If you watched ESPN’s new college football playoffs on New Year’s Day, you were part of a record-making group. According to Nielsen, 28.2 million viewers tuned in to the Rose Bowl game between Oregon and Florida State, and another 28.3 million watched the Ohio State-Alabama game, pushing them into the top two spots for the largest audiences in cable television history. The NFL wild card game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers that aired on ESPN the following Saturday landed at eighth overall, drawing 21.7 milion viewers. If you're sensing a trend, that's because there is one. Sports have long been the biggest draw on cable. Following these recent record-breakers, ESPN is responsible for the largest 19 audiences in cable television history, and 37 of the top 40. 

Check out the chart below for the top ten cable audiences of all time. Or, put another way, the most popular ESPN broadcasts of all time.

Rank Date Program Network Viewers (000s)
1. 01/01/2015 CFB/Sugar Bowl: Alabama-Ohio St. ESPN 28,271
2. 01/01/2015 CFB/Rose Bowl: Oregon-Florida St. ESPN 28,164
3. 01/10/2011 CFB/BCS Champ: Oregon-Auburn ESPN 27,316
4. 01/07/2013 CFB/BCS Champ: Alabama-Notre Dame ESPN 26,380
5. 01/06/2014 CFB/BCS Champ: Florida St.-Auburn ESPN 25,572
6. 01/09/2012 CFB/BCS Champ: Alabama-LSU ESPN 24,214
7. 10/05/2009 NFL MNF: Green Bay-Minnesota ESPN 21,839
8. 01/03/2015 NFL Wild Card: Arizona-Carolina ESPN 21,678
9. 11/30/2009 NFL MNF: New England-New Orleans ESPN 21,402
10. 01/01/2011 CFB/Rose Bowl: TCU-Wisconsin ESPN 20,558

The only non-ESPN program to crack the top 20 was the season five premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead. With 17.3 million viewers, it replaced a 2007 airing of High School Musical 2 in the top spot for non-sports cable television audience.