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.
In 1986, Michaels was named the play-by-play announcer on “Monday Night Football.” Frank Gifford was moved from play-by-play to commentating. This new team of Michaels and Gifford followed the wild days of Don Meredith and Howard Cosell in the booth and Don Ohlmeyer and Chet Forte in the production truck.
Michaels is generally regarded as the best play-by-play announcer in the business and Madden, who has just completed his first season on “Monday Night Football,” is seen by many as the best commentator in football.
Naturally, great things were expected of this “super team” this season.
“John was great to work with,” Michaels said. “It worked out almost exactly as both of us would have hoped. There was never a question in my mind this was going to work and work very well.
“The only thing, the only disappointment, was that, in my 17 years I cannot think of a worse slate of results.”
Of the 17 games on “Monday Night Football,” 13 were decided by more than seven points.
Michaels is hoping that the law of averages means ABC is going to have a dramatic Super Bowl today.
“I think we’ve got the two teams most football fans wanted to see in the Super Bowl,” he said.
Michaels doesn’t begrudge the Raiders, even though he and Al Davis have had their differences.
In 1997, Michaels said on the air that the Raiders’ commitment to excellence was “just a bunch of empty verbiage” and that the Raiders are the “most underachieving team in the league this season.”
More than a week later, Davis put out a press release, making ludicrous charges against Michaels.
“That’s pretty old news,” Michaels said. “Anyway, from my vantage point, you’re so inside your own game, working with your own team, all you care about is putting on the best show you can....
“I’ll be surprised if it’s a lopsided game.”
Michaels has had his fill of those. Lopsided games explain why ABC was the only network that didn’t experience a ratings gain for regular-season NFL telecasts this season. ABC’s ratings dropped from an average of 11.5 in 2001 to 11.4 in 2002.
Still, Madden views his first season at ABC as a success.
“I’d say it went even better than I expected,” he said. “Working with Al was great. He’s the consummate professional. But he’s more than that. He impresses you with his knowledge, his sense of humor and passion for ‘Monday Night Football.’ He is bigger than just the voice of ‘Monday Night Football.’ He’s the keeper of ‘Monday Night Football.’
“They’ve had two-man booths, three-man booths and four-man booths and during all the time they’ve had Al Michaels. He is the constant.”
Michaels says he still gets chills when he says what he calls “those three magic words -- ‘Monday Night Football.’ ” He says he doesn’t plan on doing anything else the rest of his career.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “I’ve got a fabulous wife, two tremendous kids, and a great granddaughter -- well not a great granddaughter but a granddaughter who is great. And I’ve got a job I could have only dreamed about.
“Not everyone gets to live out their dreams.”
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Al Michaels’ prime-time television broadcasting hours:
*--* Yrs Sport Hours 17 Monday Night Football 918 14 Monday Night Baseball 504 14 Postseason baseball 168 6 Baseball All-Star games 18 5 Olympics (hockey, other sports) 58 2 Olympic trials 12 4 Tiger Woods Monday specials 12 5 Boxing specials 10 2 Stanley Cup finals 11 6 U.S. Figure Skating Champ 12 Total 1,723 Source: ABC Sports