There’s nothing like putting the cart before the horse, at least figuratively. It’s fun. So let’s see where one major announcer could land once all the NFL’s golden dust settles.
Flash forward to next year at this time. Al Michaels’ contract with NBC will have ended after he calls the 2022 Super Bowl in his hometown of Los Angeles.
Michaels, who’s been the cynosure of television’s prime time NFL coverage for 35 years, will then be Picasso without a palette, a free agent. NBC is committed to Mike Tirico who’ll have the most coveted play-by-play gig in sports. But don’t dismiss another chapter for Michaels, dubbed by famed interviewer Roy Firestone, “America’s sportscaster.”
The prognosticators are confidently projecting the status quo for the line networks when the NFL’s new deals are officially announced. NBC will keep the SNF package and CBS and Fox will share Sunday afternoons. Fox will likely get its traditional preponderance of NFC games and CBS the AFC. Divvying the schedule by conferences isn’t done as rigidly as it was in the past. The networks do occasionally alternate AFC and NFC assignments, under the aegis of the NFL’s broadcast office.
It’s the complexion of the Monday and Thursday packages that could change, Monday Night Football in 2022 and Thursday Night Football in 2023.
In the very recent past, Thursdays were covered by either Fox and the NFL Network or NFLN alone. Amazon also partnered with the league on Thursday nights, making its production available to its Prime customers. The latest word is that Fox will be out of the TNF business, leaving it, at least for now, to the NFL Network and Amazon or perhaps Amazon alone.
Women are the majority of Amazon Prime customers. As such, it makes sense that its announcers are Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer.
The report by John Ourand of Spots Business Journal suggests that ESPN will simulcast a number of MNF games on ABC. Apparently, the Disneys will also get a Super Bowl in the newly negotiated mix. It won’t be for a while, probably not until 2027. (Wouldn’t it be nice if ESPN/ABC does a megacast of the Super Bowl, similar to the one that’s done for the college football championship?)
Fair or unfair, networks have historically eased older fellows into retirement. It’s often done for good reason. Some voices just don’t have it anymore when they totter into their late 70s.
Marv Albert, 79, will likely be off center stage at the end of the season. He’s been covering the NBA since 1963. By his own admission recently, he said the game has gotten much faster. Turner realizes it too.
Pat Summerall gave up the number one chair at Fox at age 72. He then came back calling NFL games regionally and did a few Cotton Bowls. But it became painful to listen to him. His voice quivered as he muddled through broadcast after broadcast. It tainted his parting years.
Verne Lundquist, 80, figured out a solution a few years ago. He scaled back on his own initiative. He told me that four basketball games in one day was getting to be too much (in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament). CBS still uses him on golf and it was delightful hearing Verne on the Masters last November.
Tom Hammond, 76, was one of the most versatile network broadcasters on television during the last thirty years. At NBC, he was relieved of prominent assignments once he reached his 70s. For Tom who grew up in Bluegrass country, covering horseracing was a facile feat. He’d invariably get perfect reviews. From my humble seat, he should still have a key role in the broadcast.
ESPN showed Mike Patrick no love when he was 73. It didn’t renew his contract. Mike still had what it took.
How about Greg Gumbel? He’s 74 and still a good orchestrator in the studio. This past NFL season, he was demoted a rung to the fourth team among CBS’ play callers. In the network’s view, I surmise, his better years are behind him. Greg called two Super Bowls before Jim Nantz was elevated from the studio.
I’m a big fan of MNF’s Steve Levy. He can do anything, call games or host SportsCenter. He never sounds contrived. Levy is cheerful and natural. His warmth is contagious. Steve did well his first year on the Monday series but I’m no fan of a three-man booth. The other two, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, seemed to be fighting for the microphone and neither stood out. It was recently reported that ESPN is committed to the trio for another season.
So, let’s get back to Uncle Al. If he lost a step, I can’t find it. Michaels also passes the crucibles of today’s mobs on social media. He’s rarely if ever a subject of disparaging tweets which are easy to unleash on Twitter. You know those lynching lunatics. They hide behind handles and act as judges, juries and executioners.
You might argue that a year from now Al will still be the best of the quartet of NFL network play-by-players.
Heading into its next contract, Disney management will have to step up its game to impress ABC affiliates, the regional cable operators and advertisers. Does Disney begin its new deal with a bang, hiring a big name like Michaels? It’s enticing.
Remember that during the last off season, ESPN, hoped to sign Peyton Manning to do MNF. The plan was to team Peyton with Michaels. As such, Disney inquired of NBC about what it would take to extricate Al from his contract. Nothing materialized, not Al and not Peyton.
Assuming that Michaels, 77 in November, maintains his youthful sharpness and remains a razor-sharp chronicler of the game, he will still be in demand.
Michaels, you ask? Yes, history hasn’t been kind to older network broadcasters. Then again, we’re told that we study history not to repeat past mistakes. Age shouldn’t be a deterrent. Let’s not stereotype. Each voice has to be considered individually. And Al’s got it.
In case you forgot, last November, 155 million Americans voted for the two major presidential candidates, both of whom were in their 70s.