Al Michaels on Olympic hosting; Mike Mayock's combine call
SOCHI -- For those who thought Al Michaels should have filled in for Bob Costas as the host of NBC's primetime Olympics coverage when Costas was out with viral conjunctivitis, well, here's a revelation you'll enjoy from Michaels himself.
"That role has changed significantly from when it really had great appeal to me," Michaels said Sunday from his Sochi hotel, a couple of hours before hosting the closing ceremonies on NBC. "At ABC I did the Lake Placid, Los Angeles, Sarajevo and the Calgary Olympics. Then NBC got the rights to Seoul and Barcelona, and Albertville and Lillehammer were won by CBS. But we [ABC] were back in the mix for Atlanta. In my contract, which I signed in 1991, I had in my deal that I was going to be the host of the Atlanta Games had ABC gotten the rights to do it."
Think about that for a second. Michaels hosting the Olympic Games instead of Costas. Interesting, right?
Michaels continued on.
"From what I understand ABC had the last dog in the fight and could have topped NBC's bid with $10 million extra or so but they passed on it," Michaels said. "It was wrenching to me, I have to tell you. It would have been a live Olympics hosting role in Atlanta."
Michaels said he loves doing live hosting, which he has done in Sochi for NBCSN and also did in Vancouver and London. He hosted the closing ceremony (taped, obviously) on Sunday night with Cris Collinsworth and analyst Vladimir Posner, the fourth time Michaels had the closing assignment including Calgary (ABC), Vancouver (NBC) and London (NBC).
Michaels is 69 years old. He remains the NFL's best television game-caller and said he's in terrific health. I asked him how he approaches his career in terms of how long he wants to keep working.
"In my brain, I feel 19," he said. "I'm a rascal in my head. I like to have fun, I like to laugh. I have great pals and colleagues in the business. So a couple of things here: Number one is health, and knock on wood, I have stayed healthy. I don't like to travel but that is part of the deal. Nothing is perfect. I still love the games. I have been a sports fan since I was six years old. I find them exciting. I love competition at the highest level in any sport, which is what the NFL is. I love strategy and drama, that still excites me. When a game is really good I am still excited as I ever was.
"I think when I get to the point where I can't do it the way the way I am happy doing it, that will be the sign. Health is out of my hands. But if I can't do it the way I want to do it, then it's sayonara. I know one thing: I will not hang on. If I can't do it the way I'm happy doing it, I'm out."
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.
1. I spoke with former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez last Tuesday upon his being hired by CBS to work on The NFL Today pregame show and Showtime's Inside The NFL. The story is here. Something that didn't make that piece was a question I had for Gonzalez on culture of the locker room in Miami and how it went haywire.
"Obviously it got out of hand," Gonzalez said. "There is a line that you just don't cross as a player. Believe me, one thing that people need to understand -- and it has been expressed by players -- is the football locker room is not a place to be sensitive. I call it locker room talk. It is saying whatever is on your mind within reason. There are certain things you don't touch, like extreme family situations such as a death. But I am telling you, the things that I have heard in that locker room are crazy and if you have thin skin, you will get your feelings hurt. We've all been there. Obviously in Miami it got out of hand and something should have been done sooner -- and I think something should have been done by Jonathan Martin himself instead of letting it get to that point. I think everyone is to blame in that situation, not just one person. Richie [Incognito] shares some of the blame. Martin, the coaching staff, their teammates; there is a lot of blame to go around the locker room and it is a sad situation because probably now they will start coming up with rules for the locker room and I don't know how well that will go over."
1a. Last week NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock held a two-hour and 28-minute press call on the NFL draft, likely the longest conference call in the history of any cable sports television network.
Here was Mayock on Johnny Manziel: "The first tape I put in was Alabama and I put the tape down about two hours later and said, 'Wow, that was awesome, that was really fun to watch.' The kid makes throws, he allows his other players to make plays. He gives [Texas A&M wide receiver] Mike Evans a chance to make plays and he extends plays. He was like a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie. I really enjoyed it and there were two or three more tapes like that.
"As I worked my way through, because I wanted a minimum of five for each of the quality quarterbacks before the combine, I eventually got to LSU and Missouri, neither of which were really good tapes. Both of which the common denominator for me was I felt like he got frustrated in the pocket and I felt like LSU and Missouri did a great job with controlling their rush and keeping him in the pocket. The more he was in the pocket, the more frustrated he got. He started to lose his accuracy. He started trying to escape the pocket way before he needed to and I feel like he doesn't like being confined. He likes those open spaces. We've got to evaluate him a little differently because of that.
"Again, I felt like he would back out of the pocket and all of a sudden the accuracy is down, the decision-making is down. NFL teams are going to clue into that very quickly. Having said all of that, I do believe he's got the arm strength, athletic ability, the passion for the game, and at the end of the day, he's different than any quarterback I've done before. He's different than [Robert Griffin III], different than Cam Newton, different than Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. But I believe in the kid. I think he's going to be a top-10, if not a top-5 pick. But you're going to have to live with some of those negative plays in addition to the positive ones."
1b. Mayock on Michael Sam: "Well, he's a tweener and I think that's why people are having trouble with the evaluation. I saw him at Missouri and then again at the Senior Bowl and what I saw was a guy that's a natural edge rush guy. He's much better going forward than he is backwards. He's got a little bit of explosion off the edge, but he doesn't have the length. So he's got linebacker size, but he's got the physical skill set of a defensive end. He's a tough fit. What I see is a situational pass rush, not an every-down player but a situational pass rusher that also can become a core special teams player. I think he goes somewhere in the third to the fifth round."
1c. On Monday CBS announced Bart Scott had been named a studio analyst for The NFL Today, joining host James Brown, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Gonzalez. Last season Scott worked on CBS Sports Network's weekly Sunday pre-game show That Other Pregame Show (TOPS). The announcement was made today by Sean McManus, Chairman, CBS Sports.
2. Michaels said the preparation for an Olympic closing ceremony comes down to seeing the rehearsal ahead of time (which NBC's broadcasters do) and relying on someone like Posner to offer perspective on the cultural aspects of the show. "There's not a lot to say for us," Michaels said "You let it play out. It's very visual. The presentations, the music; I'm not there to get political."
2a. Michaels was effusive about working with the Sunday Night Football crew of Collinsworth, producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff. "We really have a phenomenal team," Michaels said. "We all fuel each other. We feel as if we are competing with ourselves. How did we do last week? Okay, that's good, but every week we can better. No one is saying 'We are the number one show on television so lets sit back and relax.'"
2b. Had NBC won the rights to the NFL's Thursday night package instead of CBS, Michaels and Collinsworth would have doubled up on most of the games. "[Jim] Nantz and [Phil] Simms will be in a situation where CBS can give them a lot of weeks off when Fox has the doubleheader game," Michaels said. "It's easier to give them those games off and the same with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman if Fox got it. NBC would have two national games. We are really proud of Sunday Night and the only concern I would have had was I'm not sure we [Michaels and Collinsworth and crew] could have done all 39 games or whatever the number would have been [NBC's schedule plus Thursday night]. Look, you finish the Sunday game and you want to regroup a bit and now you go to the Thursday game. At a certain point, you could not do 39 games with the same overall quality. That more than anything else was what I was thinking about it. Now, it would have been good for the company and it still could come around. It might come back. We'll deal with that it happens."
2c. NBC said it averaged 21.4 million viewers for its Sochi primetime coverage from the opening ceremony on Feb. 7 through the closing ceremony. That was up six percent from Turin but significantly down from the 24.4 million viewers in Vancouver. Sunday's closing ceremony averaged 15.1 million viewers while NBC's Nancy & Tonya documentary (7-8:33 p.m. ET), competing against an Outside The Lines special on the N-Word, averaged 12.7 million viewers.
2d. The documentary "Lokomotiv" on the tragedy surrounding the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) received immense -- and justified -- praise on social media. The piece focused on the events of Sept. 7, 2011, when an airplane carrying the team crashed outside the Russian city of Yaroslavl and killed 44 of 45 people on board, including 37 players. Props to the crew behind the film: Producers Jack Felling, Alex Goldberger, Matt Allen and Kaitlin Urka, editors Brian Longenecker and Phil Parrish, cinematographer Samson Chan, sound engineer Alan Strusser and Mark Levy, the network's senior vice president of original productions and creative. You can stream it here if you have a cable account.
2e. Nancy Kerrigan opened up to SI.com on Tonya Harding and how the media shaped her image.
2f. The women's gold medal hockey game -- Canada's 3-2 overtime win over the U.S. -- was watched by an average of 4.9 million viewers on NBC, the most-watched hockey game in the U.S., excluding the Stanley Cup finals, since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics men's gold medal game. The stream of the game was watched by 1.2 million unique users.
2g. The men's ice hockey semifinal between the United States and Canada on Saturday drew 3.9 million viewers on NBCSN. The top-rated markets for the game: 1. Buffalo; 2. Minneapolis; 3. Boston; 4. Pittsburgh; 5. Providence; 6. Chicago; 7. Detroit; 8. St. Louis; 9. Philadelphia; 10. New York
2h. Furthermore, the U.S.-Canada men's game generated more than 2.1 million unique users (2,122,447) -- the most unique users ever for any NBC Sports Digital stream. NBC said the unique users were believed to be the largest "TV Everywhere" authenticated streaming audience in U.S. history.
2i. The most-viewed hockey game during the Sochi Games was the U.S.-Russia men's preliminary game on NBCSN. It drew 4.1 million viewers.
2j. According to Twitter Sports, the five most-tweeted about Olympic athletes during the Sochi Games through Sunday morning: 1. Japan figure skater Mao Asada; 2. U.S. hockey player T.J. Oshie; 3. Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na; 4. U.S. snowboarder Shaun White; 5. Candandian snowboarder Mark McMorris.
4. "League of Denial," the documentary ESPN pulled out of at the alleged behest of the NFL, won a George Polk Award.
4a. John McEnroe has expanded his ESPN role beyond tennis to include television and radio appearances. The network said McEnroe will work as an analyst on SportsCenter and make regular appearances on ESPN2's Olbermann and on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.
4b. Republican party strategist Frank Luntz had been pitching his services to several sports networks, and Fox Sports 1 has bit on the pitch. Luntz has been hired by the network to provide analysis on breaking news, press conferences and current events as well as hosting a segment called "Sound Off," a taped focus group discussion with audience members on sports topics. "Frank Luntz is an expert in reading between the lines and assessing the validity and sincerity of what people say, whether it's said during press conferences or off-the-cuff," said Fox Sports Live executive producer Scott Ackerson in a statement.
4c. The CBC (8:00 p.m.) and NBCSN (10:00 p.m.) will air "NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other" on Thursday, an inside look at the NHL players competing in Sochi. NHL PR said crews have been shooting behind-the-scenes footage with Olympic players for the past two weeks in Sochi.
4d. Allen Bestwick signed a multi-year deal with ESPN and will become the lap-by-lap announcer for ABC's telecasts of the IndyCar Series, including the 2014 Indianapolis 500. The network said Bestwick will work on other sports beginning in 2015. Bestwick is currently ESPN's anchor for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts, but his network's contract with NASCSAR ends in 2014.
4e. The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre reported that Fox Sports host and sideline reporter Erin Andrews will co-host Dancing With The Stars.
4f. The Season 2 premiere of In Play with Jimmy Roberts, airing on Golf Channel at 10 p.m. ET. on Monday, features an examination of golf's return to the Olympics. The Golf Channel said its cameras have chronicled the development of the Olympics course in Rio the past two years. There's also a two-part feature on 23-year Michael LaBrie, who had burns on 95 percent of his body and was nearly killed at three years old in a gasoline explosion.
4g. MLB Network will televise more than 200 games beginning on Feb. 26 and continuing with at least one live game televised each day through March 29. The network said every team will be featured in its coverage.
4h. Fox Sports 2's broadcast of Arsenal beating Liverpool in the FA Cup was the most-watched program on the channel since its launch last August. It drew 257,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.
4i. Yahoo! MMA and boxing writer Kevin Iole on his favorite fights over the years.
4j. Thanks to a great lead-in -- NASCAR's Duel at Daytona -- Fox Sports Live had its highest-ever viewership on Feb. 20, drawing 2.272 million viewers. That was 335 percent higher than its previous high of 522,000 viewers following the Oregon-Oregon State football game on Nov. 29, 2013. The Sports Media does note that the Fox Sports Live telecast that set the record was only rated for 26 minutes (9:57 p.m.-10:23 p.m.). The 10:23 p.m.-12 a.m. telecast had just 213,000 viewers.
5. Sports piece of note this week:
•Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports! on Lockerbie, Scotland and a piece he meant to write 12 years ago:
•Grantland's David Hill on the struggle for the soul of pool.
•Bruce Arthur of the National Post on what medals in hockey mean to Canada.
•SI's Michael Rosenberg on the Russian hockey paper tiger.
•The Wall Street Journal had the best Q&A transcript of the Sochi Games.
•Cam Cole of the National Post on Sarah Burke's ashes being spread at the halfpipe in Sochi:
•Excellent column by ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz on Jason Collins -- and his return to the NBA.
Non-sports pieces of note:
•The Atlantic published a must-read year-long investigation of college fraternities.
•The New York Review of Books' Timothy Snyder on fascism, Russia, and Ukraine.
• The New Yorker's Roger Angell, writing at 93, on life in your nineties.
• Tomas Rios on how the American child welfare ruins lives.
• How Google nuked Sports Media Watch for a crime it did not commit.