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A Q&A with Al Michaels, quintessential play-by-play man

The top announcer in football offers his thoughts on the NFL labor situation, Vin Scully, L.A.'s reputation as a bad sports town, and other topics.

April 08, 2011|Chris Erskine
  • Al Michaels is joined by Cris Collinsworth and Bob Costas during an NFL pregame at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Al Michaels is joined by Cris Collinsworth and Bob Costas during an NFL pregame… (Jim Prisching / Associated…)

He's a native New Yorker who moved to L.A. when the Dodgers did. Been around awhile. As a sportscaster, has a gift for turning a ballgame into a gift. Not Scully, no, but certainly Scullyesque.

Al Michaels is a Hamilton High product who remembers as a teenager seeing the TV contract for the old AFL sitting on the kitchen table. He credits his father, an agent who helped negotiate that deal, for inspiring his lifelong love for sports.

Today, as the top play-by-play man in football, he is so strategically astute in the last few minutes of a close game that Mike Holmgren once asked Michaels to discuss how he calculates it all, measuring time against remaining timeouts, play selection and the two-minute clock.

With the NFL season in limbo, we talked with the league's most recognizable voice on the prospects of a long stalemate, LAS (Life After Scully), and how his adopted city ranks as a sports town:

What do you hear from people inside the game on the prospects for an NFL season?

I was just part of a group [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft took to Israel for a trip. So you'd think I might have access to inside stuff. But nobody knows. It's in the hands of the lawyers now, and nobody can really predict on how that might play out. I'm as unsure as the next guy.

The London Olympics are only a little over a year away. You'll be there, right?

That may be the next time I work.

So how is it that you are so effective about clock management in the last two or three minutes of a game?

I'm able to do simple math in my head extremely well. I can figure out how much time is remaining, where the timeouts need to be taken. . . . I've had great producers and when we get to the last few minutes they know I've got it. They leave me alone. You're doing the countdown in your head. It's something I've been blessed with.

What other play-by-play announcers do you admire?

I grew up with Vinny. I've listened to Vinny since I was a kid. I love Marv Albert. Chick [Hearn] was phenomenal, I loved Chick. L.A.'s been blessed — with Chick, Vinny. [Kings announcer] Bob Miller does a great job.

You're a Kings fan?

In person, there's nothing like hockey. The crowds, the sound of the skates, everything. Football may be a TV sport. But, in person, there's nothing like hockey. We have season tickets.

Life after Scully? Is that something you can even think about?

Here's a story. When I started my career in Hawaii in minor league baseball, our big rival was the Spokane Indians. The president of the team was Peter O'Malley, the manager was Tommy Lasorda, and they were our rival. . . . Tommy loves to tell this story, they're in Hawaii and after every game he'd have to call Al Campanis to tell how the minor leaguers did, so one night, Lasorda says, "Hey, Al, there's one more thing: There's this guy on the radio here, really good. If you ever need a guy, his name's Al Michaels. I know you got Vinny, but down the line, you know." Campanis says, "Hey Tommy, this announcer, how do you even know about him?" Tommy says, "Well, I've been thrown out of the last four games." So the irony was, here's Tommy, he discovers me in 1970 and tells someone I could be the successor to Vinny. And here we are in 2011 and I'm ready to retire before Vinny is.

Was it a big surprise that Madden left?

John retires and I was shocked, we all were. I knew that Cris [Collinsworth] was going to be the successor someday because Dick Ebersol had told me. Working with him now for the past two years . . . it was like having DiMaggio and then I got Mantle. Unbelievably insightful. To me one of the things about a good analyst, they'll tell you things you don't know or wouldn't think about. . . . We hear so much of the same analysis, we come inured to it, it becomes white noise. But with someone like Cris . . . he comes at it from a lot of different angles. Tim McCarver was another guy. . . . The great thing about McCarver or Collinsworth is that they don't think of themselves as ex-jocks . . . they think of themselves as broadcasters.

What kind of sports town is Los Angeles?

It's a great sports town. What really bothers me is that when I see it written that L.A. won't support professional football because everybody is off surfing. So let me get this straight: In Southern California there's like 15 million people or something, and they're all out surfing, on a Sunday? When they say you won't have enough support, I say excuse me, so you can't sell 75,000 tickets on a Sunday? Of course you can.

What about two teams?

There's no question in my mind that if a stadium gets built, they'll start with one team but get another team. The league may not come out and say this overtly, but where would you rather play a Super Bowl than Los Angeles? It's a great sports town, it's always been a great sports town. People denigrate it because people leave a Dodger game early. Does that mean you're not a great sports fan?

Do you believe in miracles?

I always believe in miracles.

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