NBC Sports has gained an unlikely but familiar presence for its broadcast of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City: Jim McKay, the Baltimore-based commentator known best for leading a dozen Olympic broadcasts on ABC dating back four decades.
McKay, 79, said he's excited at the thought of joining NBC's Bob Costas next year to narrate profiles of Olympic athletes and offer commentary on the day's events. But it will be quite a change to see himself on the Peacock Network, he acknowledged.
FOR THE RECORD - An article on sports commentator Jim McKay in yesterday's Sports section misidentified McKay's wife. She is Margaret McManus.
The Sun regrets the error.
"I look at the headline on the press release every couple of hours, and it still looks strange to me," McKay said in an interview yesterday, after the arrangement was announced. "Working with Bob Costas is a pleasure. I'm looking forward to it."
NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol, who drew widespread criticism for his network's coverage of the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, sounded delighted to be able to offer viewers a strong link to the Games' past.
"Beginning back in the '60s, Jim, along with [former ABC Sports president] Roone Arledge forever defined the power and majesty of the Olympic Games for the American television audience," Ebersol said in remarks to reporters. "Jim's ability to bring a perspective to our telecast, particularly the Winter Olympics, which Bob and I have not done in recent memory, is a great comfort."
Asked whether McKay might also offer commentary for NBC on other sporting events, Ebersol demurred. "This deal is just for the Olympics," he said. "I obviously would love to have Jim involved in the Triple Crown. On the other hand, I dare not push ABC."
The mechanics of the deal reflect the simultaneously competitive and cozy world of network sports.
At the Wimbledon tennis tournament and a charity event, Ebersol beseeched ABC Sports chief Howard Katz to allowed McKay to appear on the rival network, even though he is in the middle of a three-year contract. Both network executives had worked as assistants to McKay in Olympic coverage several decades ago.
McKay's son, CBS Sports president Sean McManus, helped to negotiate the terms of the agreement after running into his counterparts at the same charity function, McKay and Ebersol said. (McKay's given name is James McManus.)
"When David Brinkley left NBC for ABC, Jim McKay was the player to be named later," joked Dick Schaap, a longtime colleague at ABC. "Both of them are institutions at their original networks."
NBC's pursuit of McKay, Schaap said, reflected "his credibility - a large part of which is based on his coverage of the massacre at the [Munich] Olympics in 1972. He did it so remarkably well."
Originally, Ebersol had sought McKay for the Sydney Games. But after consulting with his wife, Susan McManus, McKay declined, saying it was too far away.
"Roone Arledge and I went to cover Australian Rules Football years ago," McKay recalled. "We went to Australia on a Thursday night and we got back Monday afternoon. I didn't know who I was or where I was by the time I got back."
Earlier in the day, Ebersol went out of his way to compliment and thank ABC's Katz for his cooperation. "There's been some sharing between networks of talent, but never of this magnitude," Ebersol said.