Al Michaels, as sharp and spry as ever, held court at NBC’s kickoff luncheon in Chicago on Wednesday. When I introduced myself, he immediately chided me for not selecting him in The Big Lead’s NFL media draft earlier this week. In my defense, he went second overall, after Tony Romo, before I even had the chance to pick. To this he retorted that I should have traded up.
The two things we discussed after that were 1) the time he halted the filming of Baseketball when he discovered that his partner in the announce booth, Bob Costas, was making three-and-a-third times more money after he’d been promised equal pay (which he wrote about in his book), and 2) his thoughts about how long he wants to remain in the broadcast booth.
“I didn’t want to do Baseketball to begin with,” Michaels tells The Big Lead. “It was too much of a goof. Costas talked me into it and said it would be fun. We had a lot of fun, until I found out about the favored nations clause [being a lie].”
Michaels found out he’d been bamboozled when there was a long delay after lunch and they were showed the dailies — the raw, unedited movie footage — and they (melodramatically, in retrospect) thought their careers were over because they thought the film would be so terrible.
“At least it’s a great payday,” Costas told Michaels.
Michaels says he looked at him and said really? and then they flipped a coin to determine who’d reveal his payday first. “I lost, so I went first, and then he went and told me, and that’s when wooooooooo.”
Michaels called up the guy who made the deal and asked him what the hell he did, and he said they made a “favored nations” deal where Costas and Michaels would be paid equally. The agent had evidently been lied to by the studio.
And then Michaels held up the taping until his pay was commensurate with his colleague. “Let’s just put it this way: They weren’t ready for us anyway when I went back there and it was a little difficult to get my brain working … Look: the main thing was I just felt like I’d fallen off the turnip truck. It was like Wait a minute. I’m too smart to get duped.”
The issue wasn’t that Costas was making several times more money, per se, but that he’d been hoodwinked. “They told me favored nations, we all make the same, boom, no problem. I agreed to it. But when you find out they’re full of shit … people said I was greedy. I wasn’t greedy! I was lied to! Life in Hollywood…”
Michaels is still at the top of his game as far as voice, preparation, and presentation are concerned. Nevertheless, he turns 75 in November, and so I asked him if he had an idea in his head of when he wants to conclude his legendary tenure — he’s been calling the NFL since 1986.
“It’s just year-to-year because I love what I do,” Michaels says. “I love what I do. I’m blessed with good health. My brain still works, I think well enough right now. It’s really cool. I love the people I work with. I just adore them. Top-to-bottom. To walk away — I mean, I could find things where I’m employed I’m sure — but this is the garden spot right now.”
“It’s as good as it gets,” Michaels says of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, which has been the No. 1 rated TV program in primetime for eight straight seasons. “I feel great. A lot of things — as I said I’m blessed with good health. A great home life — I’ve been married to the same woman since 1966. She’s with me on most trips now.”
“And these people I’m working with — 19 years with Fred Gaudelli, 11 with Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya, 20 with Drew Esocoff … It’s a blast. It really is.”