Ahead of Sunday’s mega showdown between Seattle and San Francisco, Al Michaels, who’s calling the game for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football”, was kind enough to give some time to talk about a range of topics, including his most memorable Seahawks’ games, why he likes CenturyLink Field and what it meant to win the Pete Rozelle Radio & Television Award presented by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
How does this rivalry stack up to other big games you’ve done?
“I would describe this as an emerging great rivalry. It just takes a while for rivalries to develop…It’s all coming together. And it’s bigger in the minds of everyone because when you start to look at the power polls and everybody’s top three seems to be some combination of Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. We’ve been doing the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game almost every year now for, I can’t even remember how many years. That’s been a phenomenal rivalry. Chicago-Green Bay kind of comes and goes, but because of the history it’s always terrific. But San Francisco-Seattle is the emerging rivalry in the league.”
You’ve done a lot of games with Seattle over the years. Are there any memories or moments that come to mind?
“Well, I can think of three off the top of my head. This was in 1987, so it was my second year doing Monday Night Football. We go up there and Bo Jackson runs around the left side and annihilates Brian Bosworth, sprints up the tunnel and comes to a halt somewhere just north of Tacoma. That was a run for the ages and established Bo as some extraordinary, maybe-the-greatest-of-all-time running back. Unfortunately, his career got truncated by that hip surgery, but that’s such a memorable run. That’s one of the iconic Monday Night Football plays of all time. So I’d start with that one.
“Then I’d go to 2002 when, ironically, the 49ers in there and Terrell Owens catches the touchdown pass and whips out the sharpie from his sock and signs the ball. I think I give it to his financial adviser at the time. As a recall the story, Shawn Springs, the guy he’d beaten on the play, it was Springs’ box, and Owens financial adviser had a seat there at field level and he handed it to him. And I don’t know if that guy is still his financial adviser. I read a story about Owens being broke at some point, so…You’ve got all this stuff going on, the sharpie out of the sock, so I remember that as well.
“And then the other one would be in the playoffs in 2006, where Tony Romo bobbled the snap and the Seahawks win the game and advance. That turned out to be Bill Parcels’ last game unless, who knows, Bill may someday have another star turn. You never know with Bill. But that was the end of his career as the Cowboys head coach. We had Bill in the booth at halftime when he went into the Hall of Fame, and I remember him saying that on the plane on the way back when he was still uncertain as to whether he wanted to coach again, Bill just said the thought of restarting this again was just too much for him and that’s when he decided to hang up his coaching whistle.”
What does the Pete Rozelle award mean to you?
“I knew Pete Rozelle, so it’s always great to get something that’s attached to somebody you admire tremendously. It was neat to get it this year, in fact, because at the ceremony out comes Charley Taylor onto the stage. I’m looking at this thing, and I’m thinking, ‘I went to school with Charley Taylor at Arizona State.’ Charlie was a running back at ASU at that time, and ironically he was the No. 2 running back. The No. 1 running back was a guy named Tony Lorick, who was a guy who wound up as a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts. Then I’m watching Curley Culp come in on a vote from the veteran’s committee, so I said to him, ‘Let me get this straight. You’re going in on a vote from the veteran’s committee, and I’m older than you? What the hell is that all about?’
“And then I told the story amazingly enough that when I was at ASU I was announcing the games at the campus station. The campus station could be picked up in a radius of about three blocks. We did a game in 1963, the opening game of the season was Arizona State taking on Wichita State. Somewhere in some storage cabin, I have a reel-to-reel tape of me doing that game. Not that I remembered it until a million years later, but one of the leading tacklers for Wichita State was a linebacker by the name of Bill Parcels. So I was able to tell that story that night…It was a neat thing to have all of these connections in this room on the 50th anniversary of the Hall of Fame was a very neat deal for him.”
When you have a game like this with so many storylines, how do you handle that?
“What you do is you let the game take you there. In other words, I’ve always felt that you go in completely prepared. Roone Arledge used to say, ‘Get the saddlebags filled up.’ So we have everything we need. But as John Madden used to love to say, and it’s so true: ‘You go in fully prepared and then a game breaks out.’ I’m always in touch with, where are we? If the score is 24-0, you’re going with a whole different direction. Strategy becomes far less meaningful and all the rest. But if you try to jam too much into a compelling, exciting game then all you’re really doing is annoying the audience.
“So what we do is we start out and want people to understand who the key people are. A guy like Russell Wilson, as well known as he has become in a way, he’s still a little under the radar for the average fan. The story is so great so you sort of want to go through that all again. You want to weave that in a little early. Same thing with Kaepernick. Without insulting the intelligence of people who really follow it, you want to go through the Cliff Notes version…
“…I remember telling Dennis Miller when I had Dennis for a couple years. He said to me one day, ‘What’s the one thing you can tell me that’s going to help me the most?’ I said, ‘Let the game come to you.’ Dennis, I don’t want to say was a fish out of water, but that was the most outside-the-box hire of all time, and we had a blast. But Dennis would come in, he felt it was important to show his football knowledge chops immediately. He’d come in with these reams of facts and statistics. We didn’t hire Dennis for that. I said, ‘Put that stuff away. Watch where the game goes and then link your comments to his games.’ At his best, he had some of the most incredible and funny lines ever. At his worst, he’s sitting there reading what he read out of Pro Football Weekly.”
What are you most excited to see between these two teams?
“No. 1, you come into a venue that rings with excitement. The noise level there is amazing, just incredible. I love that stadium. I think that stadium is one of my favorites, and one of the reasons is the fans are right on top of the field. It’s not luxury box dominant. It’s very cool. I just love the way it’s built, I love the way it looks from the outside. You start with the fact that inside the building it just rocks and it’s great. And then, I’ve always loved strategy. You’re watching these two guys who are running new sort of offense in a way and how each defense adjusts to it, what they’re going to do, how they’re going try to outsmart the other team.”