On Sunday, the Eagles will return from their bye week to take on the Cowboys in front of a national primetime audience on Sunday Night Football. Calling the game alongside color commentator Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michele Tafoya will be longtime broadcaster Al Michaels, who is in his 11th year with NBC Sports after having been “traded” to the network in 2006 from ABC for, among other things, the rights to the Walt Disney-created character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Sunday’s matchup will mark Michaels’ 28th time calling an Eagles regular-season game during his tenure with NBC (he called even more during his 20 years at ABC). And Michaels thinks the current squad featuring quarterback Carson Wentz might end up ranking among the most exciting he’s seen.
“The Eagles have become in most people’s mind the best team in the league,” Michaels noted. “And the Cowboys really need to win this game. I love this rivalry.”
Michaels has been particularly impressed with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, whom he’s known since Pederson was backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay. In fact, Michaels revealed that prior to Favre’s famous Monday Night Football matchup against the Raiders in 2003. Pederson and the Hall of Fame quarterback sneaked away from the team to a golf course to play nine holes. In the middle of their outing, Pederson received the call from Favre’s wife, Deanna, that Favre’s father had died.
“I have a lot of faith in what the Eagles have done,” Michaels said. “Obviously, he’s done a heck of a job as a coach, and put together a really good staff.”
The drama and draw of an Eagles-Cowboys matchup comes at a key time for Michaels and his NBC Sports crew. So far this season, ratings for Sunday Night Football are down 8 percent compared to last year, according to Sports Business Daily’s Austin Karp. Despite the decline, Sunday Night Football remains the most-watched program in primetime.
“It’s number one and it’s getting bashed because the ratings are down,” Michaels said. “Two or three years ago, the ratings were so spectacular that there had to be a little bit of a diminishment at some point.”
Michaels cited players’ protests against racial injustice during the national anthem as one of a myriad reasons ratings might be down. His comments echo remarks made by NBCUniversal advertising executive Linda Yaccarino, who noted earlier this month that she thinks the protests have affected the ratings. Yaccarino also said “a list of advertisers” have made it clear they’ll pull out of Sunday Night Football if the broadcast continues to cover protests.
Michaels said it felt like tension over the protests was starting cooling down, until President Trump weighed in during a September rally in Huntsville, Ala., where he called on NFL owners to fire players who decided to protest while the national anthem was being played.
“Once the president made those remarks in Alabama, at that particular point it was like throwing a match into a gas tank,” Michaels said. “During the off-season, both sides just have to sit down and figure out a way to make this a situation where it doesn’t overwhelm the conversation about the NFL.”
Despite the ratings declines, one bright spot for the league has been the emergence of Tony Romo in his first season as a color analyst for CBS Sports. Michaels said he wasn’t surprised that Romo has quickly become such a talented broadcaster. In fact, he predicted Romo’s success four years before he was even hired. During a golf game with Romo’s current partner, play-by-play man Jim Nantz, the two had a conversation about which NFL players could become great analysts, Michaels recounted.
“I said, ‘pick number one in your brain, and I’ll pick number one in my brain, and we’ll both blurt it out together,” he said. “We both said Tony Romo.”
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Among active players today, Michaels could see Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers making a mark in the broadcast booth. He also said he thought Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin “would be terrific.”
Even good broadcasters can have bad nights. During Sunday Night Football’s Week 6 broadcast, Michaels apologized on air for an errant joke comparing the Giants to former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who is accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“Live television is a tightrope. It’s amazing that doesn’t happen more often,” Michaels said. “Once in a while you’re going to say something you wish you could reel back in. The one thing about our business is we don’t have take two.”