Here’s how Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth built a successful ‘marriage’ on Sunday Night Football

Al Michaels was getting ready to broadcast the 1988 MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati when a lanky Bengals wide receiver he barely knew approached and asked for a big favor. Michaels said no — so Cris Collinsworth would have to propose without a shout-out from the broadcast booth.

Turns out that summer night 30 years ago foreshadowed two successful marriages: Collinsworth and Holly Bankemper tied the knot the next year. And Collinsworth and Michaels are entering their 10th season together on Sunday Night Football, America’s top-rated primetime television program for the last seven seasons.

“That’s pressure,” Michaels says, laughing. “Got to make it eight.”

The duo will get a start on that Thursday when they call their 212th game together, Atlanta Falcons at defending champion Philadelphia Eagles. (Sunday Night on Thursday night? No worries: Michaels and Collinsworth have also called Tuesday and Wednesday games, calling to mind this bon mot from the comic strip Pogo: “Friday the 13th falls on Wednesday this month.”)

These days Michaels and Collinsworth — oh, heck, let’s just call them Al and Cris; they’re on a first-name basis with America anyway — are such good pals that they share frequent dinners, play many rounds of golf and finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple. Oh, and those dinners are among the secrets to their on-air chemistry.

When their collaboration began, Cris would spend lots of time in his hotel room the night before games, boning up on teams and schemes. Al would coax him to come to dinner instead. The pitch: Prepare like mad during the week, for sure, but then let go and break bread and laugh and learn about one another.

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“Al kept trying to convince me this is a show,” Cris says of SNF. “Your know, a show! This is a conversation. This is chemistry. This is all of that. And, as usual, he was right again. And from the moment I kind of put down the notes a little bit and started going to dinner, started having a relationship that went beyond, I think, just being coworkers or whatever, and even beyond friends to where you really get to know the other guy, where you really get to understand what’s important to him, what makes him tick, what he thinks is funny.”

Here’s something they both think is funny — that cute meet in the broadcast booth before 1988’s All-Star game. They each remember it a bit differently. Al thought Cris wanted a mention of his pending proposal on the air.

“I might have been able to pull it off for a regular game, like Cincinnati versus Philadelphia,” Al says. “But it was the All-Star game, so that would have been a tough do.”

Cris says he actually wanted to propose on the videoboard.

"That was the best thing — Al has done a lot of amazing things for me — but if somehow I talked him into allowing me to propose to my wife on the Jumbotron, she would have definitely said no,” Cris says. “And even if she said yes, she would have hated it her entire life.”

Al says he had no control over the videoboard anyway: “So he walks in and thinks I’m running the message board? What can I tell you?”

Cris proposed after the game on a bridge over the Ohio River and still counts himself lucky the ring didn’t fall in.

That night was the first time Al and Cris met in a meaningful way. Al thinks he probably met Cris when Cris played at the University of Florida from 1977 to 1980 and Al announced a few of Florida’s games, though Cris thinks they didn’t really meet until some of the earlier festivities of that All-Star weekend. Either way, they now meet America once a week during football season, except when it’s twice a week, like this week, with the Chicago Bears at the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

A rabbit, some steak and vitamins

When NBC got the rights to Sunday Night Football before the 2006 season, the network brought Michaels and John Madden over from ABC/ESPN, where they had been doing Monday Night Football. As part of the deal, Disney (owner of ABC/ESPN) got the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character that Walt Disney created but that was by then the intellectual property of NBCUniversal.

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