For Pete's Sake

Al Michaels called Chiefs’ last home playoff win and he’ll be in the booth Sunday

Al Michaels.
Al Michaels. NBC Sports

Good news for Chiefs fans. A Kansas City good-luck charm is part of the broadcasting crew for the Chiefs’ AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Al Michaels.

Michaels has called a couple of big sporting events in Kansas City history. When the Royals’ Darryl Motley squeezed the final out of the 1985 World Series, Michaels made the call. And when the Chiefs last won a home playoff game, after the 1993 season, Michaels was in the booth with Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf.

“The following year I wound up doing (Joe) Montana’s last-ever game when the Chiefs went to Miami on New Year’s Eve and lost in a Wild Card game,” Michaels said in a phone interview. “I wasn’t a good-luck charm then, but I was a good luck charm when they last won a home playoff game … and the 1985 World Series.”

“So, you know,” Michaels joked, “I’d like an honorary key to the city at some point.”

Michaels will in the booth with Cris Collinsworth for Sunday’s game, which kicks off at 7:20 p.m. and airs on NBC (Ch. 41).

The details of the Chiefs’ 27-24 overtime victory over the Steelers in an AFC Wild Card game on Jan. 8, 1994, are still fresh in Michaels’ mind:

▪ Joe Montana’s injury and return.

▪ Dave Krieg subbing for Montana and throwing a touchdown pass.

▪ The Chiefs trailed 17-7 at halftime, but scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

▪ Both teams had a possession in overtime and Nick Lowery kicked the winning field goal.

“The other thing I remember about that game is I don’t think there was a turnover,” the 72-year-old Michaels correctly recalled. “I’d have to look that up. It was a hell of a game, I remember that.”

Michaels thinks Sunday’s game has the potential to be good as well. The Chiefs are a 1-point favorite.

“I look at this game as a toss-up,” Michaels said. “The Chiefs might be favored by a point or whatever it is, but you have two really hot teams. The Chiefs have been hot now since halfway through last season and Pittsburgh winds up winning their last seven (of the regular season). Both teams are coming in hot. There are a lot of ways to look at this game. …

“If there is one area in which you say the Chiefs obviously have an advantage it’s in special teams. Tyreek Hill, I don’t want to say he’s the X-factor because everybody knows about him right now, but he’s a guy who can break the game wide open, and everybody knows that. The Steelers have had a lot of problems special-teams wise.”

Speaking of Hill, Michaels offered insight into how a broadcast team balances calling a game when there is a big play by a player who did something in his past that some viewers may find troubling. Before he was drafted by the Chiefs, Hill pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation of his pregnant girlfriend. He received a three-year deferred sentence that ends in Aug. 2018.

Hill’s breakout game this season came at Denver on a Sunday night game. Because NBC Sports also produced a Thursday night game that week, Michaels wasn’t in the booth that night when Hill scored touchdowns on a free kick, a reception and a rush. Michaels praised how the crew that night — Mike Tirico, Michele Tafoya and Collinsworth — balanced Hill’s star turn with the story of his guilty plea to abuse.

“What you have to do is make it organic,” Michaels said. “In other words, if he’s not a story in the game, for a broadcast group to go off to the side, it takes the viewers away from the game itself. And we always have to remember that people are there to watch the game. …

“The hardest thing about this is these are normally stories that take a little while to address and to deliver fairly and with balance, so you can’t just say you know Tyreek Hill was accused of punching his pregnant girlfriend and leave it at that. You have to address every part of the story, where it came from, what happened, and what’s happening now.

“What happens is once you get into these things, I can’t tell you how often it happens, but the next thing is you go to a play and there’s a 50-yard touchdown pass and the crowd is going crazy and you haven’t finished the story. So, the Tyreek Hill story is far, far, far better suited to a form like a pregame show where if you want to tell the story you have the time to tell the story and to do it fairly.”

In addition to Hill, Michaels believes tight end Travis Kelce is the other Chiefs player with the best chance to break open Sunday’s game. Michaels also he had good things to say about wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back Spencer Ware.

If there is an X-factor for Sunday’s game, it might be the weather. There is ice in the forecast, but would that benefit one team?

“I’m not sure it does,” Michaels said. “That’s always the question: is the ball wet. We’ve done so many games through the years with so many teams in bad weather, but I don’t think it affects any of these guys. To me, the big issue has always been wind. If it’s very windy, that’s an issue. If it’s wet, it’s much less of an issue. Hopefully, we’ll get a nice calm prevailing wind as opposed to 20 mph gusts. That makes a difference.

“But it’s football. Football in bad weather is fun. It’s especially fun for the folks sitting at home by a fireplace.”

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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