Al Michaels has been dubbed America’s sports announcer. He’s covered several Olympics, eight World Series, two NBA Finals and ten Super Bowls. Since 1972, when he did his first World Series at age 27, sports fans across the country have found his voice reassuring and his tone comforting.
So when I checked in with him yesterday to see how he was holding up during this unprecedented health crisis, he shared an amusing story.
He said, “Like many others, I go out for walks. The other day I was joined by Tom Werner (television producer and Chairman of the Boston Red Sox).
“So we’re walking in Palisades Park (in Santa Monica, California), when this guy who’s tossing a football to his son spots me with the corner of his eye and says, ‘Hi, are you who I think you are?’ I said, I’m Al Michaels. He tells me that he’s been a Patriots fan for years and I see that he’s got a Patriots t-shirt on that must have been 25 years old and been through the washing machine hundreds of times. We talk for a minute about the departure of Tom Brady and then he asks, ‘Can you do me a favor? I want to throw a pass to my son. Can you call it onto my phone?’ I said sure.
“So I do the play-by-play onto the phone. Brady steps up, throws down field. It’s caught by Mike Evans for a touchown!” Evans is the wide receiver for Brady’s new team, the Bucs.
It was an unforgettable gesture by Al and probably a bittersweet moment for the diehard Pats’ fan who’s digesting the loss of Brady, the team’s twenty year quarterback.
Michaels goes on: “If that’s not enough, while we’re talking, I see an elderly guy approaching us and he’s looking at me. He comes over to say hello. I say to myself, I know this guy. A few seconds later it comes to me. It’s Larry Merchant, (the longtime HBO boxing reporter and interviewer who’s now 89).
“So now Larry meets this Patriots’ fan and his son and pretends to interview the kid who caught the touchdown throw from his dad!” The kid and the dad are probably still walking on air.
I asked Michaels, who’s done so many gripping sporting events over five decades, whether he sees an upset here as America fights this pandemic. “I’m no expert,” he says. “No one really has the answers. One thing I can assure you of, the sun will come up tomorrow morning!”
Tough time for sports fans, no diversions, I tell Al. He says, “How about others, those who love art, museums, concerts or the theater? This affects all of us and everything we do every day.”
Michaels’ future and retirement
At 75, Michaels is healthy, sharp and has a voracious curiosity. His interests transcend sports. The best of the network sports voices can talk about many subjects and he’s certainly one of those who if called upon can do just about anything at the drop of a hat.
His NBC contract expires at the end of the 2021 season. As of now, his last assignment is the 2022 the Super Bowl in his hometown of Los Angeles. Thereafter, Mike Tirico is penciled in to succeed him as the lead NBC voice of the NFL.
For the networks, thereafter is a matter of the unknown. ESPN’s contract ends after the 2021 season. The NFL contracts covering the over the air networks, CBS, Fox and NBC end after the 2022 season. The last Super Bowl under the current deal is in 2023. It belongs to Fox.
Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported recently that Disney initiated trade discussions with NBC to get the rights to Al and potentially pair him with Peyton Manning on ESPN’s lack-luster Monday Night Football broadcasts. Peyton was offered a heap of dough but Marchand reported this week that the two-time Super Bowl quarterback turned down the opportunity.
Things of course can change in a heartbeat. Disney can still pursue Michaels and partner him with another TBD analyst.
But if a Disney/ESPN deal doesn’t eventuate, is Michaels ready to hang up the cleats following the season after next? When I raised the question with him yesterday, he said, “I remember asking Marv Levy when he was 70 or so and still coaching the Bills, whether he was ready to retire, he said, ‘If you think retirement, you’re already retired.'” When Levy did step down as coach, he remained as the Bills’ general manager until he was 81.
As for Al, he says, “I want to keep going. I don’t think retirement.” He stays sharp doing crossword puzzles, remaining current and playing scrabble with his grandchildren online.
In the case of Al, there are a few ifs. If Tirico is locked in to follow Michaels in a couple seasons, if Disney wants Al and if indeed he wants to extend his career which it sounds like he does, we’ve not heard the end of the Al Michaels story. If Al is to continue, he’ll have the top seat somewhere.
The four big broadcast players
How deep are the four major television players financed? Which is the most deep pocketed of the four?
The stock market of course has plummeted through the last five weeks. So market caps, a strong measure of a company’s financial health, have tumbled. (Market cap is calculated by multiplying a company’s number of outstanding shares by its share price.) In rough estimates, these are the numbers in billions:
Disney $180 (ESPN/ABC)
Comcast $153 (NBC)
Fox $13 (Fox)
ViacomCBS $10 (CBS)
Disney is all-in. It’s shooting for as large a piece of the NFL pie it can usurp. The company is thinking Sunday Night, Thursday Night, a package for ABC and a flex schedule for Monday Night on ESPN.
So while the Michaels-Manning dream team is off the table now, Al’s name could surface again as part of a major mix somewhere and at some time. The Hall of Fame broadcaster has been the NFL’s lead voice in primetime since 1986. He did his first Super Bowl in 1988.
Al shares the best way to retire
Al talked about John Madden’s retirement. “John and I did the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, (Steelers over Cardinals, 27-23). I remember leaving Tampa, thinking we all had great games, the production, the truck, and John and me working in the booth. But I had no idea that it would be our last game together.
“In April, John announced it was time. He broke the mold. Madden created his own template of how to leave. When he knew it was time, he called it a career.
“Retirement hasn’t seeped into my mind yet,” Michaels says.