By Alan Robinson
Al Michaels wonders if he’ll ever have another game to match this one.
No, not THAT game.
Michaels is the iconic sports announcer best remembered for his “Do you believe in miracles?” call when the United States’ college kids beat the Soviet Union’s all-world ice hockey machine in the 1980 Olympics.
The longtime voice of Monday night football and, now, the Sunday night game on NBC, Michaels has broadcast more than 500 NFL games and numerous Super Bowls. The Thursday night Ravens-Steelers game in Baltimore will be his 26th Steelers primetime telecast.
The best NFL game he’s called? To him, it’s easy: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23 in the 2008 season Super Bowl in Tampa.
To Michaels, this game had it all: Superlative individual performances (James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return touchdown, Larry Fitzgerald’s spectacular catches), a great comeback (by the Cardinals) and, of course, a miracle finish (Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes for 6 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining).
Yes, Al Michaels’ second miracle finish.
“I thought it was the most exciting Super Bowl of all — the NFL Network did one of those 10 best Super Bowls and that was ranked No. 1,” Michaels told the Tribune-Review.
It wasn’t necessarily the matchup; NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth thinks the Cardinals (9-7 that season) might have been the worst team to reach the playoffs.
“It was a matchup nobody really expected. The fact Pittsburgh got there wasn’t a surprise, the fact Arizona got there was shocking,” Michaels said. “You have this regal franchise with multiple Super Bowl wins going against this franchise that, when you attach a word to them, the word was futility.”
But, as Michael said, “That game had so many incredible moments.”
“And it wasn’t only James Harrison’s 100-yard return,” Michaels said. “First of all, a 100-yard interception return is phenomenal no matter when it happens. But to happen when it did, with Arizona going in to take the lead? Then he intercepts it and he’s going down the sidelines, and every Cardinal seemingly has a chance to get him, and Larry Fitzgerald is running through the bench area trying to catch him? What people forget is if Harrison is out of bounds at the half-yard line, the (first) half is over. It’s either a touchdown or nothing.”
There was also an Arizona goal-line stand and, ultimately, the game-winning drive led by Roethlisberger that ended with his thread-through-a-needle pass to Holmes that had to be accurate to the inch to succeed.
“The pass off to Holmes was insane, there were three Cardinals around him,” Michaels recalls. “All these things were going on; the drama was spectacular.”
Michaels still makes the occasional journey to Pittsburgh for NFL games, but longtime broadcast partner John Madden, now retired, does not. Don’t expect him to stop by for a vacation, either; since 1972, Pittsburgh has been Madden’s least-favorite NFL venue.
Remember, Madden was the coach on the losing end of the Immaculate Reception.
“He never really liked coming into Pittsburgh, and only because of that game,” Michaels said. “He enjoyed the town but it brought back probably the worst memory of his coaching career.”
Did Madden ever manage to get over losing on what truly was a miracle play, Franco Harris’ shoetop catch of a wildly deflected Terry Bradshaw pass in the final minute of what seemingly was, for the Steelers, a game already lost?
“No, he couldn’t (get over it),” Michaels said. “I tried to joke around a little bit (about it), but his brow would crease a little bit and he wouldn’t laugh. It was something that hung with him. He felt he should have won that game and it could have been another Super Bowl for him.”
Oh, and the NFL’s greatest phenomenal finish? Michaels didn’t call that game. Curt Gowdy did for NBC.
After all, one announcer is allowed only so many miracles in a lifetime.