Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
Al Michaels: Newsday paper boy
As a special bonus for loyal Newsday.com subscribers, here is the unabridged, unedited version of my Thursday inteview with Al Michaels that will appear as excerpts in the Friday paper:
On delivering Newsday as a teenager in North Bellmore in the late 1950s:
In those years it’s not like it is now where you drive around in a car and throw the paper into somebody’s driveway. I had to drive the bike and literally get off the bike and walk the paper to the mailbox, which was normally up some stairs, and they had those mailboxes with the little hook on the bottom for the paper.
So it wasn’t like just running around the neighborhood throwing a bunch of papers and being finished in 15 minutes. It took me probably closer to an hour to get it done.
The problematic situation was on Friday where you had to get the money. So you’d ring the doorbell and say, "Collect." If somebody wasn’t home you’d have to mark it down and go back the next week.
Most people were home and then you’d collect, I think it was something like 30 cents a week. There wasn’t a Sunday paper. I’d get like a nickel tip, sometimes a dime, sometimes nothing. But there was one house that gave me a quarter, which I thought was fantastic.
It developed a hell of a work ethic.
On his record number of prime time television hours:
We figured it out a bunch of years ago. Somebody heard 12 or 13 years ago Frank Gifford talking about the fact he believed he had spent more time on prime time TV than anybody. Then of course I was side by side with Frank from ’86 on, plus I had done those 14 years of Monday Night Baseball from ’76 to ’89, plus throw in Olympics.
So we figured it out where the hours were approaching 2,000. Since then I’ve added probably a hundred games and 300 more hours. The number is around 2,200 or 2,300 hours.
The only time I really ponder it is I go, oh, my god, that’s over a hundred days of my life. That’s like three-and-a-third months of continuously being on television in prime time, so that’s kind of scary.
That’s like me being in Pittsburgh the other day and trying to in my brain remember how many times I’ve been in Pittsburgh in my life, and it came out to about 80. The average trip would be like 2 ½ days. You add that up and you realize it’s 200 days.
Which meant I have spent seven months in my life in Pittsburgh. You think of these numbers and it’s kind of crazy.
I don’t know what it speaks to, but it speaks to, well, I know what it speaks to. It speaks to the fact I’ve been lucky enough to be on two fantastic packages, Monday night for 20 years, Sunday night for five. Also Monday Night Baseball, Olympics, fights, prime time college football and all of that. When you think of it in those terms it’s amazing.
On his 1970 cameo appearance on "Hawaii Five-0:"
I was on for like, a minute. I was working in Hawaii starting my career and "Hawaii Five-0" had just come on the air, and they would hire a number of local television news people to play the supporting roles instead of having actors and flying them over.
Almost everybody I did the news with who was on television and/or radio in Hawaii would at one point or another be called by the "Hawaii Five-0" people to fill those roles. I showed up one day at the Diamond Head studios and they gave me a script and I was very nervous, because Jack Lord was there and was such a large presence and he had a very, very gruff exterior.
I was playing the young lawyer. I’ll never forget this. The cameras were rolling, and he didn’t say hello to me beforehand. I opened up my mouth and said a couple of words and he yells out, "Cut!" just like that.
I was sure I’d be fired and my heart is palpitating and he looks at the back of his hand and he looks over at the crew and he just says, "I need more hand makeup."
For a young kid who got a few lines I guess I did OK.
On working on "The Dating Game:"
I worked for Chuck Barris. I’m right out of college and trying to find a broadcasting job, which eventually led me to the Hawaii Islanders. But I worked for Chuck and at that time he had "The Dating Game" and he was starting off "The Newlywed Game."
You couldn’t work for a greater guy than Chuck Barris. He’s one of the most fascinating men of all time. Chuck starts me out at $95 a week. And my job, just out of college, is with several other people to get on the phone and cold call people and ask if they’d be interested in coming down to audition for "The Dating Game."
In those days you’re talking rotary phones, no answering machines. We’d sit there all day long. It also meant you’d have to be there pretty late at night, because people are working, you’d have to call at 7, 8, 9 o’clock. I’m just working my ---- off about 75 hours a week.
About the fourth day in Chuck comes out and says, "You’re doin’ a great job, I’m going to put you up to 100 bucks." Right off the bat you’ve got a $5 raise and you feel like gold. So Chuck would give you raises in $5 increments, so by the end of the third month I’m up to like 120, but it was a great lesson in how to inspire people and make them feel good and all of that stuff.
I got a little bit of a bump when I was part of a group that would select girls for "The Dating Game." Then of course during all of this I get married that year, and my wife [Linda] gets a job in the prize department at Chuck’s place.
So here I am, can you imagine, I’m a newlywed and one of my roles is to pick the girls for "The Dating Game." Let me tell you something: How did it work out? Well, my bride is still my bride after 44 years. So it’s working pretty well, and I love her to death.
On finishing first by a wide margin in a USA Today poll to name the best NFL announcer:
No. 1, I’m very pleased obviously that enough people think enough of me to not want to throw me out. I’ve always felt that you have to be a little careful in terms of overexposure, and you can wear people out.
All I know is that every week I feel as if I have to prove myself. I probably work, I don’t want to say harder because I’ve always prepared at a certain level, but let’s put it this way, I could probably show up and just do a game - there’s no question I could - without doing any preparation. But I’ve always felt if you ever get to that point, it’s time to walk away.
I’m always looking for something new and fresh and interesting. I don’t know what to attribute this to. All I know is I pay a lot of attention to what I think the audience wants to hear and what they don’t want to hear.
In addition to preparing for games I spend a certain amount of time just thinking about where the business is, what people have heard too much of, what maybe they’ve not heard enough of, what would interest people. I don’t know if this has anything to do with something like a poll, but I would just hope that people would feel that if I’m doing the game, they can trust me to tell them the story, the real story, not to go into areas where broadcasters don’t belong.
Don’t do too much speculating, just try to be in touch with the audience, for lack of a better way to describe it. I’m a sports fan. I sit back and watch a lot of sports and have obviously for my entire life and know what I like and don’t like. I guess I just try to incorporate into my broadcasts the things I think are the most appealing to a broad audience.
Having said that you know you can’t appeal to everybody. We’re talking about 20 million viewers at any given point on a Sunday night game and no matter what you are or what you do a certain percentage of those people are not going to like you, don’t want to hear from you or whatever.
That just comes with the territory. You just have to do the best job you can for what you feel is the broadcast audience. I haven’t made any really significant style changes over the years, I’ve just kind of evolved, I guess.
On when he will know when to hang up the mike and the fact he and Marv Albert have not lost a step into their mid-60s:
Marv will always will be older than me. When people say how old are you, I say, talk to Marv. I’m younger than Marv. However old he wants to be I’m still the junior member. I love Marv, he’s phenomenal.
The whole thing will come down to enthusiasm. illness aside or the onset of dementia or something like that, obviously. If I’m neutral about wanting to do this that would be the first sign. The first sign would be I’m not excited, I’m not that interested.
Fortunately that’s not happened, and I think one of the reasons it hasn’t happened is that I’ve been lucky enough to be over the last 25 years on the NFL’s primary package, most visible package, whatever you want to call it. And that has probably a lot to do with it.
If I was doing something else and it wasn’t as exciting as Sunday Night Football is at the moment, it might be different. I don’t know. Fortunately I don’t have to find that out right now because I do have this job and find it to be very exciting and I walk into a stadium and the lights are on and the crowd is coming in and there’s a buzz that develops and it’s exciting. When that goes away that’s going to be the first sign to me that, uh-oh, what’s going on here?
On watching Monday night's performance by Michael Vick and whether he wished he was working that game:
I don’t wish I was calling a game that was 35-0 early in the second quarter. I’ve had enough of those. That part of it, no. The other part of it as that game is progressing is, sure, Michael Vick’s the hottest thing in the National Football League right now, and we get him, so there’s no question this is going to be very exciting, to get Vick, Giants-Eagles, first place at stake. All the great things that surround Giants-Eagles to begin with and the added bonus is Vick coming off that game, it’s great.
On football's ever-growing TV popuarlity:
I think one of the things that gets a little overlooked is that it’s such a visual treat. Football on television now is just spectacular. You look at all of the technological enhancements – HD, cable cam, just the way everything is presented.
Watching a well produced football game is phenomenal. It’s like watching a great movie and you know it’s live, you know it’s one take. One of the things that maybe has helped me maintain my level of enthusiasm and excitement is I sit there every week and I’m amazed every week at how beautiful it looks and how it flows and how exciting it is to be part of the process.
It’s still tremendously exciting. It’s an adrenaline level that you can’t duplicate on any recorded show. Football is perfect – perfect! – for television.