Al Michaels on the Late John Madden, Tom Brady’s Retirement, and the Next Chapter in His Own Storied Career

Broadcasting legend returns to the Stern Show ahead of Super Bowl LVI

February 8, 2022

Sportscasting legend Al Michaels made his Stern Show return on Tuesday, catching up with Howard and co-host Robin Quivers ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl LVI, featuring the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams. An estimated 100 million Americans will tune in to watch the big game, but Al, who already has 10 Super Bowls under his belt, assured Howard he’s not at all nervous.

“You get on the air in front of like 100 million people, the synapses of your brain open up real wide. For some crazy reason I think I see the game in 4K, and I’m just totally, completely locked into the game. It’s an exhilarating feeling,” Michaels said.

The 77-year-old Brooklyn native has chronicled countless historic moments over the course of his storied 50-year career, from the so-called “Miracle on Ice” to an earthquake-interrupted World Series game in 1989. After eight World Series, multiple Olympics, and countless other primetime football, baseball, and hockey games, few would fault Michaels for hanging up his microphone for good when his contract with NBC expires after Sunday’s big game. But that’s not something the broadcaster is currently considering.

“I vowed before this season that I wanted to enjoy this season to the nth degree, and I have,” he told Howard. “So, I’ll do Super Bowl on Sunday and then next week I can begin to have some clarity of thought and think about … the best position for me, the best option for me, and the best opportunity for me, if it’s out there.”

Though Michaels is set to hand over the “Sunday Night Football” reins to Mike Tirico, he hasn’t ruled out continuing to work with NBC Sports. “That’s one of the things that’s being talked about right now,” he said, explaining he understood the network’s desire to name a successor but thought he had plenty more to offer. “In the parlance of football, I’ve outkicked the coverage,” Al continued. “I’m sorry I’ve helped screw this thing up by not being done, [but] at least in my mind, I’m not done.”

After Al becomes a free agent, Howard imagined he could land anywhere from another broadcast network to Amazon, the trillion-dollar company founded by Jeff Bezos which recently secured exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football.”

“If Jeff Bezos is listening, what do you want to say?” Howard asked.

“Only thing I’ll tell Jeff is I’m not going up in that rocket ship unless you put me in first class,” Michaels laughed.

Remembering John Madden

When talking about great analysts he’d worked in concert with, Al was quick to mention beloved coach turned commentator John Madden, who passed away in late December at the age of 85.

“John was a brilliant man. I spent seven years with him. The greatest memories I’ll take are not just being in the booth with him, but our dinners [and] talking about everything,” Michaels said before regaling Howard with one such memory.

“We were at a nice fish restaurant in New York, and I ordered swordfish, and he said, ‘No, no, no, you can’t have that …  Two of my best friends are commercial fisherman and swordfish, they have nothing but tumors and boils,’” Al recalled. “I go, ‘Waiter, get over here.’ That ended swordfish for me.”

Al attended a private memorial service for Madden a few weeks back, but he told Howard fans could celebrate him at a public memorial this coming Monday at the RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, where Madden once coached. “[Tickets are] 32 dollars and 14 cents, and it all goes to charity,” Michaels said. “32 to 14 was the final score when John’s team beat Minnesota in the Super Bowl back in 1977.”

What’s Next for Tom Brady?

Michaels shied away from making bold Super Bowl predictions on Tuesday morning, staying mum after Howard asked which team he thought would win. Regardless of the outcome, however, he was excited for another opportunity to call one of the world’s most watched games.

“I want it to go into triple overtime. I want to stay on the air as long as I can,” he said.

Al was equally cryptic when asked to guess whether legendary quarterback Tom Brady had retired for good. “The only one who can find out is you,” he told Howard, reminding the King of All Media that his 2020 sit-down with Brady was hailed as one of the athlete’s best interviews of all time. “Every journalist in the country was jealous,” he added.

Howard imagined Brady could continue competing at the highest level for at least one more year, and Al wholeheartedly agreed.

“He led the league in touchdown passes this season. He set an N.F.L. record for most competitions in a season … He had a fabulous year,” Michaels said, adding, “I [recently asked Brady], ‘Do you think about a perfect ending?’ He hesitated. He said, ‘It would include a Super Bowl, but I’m not sure it’s this year.’ And then he kind of went back and forth … But there’s no question … of course he could’ve played next year.”

Quarterbacks from Terry Bradshaw to Troy Aikman have found second careers as football broadcasters and commentators. Howard wondered if Tom might do the same.

Al believed Tom had what it took to be a great sportscaster but didn’t see it happening any time soon. “If he gets into broadcasting, I don’t think it will be in the next couple years. Maybe a little bit down the line,” he said.

From the World Barrel Jumping Championships to the World Series

Looking back at the origins of his own storied career, Al revealed he studied hard to learn everything he could about every sport imaginable.

“The first assignment I get at ABC [was] the World Barrel Jumping Championships in Northbrook, Illinois. What the hell?” He laughed. “But at least they gave [me] world barrel jumping and not regional barrel jumping.”

Michael’s big break came in the early 1970s when he was covering minor league baseball in Hawaii, and he got invited to join the Cincinnati Reds’ broadcast team. “The right guy heard me and recommended me [when] they were looking for an announcer, and that was the launching pad for me,” Michaels said, explaining the Reds of that era featured superstars like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan and eventually won multiple championships.

“When I was 27 years old, Howard, I did the World Series on NBC. In those years, the team announcer would join [the broadcast and,] I swear, when we came on camera … all I could think about in my brain was ‘Please god, please—when I open my mouth let air come out.’ And it did. And once you get rolling it’s unbelievable,” he recalled. “What’s amazing to me is the bookend, too. I did the World Series with the Cincinnati Reds in 1972 and the Super Bowl with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2022.”

JD Harmeyer Joins the Broadcast

Unfortunately, not everyone has what it takes to become a professional sportscaster. Enter the Stern Show’s own JD Harmeyer, who will attend Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood, Calif., this weekend to cheer on his beloved Bengals. Howard wondered what it might be like if his ineloquent staffer were invited to sit in with Michaels and broadcaster partner Cris Collinsworth during the big game.

“Can you imagine if there was a giant ratings spike, from 100 million to 140 million?” Al asked with a laugh.

Happy to give JD an opportunity to shine, Michaels took the staffer on a test run. He concocted a hypothetical football play for JD and then asked him to provide the color commentary. “So, the Bengals, they bracketed Cooper Kupp. That left Van Jefferson open. He got free down the right sideline,” Al said before turning the broadcast over to JD. “Your take.”

JD struggled to get out a clear thought. “Well, you know, uh, uh, Eli Apple, uh, did good covering him and Vonn Bell was able to see, uh—was looking at the eyes of uh, uh—what the hell is the quarterback’s name?” he said.

“The game is over,” Robin interrupted.

“We’ll be right back after these messages,” Al concluded with a laugh.

Super Bowl LVI kicks off Sunday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 ET on NBC.

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