John Madden and Al Michaels on NBC

Al Michaels has had many partners through the years, including the likes of John Madden, Cris Collinsowrth and now, Kirk Herbstreit, to name a few. But you’d probably be surprised to find out that Michaels called a game with Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas during his lone season at CBS.

During a recent appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, Michaels recounted calling a Saints-Raiders game alongside Unitas in 1975. Not to bury the lede here, but this is the first time that he met Madden, the Hall of Fame coach, and his eventual partner for nearly a decade.

“And who did I meet for the first time? John Madden,” Michaels recalled. “John was coaching the Raiders and after practice, I went into John’s office. And he was a big baseball fan. He was excited to talk about the [San Francisco] Giants. He used to listen to all the Giants games. He loved the Giants.”

Michaels was sitting in Madden’s office, little would he know that the two would reunite in the broadcast booth 27 years later. Michaels and Madden teamed up on ABC’s Monday Night Football from 2002 to 2005, before joining NBC’s Sunday Night Football in 2006. They broadcasted SNF together for three years before Madden stepped down.

“One of the things we talked about was John, he didn’t know how much longer he wanted to coach, because he hated flying for starters,” Michaels said. “And his dream at that point, we talked about this, was to get an RV or camper and travel around the country. We talked about Steinbeck’s travels (Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck). I’m not sure John necessarily wanted to travel with a dog, but John wanted to get into a camper and travel around the country, which eventually he would do in a bus and did all of those years because John never got on a plane after 1979.”

That’s where the Madden Cruiser, which has often been described as a “hotel suite on wheels” comes into play. According to Sports Illustrated, the Madden Cruiser arrived when Greyhound offered the former Oakland Raiders head coach a customized bus. After fulfilling his obligations with the transport company and making speaking appearances, Madden got to keep the bus.

“He feared flying to an extent that John told me the last time he was on a flight, he was doing a game for CBS in Tampa and he’s living in the Bay Area,” recalled Michaels. “There’s a stopover in Houston. And he got so panicked on the Tampa to Houston leg, that he closed his eyes and said, ‘If we land safely, I’m getting off this plane and never getting on another plane.’ So what did he do? He got off the plane, his luggage continued on to Oakland or San Francisco, and he went to the train station. And that was the last time John got on a plane.”

Michaels said that he believes Madden’s issue with flying was likely claustrophobia because they had a hard time with him in elevators as well.

“John would always have to have a room on a very low floor, so he could walk up or have somebody with him,” Michaels said. “At the end of the game, if we had an elevator from the press box down to where we were going, he would have to have it cleared. People would go, ‘Oh, who is this guy?” But it was just a case of he couldn’t be in there with anybody he didn’t know and he couldn’t be in there with more than two or three people.”

So Michaels was fortunate enough to call a game with Unitas, while also meeting Madden for the first time. From there, he developed a relationship with the latter where he knew the intricate details of his fears. While we know of Michaels’ extensive broadcasting history, it’s funny to envision him meeting Madden for the first time 27 years before their partnership, and John being insistent on talking about the Giants.

[The Rich Eisen Show]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.