Sunday’s overtime classic in Denver got the best television ratings of any wild-card playoff game since the days when Bill Cosby ruled the airwaves.
The Steelers-Broncos game got a 25.9 household rating/43 share, which Variety reports was the highest-rated opening-round contest of the NFL playoffs since 1988.
The last time a wild-card game got that high a rating was January 3, 1988, when a Seahawks-Oilers game drew a 26.7 rating on NBC. That game also went into overtime, and took place in an age when most people didn’t have cable and there weren’t a lot of options for people sitting at home watching TV. The Cosby Show was the highest-rated TV program that season, with a 28.35 rating; these days no regular program averages close to a 25.9 rating. So Sunday night’s Steelers-Broncos rating was far more impressive given the overall television environment than the rating that even the biggest wild-card games of the 1980s could draw.
Estimates are that by the end of the game, when Tim Tebow threw his game-winning touchdown pass, upwards of 45 million people were watching.