We don’t know if Al Michaels actually bet the over on Sunday night’s matchup between the Chiefs and Bengals. But the veteran play-by-play man, calling the game for NBC’s national audience, sure as heck sounded like he did — and was not at all pleased to have lost his wager.
Michaels is well known for his on-air gambling references and he was at it again late in the fourth quarter of what would become a 45-10 Kansas City win. It’s important to note that was also the score at the moment in question, and that the two sides' totals added up to 55. It’s very important to note that, by kickoff, the over/under figure for the game had settled at 56.5.
With the Chiefs having driven rather easily downfield, for the umpteenth time during the game, they eventually found themselves facing a fourth-down-and-four play at Cincinnati’s 5-yard line. If it were earlier in the game, even with the huge lead, Kansas City would likely have opted for a field goal. But given that there was just 4:21 left on the clock, the team took a more sporting approach and kept its offense on the field.
Of course, it was not totally out of the question that Chiefs Coach Andy Reid would call for a pass into the end zone given that he has generally kept his foot on the gas while enabling quarterback Patrick Mahomes to get off to a record-setting start this season. But it was more likely that Reid would call a running play, as he had done on nine of the previous 11 plays during the drive. In any event, Michaels was very interested in what was about to transpire.
Noting that the fans in Kansas City were roaring at the sight of the team’s offense staying on the field, Michaels began to say, “And the crowd … " before analyst Cris Collinsworth interjected with, “ … Wants blood.”
“Well, yeah,” Michaels continued, “but I’m trying to do a little math here.” After Collinsworth replied, “Which is always dangerous,” Michaels said, “You kind of know what I’m thinking about.
"56 and a half is a number that a lot of the fans are thinking about right now.”
Having more or less spelled out that he was well aware that the fourth-down play could determine whether the game hit the over, Michaels watched Mahomes hand the ball to backup running back Spencer Ware on a fairly pedestrian sweep play to the left. The Bengals, expecting a run in that situation, were hardly fooled and stopped Ware before he reached the end zone, prompting a less-than-excited “hunh” from the announcer.
As if to ensure that any frustrated gamblers watching at home knew that Michaels felt their pain, he tsked, drew his breath in between his teeth and offered another “hunh.”
Of course, any chance of hitting the over wasn’t, well, over at that point, because the Bengals got the ball back with plenty of time to stage an otherwise meaningless touchdown drive. But Cincinnati replaced quarterback Andy Dalton with backup Jeff Driskel, giving the third-year player his first NFL experience and signaling that, yes, in fact it was over.
For Michaels, it was just the latest example of his keen awareness of such gambling factors in games he covers, and a particularly unsubtle one at that. In fairness, he arguably was even more blatant two seasons ago when he noted of a 31-17 score with 22 seconds left in a game between the Packers and Lions that it was “just a little bit under where some folks would want to see this one wind up.”
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford then heaved a Hail Mary pass to the end zone, and as the ball was still in the air, Michaels said that “hearts are beating around the country right now.” When the pass connected with Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin and pushed the score above a certain magic number, Michaels quipped, “Well, that’s OVERwhelming.”
“I’ve had a lot of fun with this through the years, coming in a backdoor, a side door, whatever — different ways to use the English language — people know what I’m talking about,” Michaels said before this season began. “But in the past when I would do this, it was almost as if the fans would think, ‘He’s not supposed to do it, but that’s kind of cool.’ Now it’s going to be out there.”
Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of “Sunday Night Football” said at the time that “there won’t be any specific gambling messages on our air this year,” but he added that “late in the fourth quarter, I have a rascal up in the booth.”
That rascal emerged this week to the delight of those who enjoy his oh-so-thinly veiled gambling references. And really, what else was he supposed to talk about at that stage in the lopsided game, his excitement over the impending debut of the Jeff Driskel Experience?
Never change, Al. (Spoiler alert: He won’t.)
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