Al Michaels’ departure from NBC could spark major broadcaster movement
Though he’s expected to land at Amazon, which will begin broadcasting “Thursday Night Football” exclusively next season, Michaels said even he doesn’t know where he’ll be.
The worst-kept secret in sports media is that Al Michaels’ contract with NBC expires after his broadcast of Super Bowl LVI between the Rams and Bengals on Sunday.
The best-kept secret is where he’ll work next. Although he’s expected to land at Amazon, which will begin broadcasting “Thursday Night Football” exclusively next season, Michaels said even he doesn’t know.
“I know there are chances to continue — I’ll assess that when this is over,” he said on a conference call this week. “But I vowed to myself to just enjoy every moment of this year, and I have. I always felt that the minute you start thinking about other things, it takes you away from this.
“But after this game is over, I’ve got some very close friends who really understand the business inside-out, and we’ll talk about what’s out there. I do know one thing: I love what I do, I feel great, and I’m not ready for any rocking chair or golf. I get to play enough golf, believe me.”
Michaels, 77, will call his 11th Super Bowl, tying him with the late, great Pat Summerall for the most in TV history. Michaels will be part of the usual “Sunday Night Football” crew with analyst Cris Collinsworth, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya (who will work her final game) and rules analyst Terry McAulay. Kathryn Tappen also will report from the sideline.
Michaels’ future has been a hot topic all season. He has called prime-time football since 1986 and myriad major sports events since 1972, and there was speculation that the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium — roughly nine miles from his home — would be his Hollywood ending. That will not be the case.
Although Michaels would give Amazon instant credibility, he wouldn’t bring the slate of games he has grown accustomed to. With the NFL improving ESPN’s schedule on Monday nights, and with Thursday nights heading to a smaller audience (games still would air on TV in the markets of the participating teams), Amazon’s Prime Video probably won’t get many prime matchups for its 15-game schedule.
But it could have a high-quality booth calling those games. There is talk that Troy Aikman could leave Fox for Amazon or possibly work for both, calling Thursday night games for the streamer and “America’s Game of the Week” for the network. His departure would start a game of musical chairs at Fox, which would need to fill its top analyst seat next to Joe Buck.
If Aikman stays at Fox, Amazon could give former Saints coach Sean Payton a call, and two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks might be available. Tom Brady is retired, and Aaron Rodgers might join him. But Michaels probably doesn’t want to break in a newbie at this point in his career.
You might be wondering: Why on earth isn’t NBC retaining Michaels? It’s a valid question. He’s still the best football announcer on the planet, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. But NBC likes to have succession plans in place, and the talented Mike Tirico is waiting in the wings.
Tirico, who left ESPN for NBC in 2016, began filling in for Michaels in 2020, when Michaels began taking “bye weeks.” The purpose was likely two-fold: ease Michaels’ travel schedule during the pandemic and ease Tirico’s transition into the booth with Collinsworth, who’s expected to remain the analyst.
Former Saints quarterback Drew Brees figured to be Collinsworth’s successor when NBC hired him as an analyst on “Football Night in America” and Notre Dame game broadcasts. But his performance analyzing — or, more accurately, not analyzing — the Raiders-Bengals playoff game last month raised red flags.
Following Michaels off the regular “SNF” team is Tafoya, who will hang up her microphone after her fifth Super Bowl and 327th NFL game.
“We were all talking about how you get to a certain point, and you’ve chased what you wanted to chase, a particular arena in your life, and there are other things you want to chase,” Tafoya said on the conference call. “And that’s how I feel, and I feel strongly about that. It’s going to be hard leaving these folks.”
Said Michaels: “Michele and I have worked on about 300 shows together. I met her three hours before we went on the air in an NBA game Christmas Day 2003 in L.A. between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets. She always hits the mark.”
Tappen, who has been warming up on the Notre Dame sideline, is in place to succeed Tafoya. So prime-time TV’s No. 1 show for what likely will be an unprecedented 11 consecutive years will be different next season. And that could set off a chain reaction of broadcaster movement that would make NFL free agency look tame.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But apparently, to NBC, it’s time.
‘SUPER GOLD SUNDAY’ ON NBC
Super Bowl LVI and the Winter Olympics converge for what NBC is calling the biggest day in sports media history. It features the Lombardi Trophy presentation in Inglewood, California, and multiple gold-medal events in Beijing.
7 a.m. — 2022 Winter Olympics
11 a.m. — Road to the Super Bowl
Noon — Super Bowl LVI Pregame Show
5:30 p.m. — Super Bowl LVI
9:45 p.m. — 2022 Winter Olympics Primetime Show
11 p.m. — NBC 5 News
11:30 p.m. — 2022 Winter Olympics Prime Plus Show