How many star-making opportunities do we still have left in this country? The Tonight Show? Eh, Jimmy Fallon's in a weird race to the end of cable TV, along with Kimmel, Colbert and a crowd of comedians-turned-political shock jocks. Hollywood? Only if you'll put on the Iron Man suit (your face will only be covered for 60 percent of the movie, we promise). American Idol? That show hasn't produced a superstar since it pumped out Carrie Underwood in 2005. Coincidentally, Underwood wrote the theme song for one of the only star-making opportunities we still have left in this fragmented, hyperpartisan media landscape. That's right, I'm talking about Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Sunday Night Football is the crème de la crème of football TV, featuring the timeless duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, along with insights from Michele Tafoya. Its time slot has the perfect mixture of convenience and gravitas. It far out-ranks ESPN's Monday Night Football brand, which has been watered down by consecutive broadcasting booth blunders (they tried to pull a rabbit out of their heads with the Jason Witten hire), as well as a scornful schedule of games, rumored to have been thrust on the network as punishment for ESPN's coverage of the NFL's concussion problem.
Like so many stars, Kyler caught his big break by accident. The NFL had a problem on its hands after the Raiders' entire offensive line was sent home due to coronavirus concerns last week. The league audibled to what it felt could make for a rivalry for years to come: Murray vs Wilson. Of course, that decision came with risk. Patrick Mahomes versus the division-rival Broncos was a more tested ratings draw. Belichick versus Shanahan was a known quantity. What had Murray really proven up to that point anyway?
Turns out, the NFL's bet paid off, big time.
Kyler Murray out-dueled Russell Wilson with a performance that included four total touchdowns and a last minute (rather, 50-second) drive to put the Cardinals in field goal position at the end of regulation. Murray was so good he made up for a DeAndre Hopkins fumble, his own bone-headed interception and his head coach icing his own kicker. Hell, we even got a shot of Murray nearly coming to blows with tight end Darrell Daniels on the sidelines, after Murray lost his mind on Daniels for missing a block at the start of the third quarter.
It helped that the Cardinals weren't supposed to win this game. Russell Wilson has trained America for eight years to associate overtime with him winning the game. There's nothing like a little cognitive dissonance to jolt sports fans into believing, we may just be watching the next big thing.
That jolt can only happen on Sunday Night Football, though. Kyler Murray knows that.
"You honestly, you know, dream about... growing up watching Sunday Night Football," Kyler Murray said, pausing to collect his thoughts, "These are the games you want to be a part of. And to be a part of these games you gotta win, you gotta keep winning."
That's a level of awareness very few young players have. The NFL's selling an entertainment product. If you're invited, you better deliver. Not dissimilar to Johnny Carson scheduling comedians for five minute sets back when late night TV mattered. If you flounder, you won't be back. If you prevail, you'll be made. Kyler killed.