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A Conversation with Al Michaels

Jason Barrett

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Al Michaels’ voice opened the 2014 football season, with the kickoff broadcast in Seattle, and it will close it, too, with the call of Super Bowl XLIX next week in Glendale, Ariz. A season that’s been unlike any other has had controversy at the beginning (Ray Rice) and at the end (Deflategate), but viewer interest has remained as strong as ever. NBC’s play-by-play man, and recent author of You Can’t Make This Up (with Sports Illustrated’s L. Jon Wertheim), talked to The MMQB this week about what will be his ninth Super Bowl play-by-play call—and his past, present and future perspective on the game he considers the perfect television sport.

VRENTAS: When you call the Super Bowl, your audience is probably more than 100 million viewers, not all of whom are football fans. How does that change your approach?

MICHAELS: Well, what it does is, you never want to insult the intelligence of the fan, someone who really knows all of the stories. So you begin to think in terms of maybe almost prefacing some stories with, “Hey, people who follow year round know this, but …” We don’t try to do that very often, but we’ll do it from time to time. If there is a story that is known by 50 percent of the audience but is not known by the other 50 percent, but it is relevant, we may come in that door. The other thing is we try to find the stories that haven’t been told that the bigger, broader audience would enjoy, to personalize some of the players, the coaches, the owner or what have you. It’s pretty much the same thing on a Sunday night. We like to think we have this big tent and we are basically standing outside saying, “Come one come all!” We have something for the aficionado; we have something for the person who only watches one game a year. That’s pretty much our philosophy on Sunday Night Football. We go into every game thinking of it as a mini Super Bowl. They tell us it’s the No. 1 show on television right now with over 20 million people every week, and that’s pretty much our attitude. So the Super Bowl is very much an extension of our attitude for a regular Sunday night game.

VRENTAS: This will be your ninth Super Bowl broadcast. Best moment in the previous eight?

MICHAELS: Well I would say that of the eight, the game I enjoyed the most and really relished the most was XLIII, which was Arizona-Pittsburgh. I just felt that the game itself was great. You had an iconic franchise, Pittsburgh, against the Arizona “what-are-they-doing-here?” Cardinals. They had lost [47-7] in December to New England and then had this magical run, which made for a great story. The Cardinals are in the Super Bowl? And then you had two iconic plays in that game, James Harrison’s interception return at the end of the half, 100 yards. Arizona is going in to take the lead and instead, Harrison intercepts the pass and is running down the sideline; he’s almost tackled eight different times and the clock is running out, so if he gets tackled or taken out of bounds at the 1-yard line, you can’t even kick a field goal. And then Larry Fitzgerald catches a pass in the fourth quarter, and Arizona has the lead. Roethlisberger leads Pittsburgh back on a 78-yard drive, which culminates with Santonio Holmes making a tremendous catch in the end zone. So top to bottom, that would be my favorite of the eight. And on top of that, I didn’t know it at the time, but three moths later John Madden decided to retire, so that turned out to be John’s last-ever broadcast. And what a way to go out.

I guess if you had [to pick] one incredible moment, again Harrison and Holmes’ catch would factor into this, too. But I did the game after the ’99 season, St. Louis against Tennessee. At the end of the game, Tennessee had the ball at the 10-yard line, Kevin Dyson caught the pass from Steve McNair, reaches out, can’t get into the end zone, so that’s the way the game ended, on the 1, and the Rams won the Super Bowl. Otherwise that would have been a game that would have gone to overtime, and that’s something that’s never happened in any of the 48 super bowls. And that’s the only thing I’ll be rooting for a week from Sunday. I want to be able to do the first-ever Super Bowl overtime game. I think that would be fantastic. Look, announcers root for high drama. Some fans think we’re biased or whatever. We want high drama, we want excitement, we want controversy, we want a lot of strategy to talk about, great plays, wild plays. And then for me, at the end of the day, I want to go to that fifth quarter. And as long as we go to overtime, we might as well go to triple overtime, and make it the longest game ever. That would be the all time fun day for me.

VRENTAS: Well, you’ve already got your controversy. “Deflategate” has become a major storyline in advance of the Super Bowl. What questions will you ask in your production meetings with the Patriots, and how will you handle the controversy on air?

MICHAELS: Well, the whole thing is still evolving right now. We know where it is today. We don’t know where it will be tomorrow; I certainly don’t know where it will be a week from Sunday. There’s a lot more that’s going to either come out of this or not come out of this. Cris [Collinsworth] and I, and Michele [Tafoya] and our whole gang, we’re concerned with 6:30 Eastern Time, 4:30 Mountain, a week from Sunday. We are thinking about it right now, but I’ve got to see where this winds up. There’s a lot more to come with this story.

VRENTAS: You were the first broadcast on the air after the Mueller Report came out divisional weekend. You and Cris received some criticism afterward for having been perceived as giving praise to the league. What was your plan for addressing that on air?

MICHAELS: Well a couple of things were at play here. The Mueller Report comes out Thursday around noon, give or take a couple of hours. And 48 hours later, we are doing a game. The report also obviously involved the Baltimore Ravens, who are playing in our game. And who is going to come to our game? Roger Goodell. What we planned to do, and what we did—and it’s funny, because Bob Costas did almost exactly what I did on the pre-game show. Bob talked about, here are the bullet points; here is what came out of the Mueller Report. Which is exactly what I did. I’m sure to some people, it sounded like a script. I had written out the points. Because we were dealing with, in effect, a legal document, I wanted to make sure I had everything right. What I really did is recount some of the specifics of the report. Now again, you had Roger sitting in the stands. There’s a lot of animus towards Roger from a lot of people, and no matter what the report said, they were still going to feel that way. But I felt the key thing to do—and I know [NBC Chairman] Mark Lazarus, I think he talked about this at the boxing press conference—was we were there to report the facts. And then Cris came in with his comment, editorially, about Roger. Cris has known Roger for a long time. I have, too. And Cris felt it was important for him to say, “Look, I know him as an honorable man.” That probably turned some people off. But let’s reverse this for a second. Let us say that we had this game, Roger is at the game, Baltimore is in the game, and we ignored it. I think then, we should have come in for some criticism. But instead, we had to address it, and this is the way we felt it was fair to address it. One of the things was, “Hey look, the league wasn’t absolved of all blame in this,” but one of the key components of that report that people wanted to know was, Did Roger Goodell lie? The report said he did not lie. We took heat for saying what the report said, but what are we supposed to do? Go, “Hey you know what, Mueller is a liar”? Some of the people who came after us didn’t want to believe that the Mueller Report was factual. But this certainly wasn’t the time to delve into whether or not that was the case. All we wanted to do, is like on Dragnet, Sgt. Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts.” That was our attitude about this.

We live in this world of tweeting, and social media, and anti-social media, and all the rest, so no matter what you say, there is going to be what people say is a firestorm. I don’t know what a firestorm is. I’ll digress for one second and tell you a very funny story. I loved Curt Gowdy. He was one of my early mentors and idols in the business, and when Curt was doing this in the ’70s, he’s doing Super Bowls, World Series. The big events—Curt Gowdy did them. And he was a great pal. You had no cable TV, you had no social media, you had no internet. And Curt would say, if the boss got two letters of criticism, it was a barrage. Three letters was a deluge. We’ve gone from the world of 1975 to the world of 2015. It’s a wacky world.

For the rest of the article visit Sports Illustrated where it was originally published

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ESPN 97.5 in Houston Announces New Lineup

“The station had to make some very tough & unfortunate economic decisions last week.”

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ESPN Houston

ESPN 97.5 in Houston announced they will have a new lineup starting Monday Feb. 26. The drive time slots will continue to feature John Granato and Lance Zierlein in mornings and The Killer B’s, Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank, in the afternoon.

In between the two shows will now have The Del Olaleye Show airing from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. followed by Gallant and George with Paul Gallant, who had been hosting the early midday slot previously and Joe George, the station’s Assistant Program Director.

Earlier this week, Josh Beard and Michael Connor confirmed they had been let go from the station after being in the midday slot for just six months. George posted on X at the time, “So here’s the deal. The station had to make some very tough & unfortunate economic decisions last week. It has nothing to do with the quality of their show and work they did. Programming on the station will be weird this week, then back to fully local from 7 am – 6 pm on 2/26.”

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Former Toronto Blue Jays Announcer Ben Wagner Named to Baltimore Orioles Broadcast Team

A release from the Blue Jays says Wagner will appear on radio and select television broadcasts throughout the year.

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Ben Wagner
Courtesy: Ben Wagner on Instagram

The Baltimore Orioles announced the club’s broadcast talent lineup for the 2024 season, which includes former Toronto Blue Jays announcer Ben Wagner. Wagner had served as the radio voice of the Blue Jays for the last six seasons before Sportsnet announced it decided not to renew his contract. Prior to joining the Blue Jays broadcast team, Wagner spent 11 seasons with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. A release from the Orioles says Wagner will appear on radio and select television broadcasts throughout the year.

The Orioles will continue to use guest analysts throughout the season, including Orioles Hall of Famers Mike Devereaux and Brian Roberts, as well as former Orioles Brad Brach and Dave Johnson.

Geoff Arnold will return for his fifth season with the Orioles broadcast team and will be the primary play-by-play announcer. Kevin Brown will be in his third season as the primary television play-by-play announcer for MASN.

Other team members for the 2024 season include Scott Garceau, Brett Hollander, Rob Long, Ben McDonald, Melanie Newman and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who will be in his 32nd season as an analyst and 61st year as a member of the Orioles organization.

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Fred Toucher: ‘I Would Feel Weird’ if Rich Shertenlieb Reached Out to Me

“Even if it was nice, I wouldn’t like it, so if he’s listening, don’t reach out to me.”

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Fred Toucher
Courtesy: Beasley Media Group

Fred Toucher is in the midst of co-hosting a new morning program on 98.5 The Sports Hub with Rob “Hardy” Poole. The Toucher & Hardy show made its premiere in January following the end of a 17-year run in which he worked alongside Rich Shertenlieb. Last November, Shertenlieb parted ways with the outlet that elicited questions and nostalgia from listeners, some of which continue to persist on the new program.

On Friday’s edition of the program, a caller asked Toucher about the last time he spoke to Shertenlieb and if there was still communication between them. The duo started hosting their radio program together at rock radio station WBCN-FM before making the move to the sports talk format with 98.5 The Sports Hub (WBZ-FM) for its launch in the summer of 2009. The caller wanted to specifically hear a “juicy story” and apologized if his broaching the topic was “a forbidden path.”

“I have not talked to Rich,” Toucher said. “I told you I got the text message the Saturday after they didn’t put him on the air anymore, and I haven’t talked to him.”

Toucher wondered who among former members of the Toucher & Rich program had heard from Shertenlieb, leading him to go around the studio and ask. Update anchor Jon Wallach revealed that Shertenlieb texted him on Thanksgiving Day to discuss how the music group Bell Biv DeVoe was performing, but he has not heard from him since. None of the others in the studio had heard from Shertenlieb in a considerable amount of time either.

“None of us were really friends with him so I don’t know what to tell you,” Toucher replied to the caller. “I wasn’t friends with him; I didn’t talk to him, so it’s not odd that I don’t talk to him.”

Toucher then began to hypothesize what would happen if Shertenlieb were to reach out to him. As he thought over such a potential occurrence, he realized that he would have a feeling in his stomach and get anxiety. He did concede, however, that if someone paid him a large sum of money to appear somewhere with Shertenlieb, he would do the 10 seconds.

“I would feel weird; I wouldn’t enjoy the process,” Toucher said. “Even if it was nice, I wouldn’t like it, so if he’s listening, don’t reach out to me. You’d make me incredibly uncomfortable. Just don’t do it.”

In thinking about the potential nostalgia from Toucher & Rich, the program briefly mentioned Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo and his relationship with former co-host Mike Francesa. Toucher believes that Russo is doing fine without Francesa, a sentiment Wallach concurred. Wallach also shared that he feels Russo is doing better after Mike and the Mad Dog than Francesa.

Russo hosts a SiriusXM program on the Mad Dog Sports Radio channel named after him, in addition to High Heat on MLB Network and a weekly appearance on ESPN’s First Take. The split between both shows elicited interest from the listening public, something Toucher completely understands because of the unique facets of radio.

“People consume you 20 hours a week or they conceivably could, so when there’s any change, your immediate reaction to it, even though it hasn’t been bad, a lot of people if you listen to an old thing all the time it’s going to be strange to you, a new thing, or when a component of it is missing,” Toucher explained, “even if it’s better than it was, which I contend Toucher & Hardy over the last three weeks is better than Toucher & Rich was in 2023 and 2022 certainly.”

The segment concluded with Toucher proclaiming that he had answered the question and now will not have to entertain it again. “I have no idea what he’s doing and no one I know does, and no one I know has seen him,” Toucher said. “I haven’t even had a listener email me and go, ‘I saw him.’”

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