Sports fans of almost every age are familiar with Al Michaels, the 77-year-old play-by-play announcer perhaps best known for his long-time role covering Monday and Sunday Night Football. He now covers the NFL’s Thursday Night Football on the Amazon Prime broadcast.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the end of World War II, Michaels enjoyed the good fortune of having a father who was tasked with starting the sports division of the MCA Talent Agency, as well as helping negotiate the American Football League’s first television deal with ABC. The future Hall of Fame broadcaster’s career trajectory was set in motion after his dad introduced him to Curt Gowdy, who regularly covered games for NBC and ABC.
It seems Michaels’ gift of gab came from his mother, Lila, whose memory he warmly lauds and lionizes.
“She was a combination of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers,” he said. “She was always the life of the neighborhood, in our apartment building in Brooklyn, our neighborhood in Bellmore and in Los Angeles. My friends just loved her. She was hysterical and did things other mothers didn’t … The other mothers weren’t like my mom.”
Al’s mother recognized his love of sports and knew enough to feed the appetite.
“I grew up within walking distance of Ebbets Field,” he remembered, pointing back to his days in New York before the family moved to California. “It was a 15-minute walk. And when I was in grammar school and the Dodgers were mainly playing day games at that time, my mother came up with an excuse to take me out of the afternoon sessions. It was a split session at PS 139 in Brooklyn. I was ten-year-old. I probably saw 55 games.”
Al Michaels’ career has spanned some of the most memorable moments in sports, from covering America’s “Miracle on Ice” hockey win over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid in 1980, numerous other Olympics, the baseball playoffs and World Series’ – and eleven Super Bowls. He’s worked with Howard Cosell (whom he described as “cantankerous” at the end of his career), Dan Dierdof, Frank Gifford, John Madden, Bob Costas and Chris Collinsworth, to name just a few of many broadcast partners.
So prolific has been Michaels’ career that he’s been compared to a real-life Forrest Gump – the fictional character whose seemingly ordinary life becomes extraordinary thanks to countless serendipitous encounters.
But of all those memories and moments, Al Michaels would list his 56-year marriage to Linda, his high school sweetheart, as the very top event or accomplishment of them all.
“I’ve been blessed in so many ways,” he’s said. “Linda and I met in the 10th grade, so we have known each other since we were 15. She is the love of my life. She is just the greatest. That is the biggest piece of luck that ever came down the pike for me.”
Al and Linda are the proud parents of two children, Steve Michaels and Jennifer Michaels Cohn. Both children work in media. Al and Linda have two grandchildren.
Back in their dating days and first year of marriage, Al worked as an “office boy” for Chuck Barris of “The Dating Game” – and Linda was the assistant prize coordinator for Barris’ “The Newlywed Game.”
It seems one of Al and Linda’s secrets to a long and happy marriage is to never stop dating. Today, one of their favorite “dates” are Los Angeles Kings’ hockey games.
Al Michaels has said he considers his professional ascent to have been something of a miracle, illustrated by two memories just ten years apart:
“I am standing in a long registration line (at Arizona State) talking to the guy behind me. We are 17 years old. He says I am here to play baseball. I say I am here to be a broadcaster. His name is Sal Bando. Then 10 years later, I am announcing a World Series he is playing in. I mean, are you kidding me? This is impossible.”
Only, like the United States’ upset victory over the Soviet Union, and a high school romance that blossomed into a love story that’s lasted more than half a century, it wasn’t impossible. It really happened.
Of all the lines Al Michaels has uttered across all his years in the broadcast booth, “Do you believe in miracles?” – the animated remark he made in the final seconds of the U.S. hockey’s team victory over the Soviets – is easily his most famous and most quoted. It was a fanciful question and one that resonated around the country, especially at a time when the nation was hungry for good news.
Of course, even beating the mighty team from the USSR didn’t defy the laws of nature – nor does staying married to the same woman for 56 years. Al and Linda Michaels have discovered there’s nothing impossible or miraculous to staying married – just a joint commitment to loving one another for however many minutes, quarters or innings God gifts them.