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Get Pumped for the Big Game! Here are 10 Awesome Sports TV Themes

Chances are, you’re not going to the Super Bowl in Houston this weekend. You’ll be at home, or at a bar, or at some sort of party, like millions of other Americans, watching the game on TV.

Fox has the broadcast rights this year, meaning you’ll hear — many times over — the instantly identifiable theme song that’s been the signature of their NFL coverage since its inception in 1994. But what are some other great musical moments in sports TV? Here are my top 10.

10. CBS’ coverage of The Masters, 1982-present (“Augusta” by Dave Loggins)

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Yes, the guy who wrote “Please Come to Boston” also composed this delicate piano ballad (to which, believe it or not, there ARE lyrics). It is in many ways the first rite of spring for sports fans, as CBS begins airing its annual promos for the April event pretty much on New Year’s Day. For more than three decades now, the spots have prominently featured the voiceover work of lead play-by-play man Jim Nantz. Here he is in his very first year covering the tournament for the network, plugging, of course, “a tradition … unlike any other.”

9. ESPN’s NFL Primetime highlight music, 1990s-2005 (“International Statement” by Alan Bell and Roger Dexter)

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Forever linked with Chris Berman’s onomatopoetic (“WHOOP!”) and Cosellian (“He could … go … all … the … way!”) interjections, here is one of the many compositions that underscored Sunday evening highlights for years on ESPN. “International Statement” was arguably the showcase piece of the lot, becoming the soundtrack to distillations of many of the 1990s’ most dramatic regular-season games. If you can’t picture John Elway or Dan Marino leading a fourth-quarter comeback starting at about 1:47 of this video, what rock were you living under?

8. MSG’s New York Yankees theme, 1996-2001 (title and composer unknown)

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Hearing this makes me feel 12 years old again. A fantastic theme, that accompanied the final years of the Yankees’ tenure on MSG Network as well as the prime years of the team’s most recent dynasty. Whether it was intentional or not, when the team-owned YES Network launched for the 2002 season, its theme for Yankee broadcasts (which is still used to this day) hewed very close to this one.

Also worthy of mention: “Here Come the Yankees” by Bob Bundin and Lou Stallman, an instrumental version of which is still used to open Yankee radio broadcasts and which was synonymous with WPIX telecasts into the early 90s, and “Meet the Mets,” both the original and super-80s versions.

7. CBS’ The NFL Today open, 1976-89, 1993, 1998 (“Horizontal Hold” by Jack Trombey)

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In honor of Brent Musburger’s retirement this week, “you are looking live!” at the pregame show that set the standard for all others that followed. Here’s an intro from one of the final years Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder was on the program, using a remix of “Horizontal Hold” that would stray even farther from the 1976 original by the end of the 1980s. Then, after a few years away, the iconic theme would return for the final season of CBS’ NFC coverage in 1993, and again when the network launched a new deal to cover the AFC in 1998. Why they don’t still use it, I don’t know.

6. CBS’ March Madness coverage, 1987-present (“One Shining Moment” by David Barrett)

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Originally written to be played under the credit roll leading out of Super Bowl XXI in January 1987, “One Shining Moment” — with a few lyric tweaks — finally premiered as the post-championship montage following that year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. And there it has stayed, first sung by Barrett himself, then Teddy Pendergrass, then (with a controversial one-year interruption by Jennifer Hudson) Luther Vandross, in what reportedly was his final recording. CBS’ regular college basketball theme ain’t too shabby, either.

5. ESPN’s SportsCenter, 1989-present (composed by John Colby; 2006-present update composed by Annie Roboff)

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Sing it with me now: “da-da-da, da-da-da.” Those six notes have been a constant of ESPN’s flagship news program for nearly 30 years. (Original composer John Colby, by the way, was at one time a collaborator of Jersey’s own Clarence Clemons.) Here’s my favorite SC theme variation … the jazzy intro to “the Big Show,” with Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, this one specifically from Mother’s Day 1996. Didn’t remember that Keith Olbermann once did sports? You should have seen him with a mustache.

4. This Week in Baseball closing theme, 1977-98, 2000-11 (“Gathering Crowds” by Mike Vickers)

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Sure, the opening theme (also written by Vickers) is just as familiar, but I’ve hopefully synced you up with the sweeping, orchestral, closing credit music beginning at 21:22. You can roll back to the beginning if you want. And I know — the 24/7 existence of MLB Network, plus, you know, the Internet, wiped out the demand for a program like “This Week in Baseball,” which was finally canceled in 2011. But I still miss it, and I wish MLBN would use its two themes in some way, much like NBC has used “Roundball Rock” for its Olympic basketball coverage in recent years. We’ll get to you soon, “Roundball Rock.”

3. “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” by John Williams (incorporating “Bugler’s Dream” by Leo Arnaud), 1984-present on various networks

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Speaking of the Olympics, here is the full suite as presented by Williams beginning with the 1984 Summer Games. It’s bounced around from place to place, finally settling in on “the networks of NBC,” as they say. Did you know no other major broadcast entity in the United States has had the rights to the Olympics in this millennium? The last non-NBC edition was the Nagano Winter Games, which CBS carried in early ’98.

2. ABC/ESPN’s Monday Night Football, 1975-present (various themes based on “Heavy Action” by Johnny Pearson)

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“Heavy Action” was not designated as the “official” theme for Monday Night Football until 1989, when it got a refresher in this flashy version done by Edd Kalehoff. Since the move from ABC to sister network ESPN in 2006, the song’s been remixed a few more times, but the essence is still there. It’s why MNF still holds so much magic (even when it prioritized the 1990s NFL Primetime theme over this one).

1. The NBA on NBC, 1990-2002 (“Roundball Rock” by John Tesh)

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Not only is this my favorite sports TV theme, it’s hands-down my favorite clip on all of YouTube. You may know John Tesh as a lot of things, but you may not know him as the man who wrote — as he says in this wonderful video — “the theme that they play every time the Chicago Bulls crush another basketball team.” Oh, the ’90s. Even though NBC hasn’t shown an NBA game in 15 years, this song is still ubiquitous; Nelly famously sampled it in his song “Heart of a Champion,” and as I mentioned, NBC got the rights to bring it back for their Olympic basketball broadcasts in 2008 and 2016.

Patrick Lavery produces “New Jersey’s First News” and is New Jersey 101.5’s morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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