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Pats-Giants to be first three-network simulcast game in NFL history

Updated: December 27, 2007, 7:02 PM ET

NEW YORK -- After weeks of insisting they wouldn't cave in, NFL officials did just that Wednesday. Now all of America can see the Patriots' shot at history.

Saturday night's game between New England and the New York Giants on the NFL Network, which is available in fewer than 40 percent of the nation's homes with TVs, will be simulcast on CBS and NBC.

The Patriots could become the first NFL team to go 16-0 in the regular season.

"We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement after the league announced it was reversing course. "What we have seen for the past year is a very strong consumer demand for NFL Network. We appreciate CBS and NBC delivering the NFL Network telecast on Saturday night to the broad audience that deserves to see this potentially historic game. Our commitment to the NFL Network is stronger than ever."

The NFL had claimed that the onus of making the game widely available fell on the major cable providers with which the league has bitterly feuded. Companies such as Comcast and Time Warner have declined to carry the network as part of basic packages.

But lawmakers have pressured the NFL to ensure more viewers could see the game. Last week, two prominent members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Goodell threatening to reconsider the league's antitrust exemption.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who co-wrote the letter with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he was "delighted" by the NFL's concession.

"I think it was a smart move on their part," he said in a phone interview.

Leahy expected to speak with Goodell again next month about the ongoing question of how many fans will be able to see games on the channel. Saturday's matchup wraps up the NFL Network's second season of airing live contests, with eight per year. This one and a key Thursday night game between Green Bay and Dallas last month drew widespread complaints about the lack of availability.

"I never completely gave up hope, but I was getting a little discouraged Christmas afternoon when we still had not gotten a positive answer," said Leahy, who added that his staff members were talking with NFL officials during the holiday.

Three television stations in the Boston and New York areas were thrilled until they learned that two competing networks would also be airing the game.

The league and the stations were "working through contractual issues'' on Thursday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

"We are having private and confidential conversations with the NFL and are very hopeful that this unfortunate situation can be worked out to our satisfaction, in light of the fact we do have a valid contract for exclusive broadcast rights to the Patriots vs. Giants game in the Boston market,'' said Bill Fine, the president and general manager of ABC affiliate WCVB.

WCVB and Manchester, N.H., station WMUR, which are owned by the same company, and New York station WWOR had won bidding processes for the right to simulcast NFL Network games involving local teams. All contests on the NFL Network and ESPN are also shown on free TV in the clubs' home markets.

"The NFL is in clear violation of their agreement with WWOR/My9," the station said in a statement. "We fully expect the league to honor their commitment to My9 as the exclusive free over-the-air broadcaster for Saturday's telecast of the New England Patriots at New York Giants game."

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who had urged cable and NFL executives to settle the dispute, had a much more positive reaction to the league's announcement.

"I couldn't be more thrilled that as the Patriots rush toward an historic undefeated season, football fans everywhere have won a victory of their own," Kerry said. "With today's announcement, the NFL showed their loyalty to the sports fans who made the NFL an empire in the first place.

"The best news of all is that now no die-hard Pats fans will be shut out from watching their team take aim at football history," Kerry said in a statement.

This will be the first three-network simulcast in NFL history and the first simulcast of an NFL game since the inaugural Super Bowl in 1967, when CBS and NBC televised the meeting of the champions of the newly merged National Football League and American Football League.

"We're happy to accommodate the NFL's request for a joint national simulcast of this potentially historic game to make it available to the widest possible audience," said Dick Ebersol, NBC Universal's chairman for sports and Olympics.

NBC was scheduled to air "Dateline NBC" and a repeat of "Law & Order: SVU" during the time slot. CBS was set to broadcast the movie "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "48 Hours: Mysteries."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press