Confession of a veteran media reporter: Al Michaels is probably my favorite person to talk to on the beat. He’s seen it all, called most of it, and can spin a satisfying story or two about all of it, from the miracles to the minutiae.
Michaels has the call of Sunday afternoon’s Buccaneers-Rams matchup on NBC, along with analyst Cris Collinsworth and reporter Michele Tafoya.
I caught up with the 77-year-old Michaels ostensibly to talk about the game and a certain Buccaneers quarterback. But we quickly veered in other directions, which are the best kind of conversations with Michaels.
Here are a few anecdotes and recollections from the chat, including one about his future:
▪ Because the Patriots weren’t on the “Monday Night Football” schedule in 2001 (when Michaels was still at ABC), the first Tom Brady game he called was the 2002 opener, which coincided with a couple of memorable debuts. It was the first game played at Gillette Stadium, and it was John Madden’s debut on “MNF.”
“The year before, of course, was when the Patriots shocked everybody in the Super Bowl, beat the Rams, and John was doing that game with Pat Summerall on Fox,” Michaels said. “With a little over a minute left, that was when he suggested the Patriots should take a knee and play for overtime. Instead, Tom hits some passes, [Adam] Vinatieri hits a field goal, and they win.
“So as exalted as John was, we get to the stadium [in 2002], the fans are right there below you in Gillette, they can stand up and engage if they want. So we’re calling the game, and the fans are yelling, ‘Hey John! Take a knee! Take a knee!’ That was some welcome to Monday night. Holy mackerel.”
▪ Bill Parcells spent the 1991-92 seasons as an NFL analyst for NBC before taking the Patriots coaching job in 1993. Several years later, Michaels recalls, he nearly took a much more high-profile broadcasting job.
“In 2000, when [producer] Don Ohlmeyer took over ‘Monday Night Football,’ what he wanted to do was bring in an analyst and bring in a wild card. It turned out to be Dan Fouts and Dennis Miller. But before we went in that direction, Parcells was going to be the No. 1 choice. Bill had left the Jets to go into the front office, and he wasn’t really excited about that.
“ABC went to Parcells and offered him the job. He thought long and hard about it. I had two very long — two hours each — conversations with Bill about doing this. Bill had to do the forensics on everything, how all of it works. Normally, Parcells has all the answers. In this case, he had all the questions. And they were great questions.
“At the end of the second conversation, he said, ‘This is great. This is fascinating, it shined a light on everything that happens. Let me just assess this now.’
“And I said to Bill, ‘I’d like you to do this. I think this would be great. I think we’d make a great combo and have a lot of fun. But you have to do us all one favor: Those of us that work on this show, this is what we do, this is our lifeblood, we love this. You can’t use this as a halfway house to go back to coaching.’
“I’ll never forget what Parcells said. He said, ‘If I decide to do this, I will be all-in. I will be the best analyst ever.’ He said that, and I said, ‘Hey, now I want you to take it more than ever.’ A week later, he passed on it.
“In our next conversation, I said, ‘Bill, I know you’re going to coach again someday.’ He kind of laughed. Sure enough, in ‘03, what’s he doing? He’s coaching the Cowboys.”
▪ Michaels’s contract is up at the end of the season, and it has long been rumored that he will leave “Sunday Night Football” and become the voice of Amazon’s package of Thursday night games next season. He said he will address his future after the Super Bowl, which airs on NBC. But he made it clear he’s still passionate about broadcasting.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you retire, play more golf?’ I say, ‘I play enough golf now. Believe me, I can get it in.’ I remember talking to [former Bills coach] Marv Levy many years ago, around when he turned 70, and I said, ‘You know, what about retirement?’ And Marv said, ‘If you think about retiring, you’re already retired.’ I’m not sure if he made that line up or got it from somebody else, but I always think about that line.
“I also remember something Curt Gowdy told me. Now, I loved Curt Gowdy. Curt was the person I patterned my career off, and maybe to a degree the style, and he did all the things I wanted to do. I did the World Series with him when I was with the Reds, and he said, ‘Hey, kid, you’re going to have a great career. But one thing: Never get jaded. Don’t get jaded.’
“I thought at that point, ‘What does he really mean by that?’ But as the years go by, you see what he was talking about.”
“Curt told me a story about Mel Allen [a longtime Yankees broadcaster and the narrator of ‘This Week in Baseball’]. Mel Allen, as great as his career was, Curt told me he was always [ticked off] if he didn’t get an assignment. And you just can’t go that way. You have to always find the joy in it, and love sports, and I still do on both counts.
“It’s funny, at the beginning of my career, I hear, ‘Don’t get jaded’ in my ear. Toward the end, I get, ‘If you think about retiring, you’re already retired.’ So that’s a nice couple of philosophical bookends, right?”