When ABC “traded” Al Michaels to NBC this off-season to be their number one play-by-play announcer for their new Sunday night NFL football package, it became clear that he is still perceived to be the best play-by-play announcer in the business. However, is that perception still a reality?
Michaels began his career back in 1986 on ABC’s Monday Night Football, where he remained until switching to NBC for the 2006 season. While at ABC, Michaels was part of several broadcast teams including the likes of Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford, Boomer Esiason, Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts, and most recently John Madden. Despite the frequent changes, Michaels always remained because of his innate ability to convey an array of information to the casual viewer.
With NBC’s recent signing of Michaels and John Madden to man their Sunday Night NFL booth, it shows that Michaels is still the most sought after announcer in the business. NBC decided to woo Michaels over Fox and CBS lead play-by-play announcers Joe Buck and Jim Nantz respectively, as well as veterans Dick Enberg and Mike Patrick, and newcomers Kevin Harlan and Gus Johnson..
The amazing thing about Michaels (and probably the reason why NBC chose him) is that he is nearly flawless. He rarely misses a call, is always up to date with the latest news, knows the rules, and adds just enough humor. His only real “flaw” may be his desire to mix in references to the point spread and over/under of games despite the fact that the NFL would rather he not.
Of those mentioned above, Buck, Harlan and Johnson have talent but are still too raw, while Enberg is on the tail end of his career. Both Jim Nantz and Mike Patrick can certainly make their cases as the best play-by-play announcer in the sport.
Nantz (paired with Phil Simms) likely was not targeted because of his value to CBS as a college basketball announcer. I doubt that CBS would likely let him go, at least not without a fight. Michaels on the other hand, did not have an NFL job with ABC after MNF moved to ESPN. His only job on ABC was with the NBA, something he wasn’t particularly good at.
With Sunday Night Football moving to NBC, Mike Patrick was left out of the NFL, which is an absolute travesty. Patrick, who will now work College Football for ESPN, handled the ESPN Sunday Night booth with Joe Theisman and Paul Maguire with phenomenal skill. Theisman and Maguire would often engage in pointless arguments and make erroneous statements, and Patrick was able to pull it all together into a somewhat presentable booth. His abilities were most recognizable when he missed time in the 2004 season and was replaced by Pat Summerall for a few games. Those broadcasts were absolutely unwatchable. It is likely that he wasn’t considered for the NBC job because he didn’t come packaged with a respectable partner (like Michaels does with Madden) and because he doesn’t have the name recognition of Michaels. Both reasons are understandable, but make no mistake his skills are on par with Michaels.
In an industry with remarkable turnover and constant competition, Michaels has remained at the top of his field for nearly twenty years, as evidenced by his new deal with NBC. This is a testament to his dedication and work ethic in an extremely difficult and demanding industry.