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He Keeps Living Dream Come True

Super Bowl XXXVII

Al Michaels never wanted to do anything but be an announcer, and in 'Monday Night Football,' he's doing just what he wants.

January 26, 2003|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Young boys dream, and Al Michaels was no exception. He dreamed of someday being a major league announcer.

As a youngster in Brooklyn, N.Y., he listened to Dodger radio broadcasts and became enchanted with the voices of Red Barber, Connie Desmond and Vin Scully. When he attended games at nearby Ebbets Field with his father, he couldn't take his eyes off the crew in the broadcast booth.

Sometimes dreams come true. Michaels' did. He was working for the Cincinnati Reds by the time he was 26. He spent three years with the Reds and three years with the San Francisco Giants before going to work full time for ABC in 1977.

And on rare occasions, dreams are even exceeded. Michaels' was. He is now so prominent and so respected as a play-by-play announcer that it is almost a cliche to call him one of the best in the business. Four times he has been named national sportscaster of the year.

He has just concluded his 17th season on ABC's "Monday Night Football," and today he will call his fifth Super Bowl for ABC -- and his first with John Madden.

An energetic ABC researcher figured out that Michaels' 17-year run on "Monday Night Football" adds up to 918 hours of prime-time television. The researcher factored in Michaels' other prime-time assignments, including baseball and the Olympics, and came up with another 805 hours.

That's a total of 1,723 prime-time hours, and that doesn't even include Michaels' four Super Bowls, since technically the Super Bowl starts 40 minutes before prime time kicks in.

No one -- not Milton Berle, not Ed Sullivan, not Lucille Ball -- was on prime-time television for as many hours.

Michaels, over lunch, looked at a printout of a list of his prime-time hours and chuckled.

"Milton Berle is still Mr. Television," he said. "I'm not claiming that title."

Michaels can't remember when he wasn't a sports fan. He remembers trips to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers and he remembers trips to Madison Square Garden to see the New York Rangers.

In 1958, as luck would have it, Michaels, then 14, and his family moved west to Los Angeles the same year the Dodgers did.

His love for baseball, and for the Dodgers, grew even stronger. His love for hockey never waned, either. He has been a longtime King season-ticket holder.

He played baseball at Hamilton High but always dreamed about becoming a major league announcer.

After graduating from Hamilton in 1962, he went to Arizona State to study broadcasting, sports broadcasting in particular.

Michaels figured he might get a chance to do play-by-play on the campus radio station during his junior and senior years. But as luck would have it, Michaels was in the booth two weeks after he had enrolled at Arizona State.

"The station had a range of about nine blocks," he said, "but that didn't matter. Here I was, a freshman, doing a Saturday night football game against Colorado State."

His first job in television was as an office boy on a game show. He made $95 a week with Chuck Barris Productions. Michaels chose the women to appear on "The Dating Game." Sounds like a great gig for a young man. But he had just gotten married, to his high school sweetheart, and his wife Linda also worked for Barris. She was the assistant prize coordinator for "The Newlywed Game."

Al and Linda Michaels, who live in Brentwood, have two children. Steve Michaels, who turns 32 next month, is the executive producer of "Beyond the Glory," seen on Fox Sports Net. Jennifer Michaels Cohn, 28, is the director of corporate communications for the Game Show Network.

Steve and his wife Sheri gave Al and Linda their first grandchild, Kaitlyn, 14 months ago.

Before Al landed his first baseball job, with the Hawaii Islanders, he had a brief, infamous stint with the Lakers. He was hired to do public relations and ended up as Chick Hearn's first commentator. He worked eight games, but got on the air for only four and then was fired.

It was tough on a young kid. He was getting ready to make a trip when he was told his services were no longer needed. He had to get his luggage off the plane.

Michaels figured out he was a sacrificial lamb. Team owner Jack Kent Cooke wanted Hearn to have a commentator, and Hearn was resisting. Cooke forced Michaels on Hearn, and it didn't work. Hot Rod Huntley was hired after that, and Hearn by then was more accepting.

"I knew what happened," Michaels said. "It wasn't Chick's deal, it was Cooke's. I was used as a wedge."

There was initially resentment on Michaels' part, but in time the wounds healed and he and Hearn got along fine.

"Chick became very supportive of me and always told me he liked my work," Michaels said.

After his stint in Hawaii, Michaels moved on to the Reds and then the Giants.

"It's somewhat ironic that the two teams I worked for are rivals of the Dodgers," he said.

In 1976, Michaels worked for both ABC and the Giants, serving as the backup announcer on "Monday Night Baseball." The next year he became the lead announcer and a full-time ABC employee.

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