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A Conversation with Al Michaels

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Al Michaels’ voice opened the 2014 football season, with the kickoff broadcast in Seattle, and it will close it, too, with the call of Super Bowl XLIX next week in Glendale, Ariz. A season that’s been unlike any other has had controversy at the beginning (Ray Rice) and at the end (Deflategate), but viewer interest has remained as strong as ever. NBC’s play-by-play man, and recent author of You Can’t Make This Up (with Sports Illustrated’s L. Jon Wertheim), talked to The MMQB this week about what will be his ninth Super Bowl play-by-play call—and his past, present and future perspective on the game he considers the perfect television sport.

VRENTAS: When you call the Super Bowl, your audience is probably more than 100 million viewers, not all of whom are football fans. How does that change your approach?

MICHAELS: Well, what it does is, you never want to insult the intelligence of the fan, someone who really knows all of the stories. So you begin to think in terms of maybe almost prefacing some stories with, “Hey, people who follow year round know this, but …” We don’t try to do that very often, but we’ll do it from time to time. If there is a story that is known by 50 percent of the audience but is not known by the other 50 percent, but it is relevant, we may come in that door. The other thing is we try to find the stories that haven’t been told that the bigger, broader audience would enjoy, to personalize some of the players, the coaches, the owner or what have you. It’s pretty much the same thing on a Sunday night. We like to think we have this big tent and we are basically standing outside saying, “Come one come all!” We have something for the aficionado; we have something for the person who only watches one game a year. That’s pretty much our philosophy on Sunday Night Football. We go into every game thinking of it as a mini Super Bowl. They tell us it’s the No. 1 show on television right now with over 20 million people every week, and that’s pretty much our attitude. So the Super Bowl is very much an extension of our attitude for a regular Sunday night game.

VRENTAS: This will be your ninth Super Bowl broadcast. Best moment in the previous eight?

MICHAELS: Well I would say that of the eight, the game I enjoyed the most and really relished the most was XLIII, which was Arizona-Pittsburgh. I just felt that the game itself was great. You had an iconic franchise, Pittsburgh, against the Arizona “what-are-they-doing-here?” Cardinals. They had lost [47-7] in December to New England and then had this magical run, which made for a great story. The Cardinals are in the Super Bowl? And then you had two iconic plays in that game, James Harrison’s interception return at the end of the half, 100 yards. Arizona is going in to take the lead and instead, Harrison intercepts the pass and is running down the sideline; he’s almost tackled eight different times and the clock is running out, so if he gets tackled or taken out of bounds at the 1-yard line, you can’t even kick a field goal. And then Larry Fitzgerald catches a pass in the fourth quarter, and Arizona has the lead. Roethlisberger leads Pittsburgh back on a 78-yard drive, which culminates with Santonio Holmes making a tremendous catch in the end zone. So top to bottom, that would be my favorite of the eight. And on top of that, I didn’t know it at the time, but three moths later John Madden decided to retire, so that turned out to be John’s last-ever broadcast. And what a way to go out.

I guess if you had [to pick] one incredible moment, again Harrison and Holmes’ catch would factor into this, too. But I did the game after the ’99 season, St. Louis against Tennessee. At the end of the game, Tennessee had the ball at the 10-yard line, Kevin Dyson caught the pass from Steve McNair, reaches out, can’t get into the end zone, so that’s the way the game ended, on the 1, and the Rams won the Super Bowl. Otherwise that would have been a game that would have gone to overtime, and that’s something that’s never happened in any of the 48 super bowls. And that’s the only thing I’ll be rooting for a week from Sunday. I want to be able to do the first-ever Super Bowl overtime game. I think that would be fantastic. Look, announcers root for high drama. Some fans think we’re biased or whatever. We want high drama, we want excitement, we want controversy, we want a lot of strategy to talk about, great plays, wild plays. And then for me, at the end of the day, I want to go to that fifth quarter. And as long as we go to overtime, we might as well go to triple overtime, and make it the longest game ever. That would be the all time fun day for me.

VRENTAS: Well, you’ve already got your controversy. “Deflategate” has become a major storyline in advance of the Super Bowl. What questions will you ask in your production meetings with the Patriots, and how will you handle the controversy on air?

MICHAELS: Well, the whole thing is still evolving right now. We know where it is today. We don’t know where it will be tomorrow; I certainly don’t know where it will be a week from Sunday. There’s a lot more that’s going to either come out of this or not come out of this. Cris [Collinsworth] and I, and Michele [Tafoya] and our whole gang, we’re concerned with 6:30 Eastern Time, 4:30 Mountain, a week from Sunday. We are thinking about it right now, but I’ve got to see where this winds up. There’s a lot more to come with this story.

VRENTAS: You were the first broadcast on the air after the Mueller Report came out divisional weekend. You and Cris received some criticism afterward for having been perceived as giving praise to the league. What was your plan for addressing that on air?

MICHAELS: Well a couple of things were at play here. The Mueller Report comes out Thursday around noon, give or take a couple of hours. And 48 hours later, we are doing a game. The report also obviously involved the Baltimore Ravens, who are playing in our game. And who is going to come to our game? Roger Goodell. What we planned to do, and what we did—and it’s funny, because Bob Costas did almost exactly what I did on the pre-game show. Bob talked about, here are the bullet points; here is what came out of the Mueller Report. Which is exactly what I did. I’m sure to some people, it sounded like a script. I had written out the points. Because we were dealing with, in effect, a legal document, I wanted to make sure I had everything right. What I really did is recount some of the specifics of the report. Now again, you had Roger sitting in the stands. There’s a lot of animus towards Roger from a lot of people, and no matter what the report said, they were still going to feel that way. But I felt the key thing to do—and I know [NBC Chairman] Mark Lazarus, I think he talked about this at the boxing press conference—was we were there to report the facts. And then Cris came in with his comment, editorially, about Roger. Cris has known Roger for a long time. I have, too. And Cris felt it was important for him to say, “Look, I know him as an honorable man.” That probably turned some people off. But let’s reverse this for a second. Let us say that we had this game, Roger is at the game, Baltimore is in the game, and we ignored it. I think then, we should have come in for some criticism. But instead, we had to address it, and this is the way we felt it was fair to address it. One of the things was, “Hey look, the league wasn’t absolved of all blame in this,” but one of the key components of that report that people wanted to know was, Did Roger Goodell lie? The report said he did not lie. We took heat for saying what the report said, but what are we supposed to do? Go, “Hey you know what, Mueller is a liar”? Some of the people who came after us didn’t want to believe that the Mueller Report was factual. But this certainly wasn’t the time to delve into whether or not that was the case. All we wanted to do, is like on Dragnet, Sgt. Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts.” That was our attitude about this.

We live in this world of tweeting, and social media, and anti-social media, and all the rest, so no matter what you say, there is going to be what people say is a firestorm. I don’t know what a firestorm is. I’ll digress for one second and tell you a very funny story. I loved Curt Gowdy. He was one of my early mentors and idols in the business, and when Curt was doing this in the ’70s, he’s doing Super Bowls, World Series. The big events—Curt Gowdy did them. And he was a great pal. You had no cable TV, you had no social media, you had no internet. And Curt would say, if the boss got two letters of criticism, it was a barrage. Three letters was a deluge. We’ve gone from the world of 1975 to the world of 2015. It’s a wacky world.

For the rest of the article visit Sports Illustrated where it was originally published

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Doug Gottlieb, Nick Wright Feud Over College Sports NIL Issues

“Gottlieb caught wind of Wright’s rant and let his disapproval be known.”

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FOX Sports hosts Doug Gottlieb and Nick Wright definitely do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to money going to college athletes.

Despite both being employed by the same company, Gottlieb, who is never afraid to voice his opinion, fired back at Wright Friday regarding his take on college football’s NIL rule in the wake of Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s claiming Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher “brought” his recruits.

On Wright’s morning show, First Things First, the colorful broadcaster had a two minute rant about how he’s happy that schools are finding workarounds under the new NIL rules implemented by the NCAA to pay the players for their name, image and likeness. He said the universities have been taking advantage of college athletes, particularly black student athletes from rough backgrounds, for years and now that the tide has shifted, people are freaking out.

“The general sports public wants extra regulations and extra rules, is keeping their thumbs on college football and basketball players because their is an undeniable and always has been an incredibly uncomfortable racial context of the guys,” Wright said. “It’s mostly young black men from mostly really tough circumstances, generating billions of dollars. Who’s sharing in that?” Wright asked.

“An overwhelmingly white administration, an overwhelmingly white coaching staff, and an overwhelmingly white non-revenue sports. How do we pay for the tennis team and golf team, ah men’s football and basketball. What do they get? A scholarship. Be happy, we pulled you out the hood. Maybe you’ll have a better life if somehow you make the league or do something with your education.”

Gottlieb caught wind of Wright’s rant and let his disapproval be known. That resulted in a back and forth between the two sports personalities on Twitter.

Gottlieb continued, claiming the NIL rule puts exceedingly high expectations on the student-athletes before ever stepping on campus and are given something without having to “earn it.”

“The sad part is this push to pay SAs before they have even played a game, taken a class or assimilated to a school sets them up for failure in their post sports career. If you have been given before you earn, where is the motivation when you get to the real world?”

Wright then took a shot at Gottlieb, saying it always feels good that his take is the complete opposite of Gottlieb’s.

The dialogue continued with Gottlieb throwing shots at Wright, calling his take “embarrassing” and mentioning how he failed to point out the educational imbalance in society during his take. Wright asked Gottlieb what are some of the other “fake racism” takes that he claims are out in the media.

Gottlieb is no stranger to conflict with his FOX Sports colleagues. Troy Aikman called his opinion on Andrew Luck’s retirement “total bullshit” in a tweet from 2019. More recently, Gottlieb got into it with Speak for Yourself co-host Emmanuel Acho after Gottlieb ripped his brother Sam’s “Top 5 QB list” on First Take. He also called out Skip Bayless for name-calling.

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Bob Cousy: ‘JJ Redick Is Untalented Using Me To Get Attention On ESPN’

“People with less talent will always try to make a name for themselves by criticizing other people and hopefully getting some attention and perhaps increasing their credibility,” Cousy said.

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Celtics legend Bob Cousy was not too happy with J.J. Redick dissing his game and credibility as an all-time great player.

During an appearance on First Take, Redick got into a fiery debate with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo about whether Chris Paul deserves to be mentioned among the best point guards in NBA history despite another disappointing exit from the playoffs. Russo claimed that Paul is “no Bob Cousy” which prompted Redick to retort, saying Cousy couldn’t even dribble with his left hand and called the players he played against, “plumbers” and “firemen.”

“Bob Cousy won championships when there were eight teams in the NBA and you had to win two playoff series,” Reddick said. “Let’s celebrate Bob Cousy in his era, but you can’t compare pre-1980 with the modern NBA.”

The 93-old Cousy made an appearance on SiriusXM Radio where he went scorched earth on Redick, basically calling the ESPN analyst “untalented” while listing some of the players that he went up against in his era.

“People with less talent will always try to make a name for themselves by criticizing other people and hopefully getting some attention and perhaps increasing their credibility,” Cousy said.

“So when you respond to something like this, you play into their hands. I won’t do that, but I will defend the firemen and the plumbers that he referenced. And I’ll just give you a few of the names of these firemen that I played with and against during those years. How about Bill Russell, the aforementioned, not too bad a player. Wilt Chamberlain, remember that guy? He wasn’t bad. I guess he must have fought fires as well. But in any event, Wilt Chamberlain.

“Still the best, in my judgment, small forward that ever played the game, a guy named Elgin Baylor. A couple of point guards that weren’t too shabby, my colleague who also had an award created [in his name], guy named Oscar Robertson, who was pound for pound the best player perhaps in the game.”

Chris Paul is a 12-time All-Star compared to Cousy’s 13 appearances.

One thing Paul and Bob Cousy do have in common is their aptitude for leadership. Cousy developed and started the NBA players union in 1954, being named its first president. Paul served in that same role from 2013-2021.

The two men also share similarities off the court. Cousy was a stanch anti-racist advocate during the civil rights era 50s and 60s, when it wasn’t all that popular to so. Paul has also spoke out on issues regarding race, working with commissioner Adam Silver to address some of the issues facing the black community.

Maybe the two have more in common than either Redick or Russo would like to admit.

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Cole Cubelic: ‘A Lot Of Media Wasn’t Prepared To Talk About Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher’

“There were multiple other messages that were attempted to be delivered by Nick Saban two nights ago that I don’t think anybody paid attention to, and I’m wondering if Jimbo paid attention to them.”

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The comments from Alabama football coach Nick Saban regarding other teams allegedly “buying” their players through the new rules pertaining to name, image and likeness (NIL) deals has set the college football world abuzz.

In his comments, Saban directly accused Texas A&M Head Coach and one of his former assistant coaches at Louisiana State University Jimbo Fisher of unreasonably using NIL deals to recruit college football players, and remarked that the system as a whole has created a fundamental disadvantage for certain programs. Additionally, he stated that Alabama has never tried to lure a player solely based on these deals; however, he left the door open to potentially having to adjust his recruitment strategy to align with the actions of his competitors around him.

Much of the college football world weighed in on the comments, but the voice everyone was waiting to hear was that of Jimbo Fisher, including McElroy and Cubic in the Morning on Jox 94.5 FM in Birmingham, Ala. On Friday morning, the program opened with show co-host Cole Cubelic reacting to the candid response given by Fisher in a news conference carried on multiple media outlets in which Fisher called Saban a “narcissist.”

“When we’ve had coaching feuds before, we’ve had guys go back and forth; we’ve had guys go at one another, sometimes in a little bit more of a subtle way; sometimes maybe a less-confrontational way,” Cubelic said. “Jimbo even said it yesterday – he’s not afraid of confrontation; he’s not worried about it.”

An aspect of what has made this discordance between two highly-accomplished and eminent coaches a story being followed across the college football landscape is the fact that it has taken place within the public sphere. When Saban appeared on SiriusXM Radio and apologized for singling out Texas A&M in his comments from earlier in the week, there was not much emotion involved, according to Cubelic. Fisher’s remarks in his press conference though, were of a completely different sentiment – and may have escalated the situation altogether.

“Debates often turn to arguments as soon as emotions become involved,” Cubelic said. “…Jimbo Fisher yesterday at 10 a.m. – that felt emotional; that felt personal, and that one had to dig deep. Jimbo Fisher said yesterday he doesn’t anticipate things are going to be repaired. I don’t see in a way that these two sort of get things back in line.”

“The bridge is burned both ways,” added show co-host Greg McElroy. “They’ll probably shake hands; do what they need to do pregame. But as far as any love lost? Nah, that’s a wrap.”

A part of this story that remains seminal when reporting or commenting on it is listening to the full extent of the comments from both Saban and Fisher on the situation so as to more effectively contextualize and comprehend the situation. Cubelic said that he did multiple interviews on different programs yesterday, and some of the interviewers, as he anticipated, had solely listened to portions of the comments, rendering them not completely prepared to have a truly pertinent discussion about the topic at hand.

“We said it here on the show yesterday morning — right out of the gate — people are going to take the Miami; the Jackson State; and the Texas A&M stuff, and they’re going to clip it and they’re going to play it and they’re going to read it and that’s all they’re going to pay attention to,” said Cubelic. “There were multiple other messages that were attempted to be delivered by Nick Saban two nights ago that I don’t think anybody paid attention to, and I’m wondering if Jimbo paid attention to them.”

Jimbo Fisher and the Texas A&M Aggies visit Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide on October 8 in a matchup that will sure to be a primary topic of discussion in the weeks and months leading to kickoff.

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