Viewers watching Super Bowl 57 on Sunday will hear a theme so pervasive in its use that it has almost transcended the sport of football.
We’re talking, of course, about Fox’s famous NFL theme, whose blaring horns at the start of the song set it apart from similar jingles from CBS and NBC — and even the famous “Monday Night Football” anthem. It’s a song whose dark tone, minor key, and massive sound are designed effectively to evoke feelings of combat in action.
It’s fitting, then, that the song had its origins in this simple speech by former Fox Sports chairman David Hill: “Batman plays football.”
The song, which debuted for the NFL on Fox in 1994, has become one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the American sports lexicon, let alone the NFL. It has become part of the culture and history of the game and will undoubtedly be played throughout Fox’s broadcast of the big game on Sunday.
Here’s everything you need to know about the song, its composition, and how it was inspired by Caped Crusader:
“NFL on Fox” theme
How NFL on Fox Created the “Batman on Steroids” Jingle
The story continues – as reported by Deadspin in 2014 — that Hill, hired as president of Fox Sports in 1993, commandeered Emmy Award-winning producer and director George Greenberg to come up with a new theme song for Fox’s coverage of the NFL. (The network had surprisingly outbid CBS for the right to broadcast NFC games in 1994.)
Greenberg was the outgoing creative director of ABC Sports and had just days to meet the deadline. His only guideline, as he relayed to Deadspin in 2014:
“Listen,” Hill said. “I’m in this long line for the Batman ride. I can’t get this theme out of my head. Batman. Give me a superhero. Gimme, Batman plays football.
Greenberg’s first thought was to call his friend, composer Scott Schreer. He was a session drummer at the time and wrote commercial jingles; he had also worked occasionally with ABC Sports, which is what Greenberg knew to call him. The latter relayed Hill’s direction to Schreer – “Batman on steroids” – and asked if he could make it happen within the two-day deadline.
Schreer included a three-man writing group alongside Phil Garrod and Reed Hays to find the tone and theme of the song.
“We really wanted to give it a really dark, manly, masculine football tinge,” Schreer told Deadspin. There wasn’t much of that on the air at the time. “The sports themes were orchestral in nature, but they definitely didn’t have that Batman darkness.
“If you listen to great composers like Hans Zimmer or watch movies like ‘Gladiator’ or Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas movies where everyone was fighting, you’re basically dealing with death,” he said. “And death is dark, and football is a dangerous sport. I think the reason it works in such a minor key is that it has this combative, warlike vibe. It’s both conscious and subliminal to the listener. This is how we are coded. . It’s a matter of association.”
Deadspin reports that Schreer organized, with his own money, a 48-person orchestral ensemble to perform the music they had written. As the paper notes, he actually wrote three pieces, all in the same key and tempo – just structured differently in terms of melody. This is key to how the final piece ultimately came together.
A central theme of the music, relayed by Schreer to Deadspin, was the song’s iconic opening.
“Where I come from, I had to get my melody across in 30 seconds or less,” Schreer told Deadspin of how his commercial work influenced the song. “I’ve always approached writing music by starting off right. Don’t wait for the hook. Go out with the hook. Go out swinging.”
Scheer sent the three pieces of music to Greenberg, who immediately knew Fox had a hit on its hands: “There’s no football sports theme song like this on the air. I couldn’t nothing humming from CBS or NBC. This one is like a movie score! It’s huge,” he told Deadspin.
Hill thought the same thing when Greenberg played him a CD of the themes Schreer created. He flew to New York, where he and Schreer set up shop in the latter’s studio. This is where they put the finishing touches on the eventual final theme.
As noted by Deadspin, Hill liked the opening of the first track created by Schreer, but liked the body of the second track better. So he asked Schreer to connect the two pieces to create the final product.
“The NFL on Fox theme is actually two pieces of music,” Schreer said. “These are the first eight bars of a piece of music we made. And the rest of another piece of music we made.
“Luckily I had the foresight to do everything in the same key and tempo in case that happened. We were able to interchange them and it worked really, really well.”
The following season, NFL on Fox debuted the theme on its first broadcast. The rest, as they say, is history.