An Excerpt From 'You Can't Make This Up'

This excerpt appears in "You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television" by Al Michaels with L. Jon Wertheim, published by William Morrow.

Check out Michael's conversation with Only A Game's Bill Littlefield.

Preface: Don’t Ever Get Jaded

IT’S JUNE 2012. AND I’m astonished that in my sixties, I can feel like I’m six.

I’m at center ice, fourteen rows up, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final is about to start. To my left is my wife, Linda. To my right are my son, Steven, and my eight-year-old grandson, Aidan. The Los Angeles Kings are facing the New Jersey Devils, with the Kings leading the series, three games to two. Each of us has that same pit in our stomach. That pit only sports can give you.

There are actually nine members of the Michaels family in the arena. My brother David is here with his son Jake, my nephew, a few sections over. And my daughter Jennifer, her husband Jeff, and their son, my grandson Nate, are here, too. Three generations of the family. All in one place for a hockey game. More than fifty years ago, I grew up going to Rangers games with my father at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue in New York. But in 1967, after my family moved to Los Angeles, I was at the first Kings game—it was played at the Long Beach Arena—and I’ve been a Kings fan ever since.

I’ve covered a couple of thousand sports events all over the world. I’ve called Super Bowls and World Series and NBA Finals, the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics—and have hosted the Stanley Cup Final. A number of years ago, a colleague at ABC figured out that I’ve appeared on live prime-time network television far more than anyone in history. But from day one, I’ve always tried to follow the advice the legendary sportscaster Curt Gowdy once gave me:
Don’t ever get jaded.

The Kings have helped take care of that.

Our family has had season tickets since the early nineties. I have no interest in sitting in a suite with twenty people. I just want to concentrate on the game. When I’m on the air, I’m deep into the production and the mechanics of the telecast—dispensing information, communicating with my producer and director and my on-air partners, and seguing to taped pieces or commercials. Here, I just want to absorb the game.

A lot of people know me for an Olympic hockey call, and I hosted three Stanley Cup Finals in early 2000s—but I’ve actually only announced a handful of NHL games. Still, hockey has a hold on me like no other sport. A friend once told me it’s the only game where misery and euphoria dance the tango. No other sport can put you through the wringer and the range of emotions like hockey does. And the Kings are my connection to that.

I have nothing to do with them professionally. When I go to a Kings game, I don’t bring a media credential—I bring a ticket. I don’t have to prepare notes or try to gather nuggets of information in the locker room beforehand—I go straight to my seat. When I’m on the air, I work to be impartial. With the Kings, I can just be another fan who lives and dies with a team.

We’ve kept it in the family. The same way my dad passed down his love of sports, taking my brother and me to Ebbets Field and Madison Square Garden and then, when we moved west, to the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Los Angeles Sports Arena, and ultimately Dodger Stadium when it opened in 1962. We took our kids to Kings games. And now our kids take their kids.

But still, countless times through the years, we would leave the arena after another Kings loss and say to each other, “Why can’t we be the Red Wings?” Yes, Wayne Gretzky led us to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993—and then the Kings won only one playoff series over
the next nineteen years. Five or six years ago, I joked with my son, “Steve, I don’t think we’re going to renew the tickets; we’ll just renew the parking.”

But in this playoff run, in the spring of 2012, the Kings have morphed into something else entirely. Suddenly, we’ve become the Red Wings. For the seven weeks since the playoffs began, the Kings have played game after game that they haven’t just won—but dominated. Now, here we are, in the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s the Kings and the Devils. (In a perfect world, for my own personal symmetry, I wish it were the Rangers.) As the series started, our goalie, Jonathan Quick, who’d been red hot throughout the playoffs—a hot goalie is the biggest key to any NHL postseason run—stayed dominant, and in every series, the Kings have gone up three games to none. Now they’re one game away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Something like this really captivates any city. Almost everyone becomes a hockey fan. People who didn’t watch are now fully invested. For Game 4, the Stanley Cup itself was in the building. But the Kings lost 3–1, and before I even got into my car, I was racked with nervousness. We can’t blow a 3–0 lead, can we?

Now my son was making plans to take Aidan, the eight-year-old, to New Jersey for Game Five, so they could be there in person in case the Kings won the Cup there. But the Devils won that one, too, turning the whole Michaels family into a wreck. You know the feeling—it borders on paranoia. It’s familiar to every sports fan. Your team is leaking oil. And you’re wondering if they can somehow find a way to ratchet it up one more time. What you’re really doing is praying.

So here we are, back in Los Angeles, in our seats at Game 6. When the Kings were leading three games to none, Steven asked me, “If we win, do you think it’ll make up for everything we’ve been through over the last twenty years?”

“It might,” I responded. “But I’ll tell you this. If they lose this series, it will be worse than anything we’ve endured over the last twenty years!”

But halfway through the _rst period, the Kings get a big break. There’s a five-minute major penalty against the Devils, and during that long advantage, the Kings score three times, and lead 3–0 after the first period.

In the second period, another goal puts the Kings up 4–0—at which point I would normally be thinking, We’re good as gold—the Devils would have to score five goals against Jonathan Quick to win the game. But I don’t want to think logically. The whole thing has been so surreal. The Kings had barely gotten into the playoffs as the number-eight seed in the Western Conference, and then had gone on this improbable run, and now are just a period away from winning the
Stanley Cup. But here I am, only thinking about everything that can go wrong. I keep looking up at the clock—why is it ticking down in slow motion?

Finally, it’s late in the third period, and the Kings now have an insurmountable 6–1 lead. The whole crowd is standing and bellowing. People in our section have their arms draped around one another. The Kings are about to win their first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s forty-five-year history. And inevitably, someone near me turns and yells out, “Hey Al, do you believe in miracles?”

As the horn sounds, Staples Center is going absolutely wild. The streamers are coming down from the rafters, the fans are hugging complete strangers. Minutes later, the Kings are skating around the ice with the Stanley Cup. Pure exhilaration.

The ceremony concludes, and when it’s over, we walk out onto the concourse and my grandsons spot each other. Aidan and Nate, who just turned six, both play hockey, and both are wearing their Kings jerseys. They run up to each other and hug.

I look at Steven and Je_, laugh, and say, “You know, in sixty years, they’ll say to each other, ‘Remember when the Kings won that one Stanley Cup?’ ” Here we are after all these years, and these two kids are experiencing it at eight and six. I’m thinking, If only they knew that this could happen just this once in their lifetimes.

Of course, at that point, there’s no way to know that the Kings will be right back here two years later, in the Stanley Cup Final—this time against the team of my youth, the Rangers. I couldn’t possibly fathom that we’ll be able to experience the same cardiac thrills, from the same seats, in an unforgettable double-overtime win in Game 5, when the Kings will do it all again.

But on this night, in 2012, I’m looking at the first time as the only time.

We go to the parking lot, and I think of Curt Gowdy. Don’t ever get jaded. I think also of the great Jim McKay, and his line from Wide World of Sports. “The human drama of athletic competition.” You just don’t know what’s going to happen. But so often, sports have the capacity to create these moments. The kinds of moments I’ve had the great fortune to broadcast throughout a career I dreamed of since I was six years old.

From minor-league baseball in Hawaii to the Miracle on Ice to Monday Night Football to Sunday Night Football and so much in between, if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, and if you believe in the law of averages, in my next life I’ll be working in a sulfur mine.

In Mongolia.

On the night shift.

I’m always remembering how lucky I’ve been. And I have this crazy, unscripted drama known as sports to thank for it all.

This excerpt appears in "You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television" by Al Michaels with L. Jon Wertheim


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