This is an extended story from ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 2 Music Issue. Subscribe today!
If you've ever watched SportsCenter or the NFL on Fox, you've heard these theme songs. So just how were these iconic tunes hatched?
Scott Schreer, creator of the Fox Sports theme song: Back in the early 1990s, this guy I knew at ABC said Rupert Murdoch was starting a new network called Fox Sports, and they were looking for a guy that understood sports and music. They wanted a theme song. The ABC guy, George Greenberg, asked if I could come up with something. The direction Murdoch's man wanted was, "A superhero plays football." What I made merged into some villainous, aggressive, manly kind of music. It had to be combative in my mind. I knew it had to be dark and big and the drums needed to be in your face.
John Colby, creator of the Sportscenter theme: I was with ESPN very early on, from the beginning of 1984. I was in this enviable position at the time where I was writing themes all over on the network, for all kinds of sports: College World Series, basketball. In 1989, the project came up where we were going to redo the SportsCenter theme. The direction was to make it like a "Late Night" entertainment feel, kind of "Saturday Night Live"-ish. The composition ended up being sax-driven. It flows out, and the tag of this particular thing was "DaDaDa, DaDaDa." To me it was another theme that I had written that's on the air. Good, move on to the next thing. But then this ad firm, Wieden+Kennedy, devised an ad where an athlete does something noteworthy and they get him on camera singing "DaDaDa, DaDaDa." And so they went on a campaign and got a number of athletes to do it. Maybe the spring of 1990 and this thing had become viral -- everybody was picking up on it. It became a tag where if you did something great, "DaDaDa, DaDaDa," it's going to end up on "SportsCenter." This became viral before the Internet. We're talking about VHS. And that grew into what is now a tagline for the network.
What was your expectation regarding the longevity of the jingle?
SCHREER: George Greenberg told me the third or fourth year in, he said, "Look, man, if it all ends tomorrow, you've had a good run." And that was Year 3. Music doesn't last that long on TV; it just doesn't. And to think that it's been on the air for over two decades. ... We were going down the escalator, just doing last-minute Christmas shopping for the kids one year, and the guy that was mopping was whistling the "NFL on Fox" theme. And I looked at my wife and said, "Now that's pretty cool." Another time I was watching one of the Super Bowls that aired on Fox, and the announcer comes on and says, "There are a billion people watching this telecast around the world." A billion! And my music is playing behind it! I tried telling people: Think of a football stadium. There are probably 50,000 people there, or at a Billy Joel concert or a World Series or a Super Bowl. Fifty thousand. Ten of those is only half a million. You can't fathom in your brain what a billion people is. You don't have any reference point. It's overwhelming. Once you realize how overwhelming it is, you just try not to think about it. And I don't. That's it. I kind of don't. I've been a fortunate guy and I try to be a good father and try to live a very normal life.
You've won an Emmy, Grammy, Ace Award. How does this stack up against your other career accomplishments?
COLBY: I'm proud of it. I've had success in a number of areas. I've written music for documentaries, I've produced music for documentaries, I've done a lot of TV work. I do a lot of live music direction work. I'm a bandleader. I'm happy to flex my musical muscles in these different areas. And that's how I feel about it. And the fact that this has kind of put me on the map is very gratifying and it's nice. But the work continues, and I'm always trying to do better. It's not like I'm basking in the success of these things. But it's really nice as a musician when you've done something and it's impacted a lot of people. A lot of people have heard it, and it makes them feel good -- and to me, that's really a definition of success.