Sports Media

After 30 years, Michaels still believes

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / February 26, 2010

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - It’s not the only famous broadcast Al Michaels gets asked about, you know.

“There’s the earthquake, ‘the miracle,’ and the O.J. chase,’’ said Michaels with a laugh during a recent interview. “That’s the hat trick for me.

“But Lake Placid is way over here,’’ he said, spreading his arms like a goalie stretching for a glove save. “The earthquake’s a whole other animal. And the O.J. chase is a whole other animal, too. So those are three very, very distinct things.

“One [the US hockey team’s victory over the mighty Soviet Union in 1980] is a sports event, but it was more than that. One [the earthquake during Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between Oakland and San Francisco] happened at a sports event. The other [the O.J. Simpson car chase, during which he had to explain to ABC anchor Peter Jennings he’d been duped by a Howard Stern prank caller] is the downfall of a sports icon. It’s weird. But I’ve been lucky enough to do some pretty amazing events in my lifetime.’’

Apparently Michaels, who is serving as the afternoon studio host for NBC after a 22-year hiatus from the Olympics, owns a knack for understatement that matches his knack for capturing the essence of magical sports moments as they unfold.

In his 40-plus-year broadcasting career, the 65-year-old has accomplished . . . well, just about everything. Michaels, who spent 20 years as the play-by-play voice of “Monday Night Football,’’ is the only broadcaster to be a play-by-play voice or host for the Olympics as well as the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, and Stanley Cup finals.

Amazing events, indeed. Yet for all of his accomplishments, his legacy to some will be narrowed to those 12 words that, if you are from a certain generation, have long been committed to heart:

“Five seconds left in the game . . . Do you believe in miracles? Yes!’’

If Michaels is weary of reliving that one 30-year-old moment - the anniversary of that victory has been a popular and recurring topic on both NBC and CTV during these Games - he disguises it spectacularly. Asked near the end of the interview to tell the tale of how the call came to happen, he launches into a predictably eloquent and charmingly animated six-minute recap.

“I’ve told it a lot of times, but I’ll never forget, [color analyst] Ken Dryden and I were walking to the arena from the hotel, about a half-mile,’’ Michaels said. “And the conversation was, ‘If it can only be 3-1, Soviets, after the second period, that’s about as good as it’s going to get.’ We both feared a major blowout. [Dryden and I] watched the Soviets kill the US team at Madison Square Garden two weeks before. There was no way - no way - the US wins the game. So I am not remotely thinking about a US victory. I’m just hoping the game stays close.’’

With the US holding a late, one-goal lead, goaltender Jim Craig under siege, and all heaven on the verge of breaking loose at Lake Placid, the magnitude of what was happening dawned on Michaels.

“In the last few moments, I mean all of sudden, it’s 4-3, the clock’s ticking down, and I’ve never worked in a more intense state of concentration, because the building is going crazy, obviously. You can feel the rafters shake, we’re on a platform, the crew is moving around and that’s shaking, there’s all of this physical stuff going on, the [production] truck is going crazy, and I’m hearing all that too,’’ he said. “And all I’m thinking about is, ‘stay in the moment, stay in the game, stay in the game.’

“So I’m completely into it, and you’re rarely aware of the clock until I look up and it says 11 seconds . . . and then I’m calling it because the puck’s in our end and then the puck comes out along the boards. And once the puck comes out along the blue line, I’ve got about six seconds, you can’t anticipate that. And the word that came into my head was ‘miraculous.’ Don’t ask me how it happened. ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ was a question that came out of a word that was in my brain at that time. Miraculous. And that was it. It was totally serendipitous.’’

While there will be no hockey miracles during these Games - a US gold medal would qualify more as a mild surprise by well-compensated professionals - Michaels’s appreciation for the Olympics remains, even as he jokes that there will never be such a thing as “Monday Night Biathlon.’’

“I love it. I loved it when I was with ABC, it was great,’’ said Michaels, who was at ABC from 1977 to 2006 before moving to NBC after “Monday Night Football’’ moved to ESPN. “You know, we thought it was our birthright. We had almost every Olympics in the time that I was there. Then it went away [when NBC got the rights to the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta], so I never thought I’d get the chance to do the Olympics again. Funny the way life works out.’’

Milbury brash talking
Don’t expect NBC to discipline hockey analyst Mike Milbury for his comments suggesting the Russian men’s hockey team played like “Eurotrash’’ in its sluggish 7-3 loss to Canada Wednesday.

Said Milbury, the NESN studio analyst who fills the same role for NBC: “I was shocked that this [game] was this one-sided and I was really disappointed that these guys came with their, their Eurotrash game. It was no heart, no guts, no nothing there to back it up.’’

Host Bill Patrick, appearing equal parts incredulous and amused, responded, “Did you really just say Eurotrash? Did that just come out of your mouth?’’

While those back in Boston are apparently making more of this than the media is here, anything up to and including whacking fellow analyst Jeremy Roenick with his own shoe really shouldn’t qualify as surprising.

NBC pays Milbury to be opinionated if not outright controversial. Wednesday, he was both.

Chad Finn can be reached at