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Al Michaels in a league by himself on NBC Sunday Night Football

His play by play anchors the most successful team on TV

September 21, 2012|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

… The NFL is now the unquestioned king of sports. And the gap between the NFL and whatever would be second has never been wider. And through advanced technology, TV has made this look so rich and so attractive that when you sit at home and watch, it's a visual feast. HD television has been tremendous, the lenses on the cameras unbelievable. The audio has been enhanced so that you can hear things you couldn't hear years ago.

So, one of the keys to this business is this: With technology, we have all of these toys, but you have to know how to play with the toys. And Fred Gaudelli and Drew Esocoff and our gang, we know how to play with the toys. Look, you can overdo it, and I've seen that happen. Some new piece of equipment comes in and people go, ‘Oh my God, we have to use this.'

I did the Kentucky Derby for 15 consecutive years, and one year there was a new piece of technology that enabled a jockey to wear a very light, couple of ounces in weight, little lipstick camera on his helmet. And you could see the race from the jockey's perspective.

Well, this was a great little toy except how this little toy should have been used was in a replay where you only used it for a couple of seconds, because all you really got was the bouncing up and down — I mean, his head's moving.

And the guy who was directing the race actually went to that shot live three times, and I was ready to throw up, because this was all about, “I'm going to be an artiste, and do this race as an artiste, and forget about the journalism.” And we would never go in that direction, and that's what makes our guys at NBC Sunday Night so good.

How about Sunday's game? What are you looking for?

The story line going in is pretty simple: You've got two teams that played in AFC championship game last year who are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and who, according to their fan base, should be 2-0, but they're 1-1. And now all of a sudden on Monday morning, you're going to have a fan base for one of them that's going to be on the edge of panic, because they'll be 1-2. And even though you're not really out of it, 1-2 doesn't sound very good when you think your team should be 3-0.

So, in that regard, it has a little bit more importance than it would as another early-season game. But I look at it as an attractive matchup between two teams that last January were an inch apart at the end of the day. I don't have to tell any Ravens fan the story: A catch is made in the end zone, a kick is made to send it into overtime, blah, blah, blah, everybody knows the story.

And the other thing is that any time you have Tom Brady and Ray Lewis in the same game, that's great. I mean, that's what your marquee says. If this were a movie theater, outside it would say, “Patriots versus Ravens, starring Tom Brady and Ray Lewis, and also starring Ed Reed and Rob Gronkowski and Joe Flacco and all of the rest.” But they would be the subheadliners at this point, and rightfully so, because Brady and Lewis are two of the greatest that have ever played.” …

But the great thing is you think about a lot of stuff going into the game and you prepare diligently, but then, as my good buddy, John Madden, used to say, “You prepare, you prepare, you prepare. You spend hours and hours and hours — and then, a game breaks out.”

As the man who will always be linked to the line, “Do you believe in miracles?” I know you saw a little bit of a miracle with your beloved Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup. But we are feeling it here with the Orioles baseball team this fall? Any thought on the improbable Orioles season?

I haven't followed baseball that closely this year, but I've followed it enough to know the expectations for the Orioles were so low, especially in that division … where they were picked fourth or fifth after the Yankees, Red Sox, Tampa Bay. Clearly, I always thought [Buck] Showalter was a pretty good manager, so he must he doing some really good stuff.

And on balance, this is why we love sports. We love sports because you don't know what's going to happen. And I think what is happening now it's great for Baltimore.

I did a ton of Orioles games at the old stadium when I was doing Monday Night Baseball. In fact, I've done the Orioles in two World Series, in '79 and '83. And Jim Palmer's a great pal of mine and a longtime colleague. Jim and I and Tim McCarver did a ton of baseball together.

And don't forget, we had Earl Weaver. I had Earl for two years. Earl was some beauty, oh my God. I've got to tell you one story about Earl Weaver. So, we're doing Monday Night Baseball, it's probably '83, Earl had retired. He would come back again, of course. But he had retired, Joe Altobelli takes over, and Earl is doing Monday nights. And Earl is the kind of guy who was obsessed with making sure he had enough money for the rest of his life.

So, he retired probably a little early, but he figured, “OK, my health is maybe an issue here, I'll go do some broadcasting.” And we would drive out to the airport on a Tuesday morning, and Earl would have a piece of paper and pen, and Earl would be figuring out his net worth, which would then include his fee from the game the night before. And he was like doing an actuarial table to see if he could go through the rest of life and how much he would have to work.

Jim Palmer's going to love this.

Oh, he knows all about this. He knows all about this. I mean [Howard] Cosell was in the mix in those years, but I did three or four games where I had Palmer and Weaver together -- together.

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