Al Michaels battling rumor mill

The rumors about his impending future won't die, and broadcaster Al Michaels couldn't or wouldn't kill them Monday.

It was perhaps as undistinguished an effort as those British blokes fighting the zombies in the epic horror spoof "Shaun of the Dead."

Besieged with unconfirmed reports that he's having second thoughts about his decision to stay with Monday Night Football as it shifts from ABC to ESPN next season, Michaels spent the majority of a Super Bowl XL conference call jousting with reporters and issued a bunch of non-denial denials.

Currently scheduled to work with Joe Theismann on Monday nights, word on the sports television street is that Michaels wants to go to NBC with bombastic John Madden. Michaels reportedly signed an eight-year, $22 million contract with ABC/ESPN/Walt Disney over NBC/Time Warner's six-year, $18 million offer sheet.

"I'm under contract for next season at ESPN, I can't do anything about the swirling rumors," Michaels said. "The people that are a part of this show, including me, are preparing for the Super Bowl and we're not going to be a party for anything remotely distracting.

"Next season for the people on this show starts next week. We're preparing to do a game. That's all I'm thinking about at the moment."

Michaels said he had no idea which anonymous television source spawned the rumors, but the polished voice who once bellowed "Do you believe in miracles?" sounded pretty angry that this undercurrent surfaced one week before he'll call the Super Bowl. To me, it sounds like he's protesting too much and it makes me suspicious.

"I don't let anything distract me or unsettle me," Michaels said. "I might sound like the state department, but I can't respond to rumors. I don't want this to be a story.

"It's not attributed to anybody that's not a source. Next season starts Monday. All we're thinking about is the Super Bowl."

Now, there's a strong possibility that NBC's Sunday night package is going to be the quintessential NFL game of the week and that Monday night will lose some of its luster.

Michaels has been with ABC for two decades. If he's looking to get out, then it's not out of the realm of possibility that Washington Post sports columnist and Pardon the Interruption star Tony Kornheiser might be a strong candidate to replace him.

I think it would be a great, unconventional hire that would work this time unlike the disastrous Dennis Miller experiment.

Kornheiser is funny, credible and has built a growing audience in tandem with highly respected Post crony Michael Wilbon. They could still keep the PTI magic going while Kornheiser worked in tandem in the booth with Theismann and perhaps have Mike Tirico do the play-by-play.

Kornheiser was considered for Monday night games prior to the ill-advised decision to bring in Miller and expose his obscure, high-brow Biblical and political references to a Joe Six-pack audience. Kornheiser's regular-guy humor won't fly over fans' beer-swilling heads. He would balance out Theismann's football-ese.

Plus, Kornheiser apparently has a much cheaper price than Michaels. What sportswriter doesn't, even expensive ones like Tony K?. Reportedly, $1 million for the season is enough for this balding and rumpled multi-media star.

Although only a rumor, albeit one with strong legs, this scenario makes a lot of sense to me.

NBC hasn't announced who's going to be working alongside Madden. Cris Collinsworth's name has been bandied about plenty along with Bob Costas, although Costas is more of a studio guy at this point in his career.

Regardless of the speculation, there's a strong possibility that this will be Madden and Michaels' final football game together. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks don't generate much buzz and Detroit is a dump and a terrible Super Bowl venue -- trust me, I've been there and don't want to go back -- I'm eager to listen to Madden and Michaels and I'll be sorry to see this tandem separate.

We could have done without some of Michaels' overly polished act and a few of Madden's patented "Booms!" Overall, though, they've done a terrific job.

"It's something all of us have felt this year," Michaels said when asked about the possibility of not working with Madden anymore. "It was a lame-duck season, but nobody discussed their future. It's a measure of respect.

"When John and I first started some people said, ‘How is that going to work?' The last four years speak for themselves. It's been phenomenal."
 

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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