won, who lost, and what the stats were before the paper arrived at your doorstep the next morning. In the era of, like, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas and their contemporaries, it was a treat when that organ hit.
6. Monday Night Football
There was that couple-year interlude in between problematic Hank Williams Jr. comments that we weren’t greeted to the game with the knowledge that all our rowdy friends are here for Monday Night, and for some inexplicable reason it felt like something was missing. Time apparently healed enough wounds, and the MNF theme has returned.
5. NFL on Fox
The more beefed up, dramatic version of the sad injury music. A few years ago, then-Deadspin writer John Koblin wrote about the origins of this theme, and that story remains a must-read for sports media nerds — the theme is described in the piece as Batman on Steroids.
4. CBS NCAA Tournament
This theme is great in its own right, but gets an added bump because those first four days of the Tournament are arguably the most wonderful time of the year. Wall to wall games, frenetic gambling action, pizza and wing delivery. You can hear this theme in July and think about Pizza Hut.
A classic. After all these decades, there’s something the final notes of the SportsCenter diddy that amplify anticipation. Call it nostalgia, call it Pavlovian, call it what you like. Special shoutout to the truncated version that became synonymous with an outstanding play.
2. Roundball Rock
We’re probably going to get some flack for not naming this the top overall theme, but we like to go against the grain at The Big Lead. The theme is powerful, and there was nothing quite like Marv Albert narrating the scene before a Jordan-era Bulls playoff game that bled into the NBA on NBC theme. We’re never getting those days back, although it is a small consolation that Fox Sports licenses this theme for its college basketball coverage now.
1. NFL Primetime
There was NOTHING like Chris Berman and Tom Jackson doing big NFL highlights. This was before the Red Zone Channel when we’d seen all of them, and it was the best way for big football fans to catch up on what happened the rest of the day. NFL Primetime going away when NBC got the exclusive rights to Sunday Night Football was the end of a wonderful era, and it’s rare that a Sunday goes by where that show is not missed.