Hall of Fame broadcaster Al Michaels has called more than 400 primetime, NFL regular-season games in his 26 years in the booth as lead announcer for Sunday and Monday Night Football.
And one game stands above them all.
Chiefs 31, Broncos 28 in 1994 at old Mile High Stadium in Denver. Joe Montana vs. John Elway.
“It was the best regular-season game I can remember,” said Michaels, who will work this Sunday night’s showdown between the Chiefs and Broncos at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High with Cris Collinsworth for NBC.
“I hope this week comes close to that 1994 game. That would be pretty good, huh?”
The Chiefs pulled out the 1994 victory by scoring on a furious drive capped by a 5-yard pass from Montana to Willie Davis with 8 seconds left.
The Broncos had just taken the lead on a 4-yard quarterback draw by Elway with 1:29 to play, and it appeared Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer was on the brink of losing his eighth straight game in Denver, dating to his days with Cleveland.
“The thing that really stands out is a game normally has an ebb and a flow,” Michaels said, “but this one just flowed, from beginning to end. Normally, there are lulls in every game, but I can’t remember a lull in that game.
“The score was tied 7-7, 14-14, 21-21 it was phenomenal. KC takes the lead 24-21 Elway leads Denver down the field at the end of the game, and Montana on that last drive ”
Montana completed seven of eight passes on the game-winning, 75-yard drive with Davis reaching across the goal line to catch the decisive touchdown.
“Willie Davis comes out of the end zone for a second as he makes the catch so he’s not in, and he had to work his way back in inside the pylon,” Michaels recalled. “That was one of those games where the next day at the airport, it’s all anybody could talk about. It was one of those, ‘Did you see that game last night?’ conversations
“And it was in Denver, in the old stadium, where people would stamp their feet, it always felt like it was going to come down. It was like a big erector set. The place just rocked that night.
“To have Montana, to have Elway it turned out to be Joe’s last year in the NFL, and it was just spectacular. It was like a great heavyweight fight where it’s this guy against that guy, and very rarely does it live up to the hype, but Montana-Elway did on every level.”
Sunday’s game won’t have Montana and Elway, but it will pair Denver’s future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning vs. the Chiefs’ Alex Smith, whose .838 winning percentage (28-5-1) is second among NFL quarterbacks only to Manning’s .840 (21-4).
And the stakes will be much higher. In 1994, the Chiefs were 3-2 going into the Monday night game at Denver, having lost two straight, while the Broncos were reeling at 1-4 and would end up firing head coach Wade Phillips and replacing him with Mike Shanahan at the end of the season.
This time around, the Chiefs are 9-0, and the Broncos are one game back in the AFC West at 8-1.
“How often do you see a game where the two teams are a composite 17-1?” asked Michaels. “This is later in the season. How often do you get in the middle of November an undefeated team?
“There’s a lot of buzz about this game. It means so much, first place in the division, maybe the No. 1 seed Manning is Manning, and people love to watch Peyton, and Denver is already an attraction. And people are asking, ‘Wow, what’s going on in Kansas City what’s this all about?’ It’s a chance for everybody to take a look at the Chiefs and find out how they got to 9-0? Wasn’t this the team that was 2-14 last year with the first pick in the draft, and Andy Reid comes in this is exciting on a lot of levels.”
Michaels, best known for his historic “Do You Believe in Miracles?” call at the end of the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s seminal victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Games and for his deft, comprehensive on-air handling of the earthquake that interrupted the 1989 World Series in San Francisco, called Monday Night Football games for ABC Sports for 20 years before moving to NBC’s Sunday night package in 2008.
It’s been an honor-filled year for Michaels, who turned 69 this week. He was inducted in March into the Television Academy Hall of Fame; was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the Pete Rozelle Radio & Television Award in August; and the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame recently recognized Michaels for his “excellence and lifetime achievement,” and announced that he will be a member of their 2013 Hall of Fame Class in December in New York.
Michaels, who broadcast the Royals’ 1985 World Series triumph over the Cardinals, last saw the Chiefs play on a Sunday night in 2011 when they lost 13-9 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium.
While he rates the 1994 Chiefs-Broncos game as his favorite regular-season game, Michaels said it ranks second among football games to Pittsburgh’s 27-23 victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XXLIII following the 2008 season.
“That game had James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return Santonio Holmes’ game-winning catch ” he said.
But he believes there will be plenty of drama on Sunday night in Denver.
“You’ve got these great original American Football League rivals ” Michaels said. “It still sings to this day.as an old AFL fan. It’s a lot of fun to watch this evolve again.”