After announcing that Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch would step down in November, “America’s Newsroom” host Bill Hemmer shared a couple of his favorite memories about his boss.

One, he said, was when Murdoch “made the big bid on the NFL contract, (which) stunned everybody, really changed the company in a lot of ways.”

It changed the company, yes — but it also changed the NFL.

Next year will mark the 30th year since the first NFL game was broadcast on Fox — a preseason matchup between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers — and so there’s a generation of fans who don’t remember much about the time when Fox was shut out of broadcasting NFL games because it wasn’t considered a major network.

While there are still people who are dismissive of Fox, it’s impossible to discount the brand’s power these days, and the kerfuffle over Fox’s bid seems almost amusing in retrospect. Here’s what happened, and how things turned out.

How Fox got an NFL contract

Writing for The Ringer in 2018, Bryan Curtis said that Fox “stole” the NFL from the big three: ABC, NBC and CBS.

“Twenty-five years ago this month, Fox took over pro football. It didn’t feel normal. It felt like an unnatural cultural event. Bart Simpson was going to do play-by-play, and Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch would cackle as he took over a sacred rite of American life,” Curtis wrote.

Murdoch had tried to buy the rights to broadcast NFL games in 1987 and 1990, only to be rebuffed. In 1993, he tried again as CBS’s rights were expiring.

As The Ringer explained, back then, each of the three networks had a share of NFL games. “CBS had the NFC. NBC had the AFC. And ABC had Monday Night Football,” while ESPN and Turner shared Sunday-night games.

But the networks weren’t making money on the NFL and were trying to cut costs. They didn’t see Fox as a serious threat. But Fox made a presentation that dazzled the NFL leadership, promising a production with more cameras, more angles and better sound. They promised to make the games more interesting. Fox also said it would promote the NFL all year, not just the months in which games were played.

And that stunning bid which Hemmer talked about? It was for $1.6 billion over four years. CBS had been trying to re-up its right for $250 million.

The difference was so much that the offer itself made the decision. Murdoch would later say, “There is no question that if CBS had been $20 million lower than us, the NFL would have taken CBS.”

They’d been outfoxed, more than one news outlet would quip.

According to The Ringer, “Unlike CBS, Fox wasn’t much worried about losing money on football. As Murdoch would later boast, he regarded the price of NFL rights as the price of buying a network — and whatever he paid the NFL would be cheaper than buying CBS or NBC outright.”

What happened next

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, would call Fox’s contract “a watershed moment for the NFL.”

Per The Ringer, Jones said, “We went from one thing to something else when Fox came in. … It inspired me when I was building the stadium because I had seen the power and the interest in football as it’s manifested through television.”

Not surprisingly, things didn’t go well for CBS. The network lost ratings overall, especially among young men.

But Fox delivered on the sizzle it promised, even putting Terry Bradshaw on a horse to kick off the first pregame show with Hollywood flair. “This is it. The curtain opens on new era,” the announcer intones majestically. “Football at its best. Coverage at its finest. The NFL on Fox.”

“Wow, was that a rip-roaring opening or what?” a writer for The Los Angeles Times said.

It set a new standard for high-production game openers, which sometimes can be more exhilarating than the game itself.

Fox also gave America a new riveting theme song that is now synonymous with the NFL.

As the Sporting News reported earlier this year, it was the result of a request by former Fox Sports president David Hill to produce a tune that evoked “Batman plays football.”

“The song, which debuted for NFL on Fox in 1994, has gone on to become one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the American sports lexicon, never mind the NFL,”

Composer Scott Schreer worked with Phil Garrod and Reed Hays to turn around a tune in two days. He later told Deadspin, of the tune’s success: “If you listen to great composers like Hans Zimmer or watch movies like ‘Gladiator’ or Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas movies where everyone went into battle, you’re basically facing death. And death is dark, and football is a dangerous sport. I think why (the theme) works in such a minor key is that it has that combative, warrior vibe to it. It’s both conscious and subliminal to the listener. It’s how we’re coded.”

The melody is now common fare, not just on games and sport radio, but as part of the culture. As Schreer told John Koblin, the writer for Deadspin, “I was shopping at Christmas at Macy’s in New York, and it was closing time. Maybe 10 years ago. As I was going down the escalator, the guy who was mopping the floor was whistling the ‘NFL on Fox’ theme song. That made my eyes well up.”

Entertainment, not just sport

Overall, the effect of Fox on the NFL was to turn it into sheer entertainment, not just a sporting event, The Associated Press reported on the 25th anniversary of Fox’s “takeover” of the game.

“The pregame show was a hit from the beginning and also showed that viewers had an appetite to consume as much football content as possible,” the AP report said.

Even the players loved it. Troy Aikman, a former Cowboys quarterback who later went to work for Fox said, “I remember opening weekend when I got home I had a couple college buddies that were raving about the pregame show and how great and fun it was with everyone. It was refreshing, new and unique, and that set the tone for the network.”

And all future broadcasts, so it seems. Fox is continuing to update the way fans experience the NFL — for example, redesigning its graphics in 2020 to accommodate people who take screen shots of the game and want the score in the shot.

Writing for about the change, John Teti wrote, “More than any of their competitors, Fox’s production teams listen and respond to changing cultural contexts. They seem to create new onscreen identities by guessing what football will look like in the future and working to become that. If the last 20 years are any indication, they usually guess right.”

For devout NFL fans, the legacy of the retiring Rupert Murdoch may not be Fox News, but how he changed the sounds and sights of professional football.