NEW YORK, NY -- 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."
NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said officials would have no further comment Wednesday.
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.
Local TV affiliates in the Boston, Manchester, N.H., and New York areas that were already set to simulcast the game under NFL policy will still air it. That means viewers in those markets will have four channels to choose from if they get NFL Network.
That did not make officials at WWOR in New York happy.
"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."
In a statement, NFL Network spokesperson Seth Palansky said: "We are in the process of reviewing the situation as it relates to Channel 9."
According to Palansky, there have been no complaints from the Boston market.
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."