Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth long ago established their reputations as trustworthy announcers, both individually and during their six years in tandem on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”
Michaels is on — and perhaps atop — the short of list of the most skilled and accomplished play-by-play announcers of all time. Collinsworth, despite occasional enthusiasm-fueled bursts of hyperbole, is as incisive an analyst as there is in a contemporary NFL broadcast booth.
As usual, they were on their game Sunday during the Patriots’ thrilling 35-31 victory over the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game — that is, save for one very awkward and transparent moment in which viewers had to wonder whether their participation was willing or demanded.
With approximately a minute remaining in the first quarter, NBC returned from a commercial break to a shot of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his wife, Jane, in the stands.
Goodell, whose season of self-inflicted embarrassments tarnished his public image, received a small measure of vindication this past week when the Mueller Report concluded there was no proof Goodell or anyone in the NFL offices had received or watched the videotape of then-Ravens running back Ray Rice punching out his fiancée in an Atlantic City casino elevator before the clip had become public.
No matter that there were subtle criticisms of Goodell to be found in the Mueller Report. The opportunity to begin repolishing his image had been granted, so there he was in the Gillette Stadium stands, enduring the frigid conditions for a man-of-the-people Together-We-Make-Football moment.
The surprise was Michaels and Collinsworth were the narrators of the scripted first scene of Goodell’s comeback film.
As the NBC camera lingered on Goodell chatting with his smiling wife, Michaels speed-read a dry synopsis of the Mueller Report, noting that “the report, as many of you know . . . identified deficiencies in the league’s investigation and outlined several improvements the league should make, some of which have already been implemented.”
After a few words about the conclusions drawn in the report, Michaels brought Collinsworth into the conversation.
“Cris, not a lot of good came out of this [Rice scandal], obviously, but it at least made [domestic violence] part of the national conversation.”
Replied Collinsworth: “The decision to initially suspend Ray Rice for two games was a mistake. Roger Goodell has admitted that. I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner doubted his integrity.”
Now, in all the times I’ve heard Michaels and Collinsworth through the years, I’ve never doubted their integrity. Still don’t. But the praise of Goodell — especially given how quickly Michaels read through the Mueller Report statement — did not seem authentic as much as it felt like an assigned obligation.
So when Deadspin reported before the game had even reached halftime that it indeed was a prepared statement and revealed audio of Michaels talking with his producer just before reading it, it hardly came as a surprise. It’s just a shame that the announcers were put in that position in the first place.
Collinsworth’s comment about Goodell’s integrity was a little much, if not outright unbelievable. But that hyperbole is often part of Collinsworth’s charm, and he had his moments of excitable praise during the game. Patriots fans must have been particularly encouraged by his praise of second-year linebacker Jamie Collins.
“I think Jamie Collins can be as good a player as there is in this league,’’ said Collinsworth.