Al Michaels has obviously presided over some iconic sports moments, but there’s one aspect to his play-by-play that has endeared him to NFL fans for years: his ability to slyly nod towards the point spread late in the game.
It has to be a sly nod because sports gambling has technically been illegal for most of the country for decades, and because rights deals between networks and the NFL have language preventing overt references to gambling. Now that the legal landscape is changing, with as many as 24 states heading towards legalized sports betting, the stigma may be diminishing. But according to a Washington Post piece by Rick Maese, that doesn’t mean Michaels will be changing his approach.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with this through the years, coming in a backdoor, a side door, whatever — different ways to use the English language — people know what I’m talking about,” he said this week. “But in the past when I would do this, it was almost as if the fans would think, ‘He’s not supposed to do it, but that’s kind of cool.’ Now it’s going to be out there.”
“We’re going to be really thoughtful about it,” said Connor Schell, ESPN’s executive vice president for content. “We know there’s a huge intersection of sports fans and those who bet, and now that they can do that legally, we’ll think about if we want to inject content inside existing shows, if we want to create some stand-alone programming. I think those things under consideration, but no decisions have been made.”
It’s worth noting that some prominent ESPN programming does discuss gambling, including Scott Van Pelt’s very entertaining Bad Beats SportsCenter segment, which he’s done since Van Pelt took over the midnight edition in 2015, and going back years before that on ESPN Radio’s SVP and Russillo.
As for NBC, its official stance is that gambling talk is verboten, but as Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli notes, Al Michaels will likely continue to be Al Michaels:
“At this point, we’re going to honor the deals and there weren’t be any specific gambling messages on our air this year,” said Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”
“Then again,” Gaudelli said, referring to Michaels, “late in the fourth quarter, I have a rascal up in the booth.”
And we’re all the better for it.