Michaels Is Mr. Monday Night

Who has logged more live airtime on prime-time TV than anyone in U.S. history?

Lucille Ball? Nope.

Mike Wallace? Not even close.

It’s Al Michaels, who has been the play-by-play announcer on “Monday Night Football” for 19 seasons, accounting for the bulk of his 2,000 live prime-time hours. That’s the equivalent to a working year, eight hours a day on the tube. “Monday Night Football” is celebrating its 35th anniversary this season, and Michaels has been around longer than any of the personalities in the program’s history.

He has been in his job long enough that he isn’t bothered by nerves when that red light goes on, but he says he still feels anxious every time he goes on air.

“It’s very much like an athlete,” he said. “When you run out onto the field, you don’t want to have your first pass intercepted and run back for a touchdown. You don’t want to fumble if you’re a running back and it’s your first carry. At the beginning of the telecast, you want to start out as clean as a whistle.”

Michaels’ first big break came in 1972, when he was 26 and in his second season as broadcaster of the Cincinnati Reds. In those days, when a baseball team won the pennant, NBC would add that team’s local announcer to its national broadcast team for the World Series. That year, Michaels was the lucky guy.


Before the first game at Riverfront Stadium, Curt Gowdy was going to open the show, then introduce Michaels, who would give the viewers a rundown of the venue.

“Right before we went on air,” Michaels said, “the only thought I had was, ‘God, when I open my mouth, let air come out.’ ”

Breathing easy has never been a problem for Michaels, regarded as one of the best in the business. He has never missed a Monday night game because of illness but did miss a few in the late 1980s to serve as play-by-play man for postseason baseball games.

Roll Out the Red Carpet

OK, all the chest-thumping over ESPN’s 25th anniversary can get a little old, but it’s pretty astounding how the network has grown so dramatically in less than three decades. It has changed the way we watch sports. It has created new sports through the X Games. And now it has an awards show that’s beginning to rival the Oscars in glitz and hype.

The see-and-be-seen scene on the red carpet at the Kodak Theater on Wednesday evening drew thousands of onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the biggest stars of the sports world. There were plenty of well-dressed wannabes too, who mugged for the cameras so long they wore grooves in the red carpet.

The stream of sports luminaries stretched longer than Gail Devers’ curlicue fingernails -- among them LeBron James, Peyton and Eli Manning, Lisa Leslie, Andy Roddick, Larry Brown and several members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The show, which will air at 6 p.m. Sunday, was hosted by Jamie Foxx and boasted presenters such as Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone and Denzel Washington.

“We had a great time,” said Foxx, who also hosted the show last year. “I think what made the show special was that [Tuesday] I was at the hotel, and guys are coming up to me saying, ‘You gonna get me tomorrow? You gotta get me. Because I’m going to have this on, and that on.’ It seemed as if the audience wanted to be a part of the whole situation.”

The funniest -- and most ribald -- skit was Foxx serenading Serena Williams with “Can I Be Your Tennis Ball?” During the song he coaxed her on stage and, among other things, had her paddle him with a heart-shaped racket.

“Serena’s a friend of mine,” Foxx said. “So at a certain point I had to shut it down a little so that I’d respect her. Even though she is, you know, hot.”

Ready for Football?

Baseball might be America’s pastime, but its TV numbers can’t measure up to those of the NFL.

No matter how baseball tried to package the numbers, the 75th All-Star game was a ratings disappointment. Although 32.8 million Americans tuned into the telecast, the 8.8 national rating was the lowest in history. Every “Monday Night Football” game the past five years has had a better local rating in Los Angeles. The average Monday night game in 2003 drew a 12.9 overnight rating/20 share in Los Angeles.

The 12.9 average overnight rating is 39% higher than the All-Star game’s 9.3. In L.A., the top Monday night game last season was Kansas City-Oakland in Week 7, which drew a 17.0/26 local overnight.

The All-Star game might have gotten better numbers had the American League not taken a history-making 6-1 lead in the first inning, no doubt leading to a dip in interest. The first half-hour of the game earned a 9.3/17, a 16% gain over last year’s first half-hour (8.0/15). By the second half-hour, ratings were trailing last year’s pace (down 3%, 9.6/17 versus 9.9/18).

We’re No. 10!

L.A. is in a three-way tie for 10th place in DirecTV’s ranking of U.S. cities with the most passionate sports fans. Denver has the most passionate fans, according to the survey that was conducted by DirecTV and the Center for Sports Psychology.

Cities were evaluated on the basis of attendance at professional sporting events, sales of DirecTV sports subscription packages and interactive surveys of sports reporters and sports fans nationwide.

Behind Denver were Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York. Rounding out the top 10 were Green Bay and Chicago (tied for sixth); Baltimore; Cleveland; and L.A./Anaheim, Buffalo and St. Louis (tied for 10th).

Short Waves

Hall of Fame tennis player Pam Shriver on Monday gave birth to George Samuel Lazenby, an 8-pound 2-ounce son. “Georgie” is the first child for Shriver, 42, who is married to actor George Lazenby. Shriver set aside her tennis coverage for ESPN this summer so she could stay home in Brentwood and have her baby.... TNT’s Ernie Johnson on the up-and-down scorecard of Lee Westwood, who shot a one-over 72 in the first round of the British Open: “Looks like a geometry test. Circles and squares all over that thing.” .... A shake-up is afoot in the way ABC covers college football. Terry Bowden is being taken out of the studio and will be put on the road, where he will be teamed with play-by-play man Mike Tirico and color analyst Tim Brandt. Replacing Bowden in the studio will be Aaron Taylor, a former Notre Dame offensive lineman and first-round pick by Green Bay in 1994. It’s Taylor’s first big TV gig, but people at ABC say he’s funny and insightful. He will be an analyst, joining Craig James and host John Saunders. ABC also extended the contract of Ed Cunningham, a former NFL center, who is expected to be paired with Gary Thorne.... There are rumblings that the NFL Network will replace Seth Joyner and Ken Norton Jr. with a new studio team of Lincoln Kennedy and Terrell Davis. Kennedy, who retired as an Oakland Raider after last season, is particularly witty. When he played at the University of Washington, the 6-foot-6, 335-pound tackle had a rather presidential nickname: the Oval Office.

In Closing

One of the more humorous moments on the ESPYs red carpet came when TV Guide’s Tom Sullivan was interviewing actor Eric Peter-Kaiser, a cast member from the movie “Miracle.”

“Which athlete are you most excited about meeting?” Sullivan asked.

“Oh,” Peter-Kaiser gushed, “I’d really like to meet Tiger Woods.”

“He’s at the British Open,” Sullivan said flatly. “I hate to break your heart.”

Hope Lance Armstrong wasn’t his second choice.

Larry Stewart is on vacation.