Al Michaels Earns Every Ounce of Trust

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Al Michaels Earns Every Ounce of Trust

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In the midst of a recent sports event, a fervent outcry arose. This time, the focal point was the venerable Al Michaels, a broadcasting legend whose iconic “Do You Believe in Miracles?” call is etched in history. However, in an unexpected turn, Michaels made a call that seemed out of sync with his usual style and insight. Just a week ago, he seemed momentarily perplexed by Christian Kirk’s touchdown, which shattered a 24-24 deadlock, securing a victory for Jacksonville over New Orleans.

Michaels’ words at the moment were, “Kirk takes the ball all the way, to about the 1-yard line… They’re gonna spot it as he thinks he scored the touchdown… And they’re going to call it a touchdown now.”

From the televised footage, it appeared Kirk wasn’t as close to going out of bounds as suggested, immediately celebrating the touchdown. Discontent among Jacksonville fans wasn’t just about the call’s accuracy; they also yearned for a greater level of enthusiasm. This sentiment harkened back to the Jaguars/Chargers playoff game earlier in the year, where Michaels and Tony Dungy faced criticism for their less-than-boisterous call during a major comeback.

“Time to retire,” declared an ‘expert’ on X after the Thursday Night game. But can we honestly claim that this individual has never erred in their own line of work? Singling out Al Michaels seems unjust, especially given his decades of unforgettable broadcasts and games. Having spent time in both radio and television booths, I know there are numerous reasons an announcer might miss a call. While I’m not ruling out the possibility of a genuine mistake, show me a broadcaster who hasn’t stumbled on a call before, and you’d be presenting me with a blank page.

The truth of what transpired lies known only to Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit, and the production team on site. Broadcasters never set out to make mistakes intentionally. I can vouch for this from personal experience. It’s a heart-wrenching experience when you fumble a call, especially early in your career, before you learn that it’s all part of the growth and improvement process. Much like in sports, it’s about bouncing back and nailing the next call.

Let me be clear, I’m an ardent admirer of Michaels, and I’ve lauded his work in this column before. This isn’t an attempt to make excuses for him. Michaels doesn’t need me to be his advocate. Following the playoff game in January, the internet erupted, and he quelled the flames. Andrew Marchand of The New York Post sought out Michaels for his perspective.

He dismissed it as “internet compost!” Michaels went on to state that he wouldn’t call a game for the sake of “over-the-top YouTube hits.”

“A lot of folks who understand this industry are annoyed with the over-the-top yelling that makes a game sound like an offshoot of talk radio,” Al Michaels messaged The Post earlier this year. “I’m in that corner, but there are others who obviously think otherwise.”

I’m inclined to agree with him on the intentional ‘over the top’ calls for viral sensation; it doesn’t resonate with me either. Shouting incoherent words or phrases doesn’t constitute a great call. But, I digress. Let’s return to what might have transpired in the booth during Michaels’ call of Kirk’s touchdown.

The distance from the play can significantly impact a call. How so? Many stadiums and teams prioritize revenue over providing optimal vantage points for broadcasters, be they local or national. I say this with a touch of humor, but it’s true. Broadcast positions have become increasingly impractical for calling games. Football broadcasts now originate from end zone corners rather than the 50-yard line.

Traditional broadcasters prefer to rely on their eyes rather than the monitors in the booth to narrate the action. Depending on the vantage point, it might have appeared closer to being out of bounds than it actually was. To exacerbate matters, viewers at home had the true angle, revealing that it wasn’t a close call.

Bear in mind, I’m merely presenting potential scenarios that could have unfolded in the booth.

For broadcasters who use the monitor to call the action, is there anything worse than the screen going blank? What do you do in that situation? Attempting to refocus on the field during a play in progress isn’t easy. There’s a delay in your cognition—first, comprehending what’s happening, then catching up with the action. I’d wager those ‘X’ experts wouldn’t fare well if they tried it.

These announcing roles may seem effortless, but that’s solely due to the extraordinarily skilled men and women who occupy them. There’s far more to broadcasting than what the audience at home can fathom.

One variable that’s challenging to grasp but occasionally occurs is when a producer or director accidentally speaks in your ear. Broadcasters’ headsets not only pick up the voices of the announcer and analyst but also have a channel for the producer or director to communicate with them. This communication is inaudible to the viewer; it’s internal and serves to convey crucial information to the announcers. For instance, which replays the production truck will show before the break.

The producer also cues the booth for a commercial break. For instance, “going to break in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1” so we know when to stop talking. At times, it can be a distraction, especially if you’re not anticipating them engaging you, particularly during a play in progress. It does happen.

There’s also the possibility of momentarily lacking the words to describe what you’re witnessing. This isn’t exclusive to seasoned broadcasters, believe me. Throughout a game, consider how many words you hear from the play-by-play announcer. Many, right? Sometimes words escape you, or you might find yourself saying things that don’t align with the action.

Once again, these aren’t excuses, but rather straightforward realities.

In one instance, I’ll stand up for Michaels. I previously discussed perceived biases by announcers in this column. Jaguars fans believe Michaels harbors ill feelings toward their team due to two recent incidents involving Jacksonville. Any national announcer will attest that they don’t harbor animosity towards your team. At this point, it’s merely coincidental. Announcers have enough preparatory work for a broadcast to avoid thinking, ‘How can I rile up the Jacksonville fans?’ Al Michaels doesn’t hold a grudge against your team.

Michaels is a highly decorated, deeply respected play-by-play announcer. He’s called countless pivotal moments in sports, from the Olympics to the World Series, Super Bowls, and NBA Finals. Al Michaels has been there. I’m certain he’ll know in his heart when it’s time to step back and transition into retirement. Leaving these roles can be exceedingly challenging when they’ve become your life and defining legacy. I don’t believe we’ve arrived at that juncture with Michaels. I’m unsure of his thoughts regarding how much longer he wishes to continue.

He’s already proven to have a resilient spirit. He hasn’t allowed the internet to dictate his self-worth or confidence. Social media has given a platform to fans, and incidents within the framework of a game or broadcast get blown out of proportion. Right or wrong, the groundswell is undeniable. Michaels has.

Reference

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