For years, during the Don Shula and Dan Marino eras, the Dolphins were a popular staple on the NFL’s marquee prime time package, reinforcing the team’s standing as a national brand. Coincidentally, the Dolphins became far less successful, and consequently far less relevant nationally, about the time the league’s premier prime time games shifted from Monday nights to Sunday nights more than a decade ago.
Sunday’s Dolphins game against Oakland marks only the second time Miami has been featured on a Sunday night telecast since NBC acquired the package 11 years ago, and the first since a Jets game in 2010. The Dolphins also appeared on NBC’s first night game after acquiring Sunday night rights, but that was a Thursday night opener in Pittsburgh in September 2006.
Sunday night games carry the most cache now, and that’s not lost on players.
“I grew up watching Randy Moss and T.O. [Terrell Owens] thrive on Sunday Night Football and the world watching, being the last game, the prime time game,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “It's always fun knowing there are millions of people watching you, not just the local base and everybody else catching the highlights. It's kind of cool. It will be a good crowd. The energy definitely will be there.”
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NBC’s Al Michaels, who calls the Sunday night games with Cris Collinsworth, said it’s a positive for the league when the Dolphins and Raiders are relevant.
“Certainly it helps to have a team like Miami getting good again and getting to the point where we have them on a lot,” Michaels said by phone this week. “You still have that, and granted it's a long time ago, the perfect season, but people know about it. There's only one team that's had it. The Shula and Marino years are still in the forefront of people's minds.
“If Miami gets good again, it's good for us, good for the networks. It's similar to the Raiders. They had a certain cache developed many years ago. It went away when they didn't have a lot of success for a long period of time. Clearly they are teams people gravitate toward. They are in the same group as the Bears - another team you would like to do well as far as television ratings.”
Though the two teams are coming off losses totaling a combined 60 points, Michaels points out that “Miami still has a winning record. They had two huge comebacks against Atlanta and the Jets. You don't know what you will get week to week from them. And the Dolphins made the playoffs last year. Oakland [at 3-5] has to win this game.”
Michaels called the Dolphins’ final game in the Orange Bowl – a 1986 Week 16 loss to the Patriots - for ABC when the network had Monday Night Football, which at that time was the league’s premier TV package.
He hasn’t done many events in South Florida in the past decade, beyond that 2010 Jets game and a Lakers-at-Heat Christmas game for ABC in 2005, his final NBA assignment before moving to NBC to work Sunday night football.
“I love going down there,” said Michaels, a Southern California resident. “The weather is great. I will devour a few [stone crabs] this weekend.”
NFL ratings are down, but the Sunday night package remains TV’s No. 1 rated program, the highest rated show on television every week this season except last Sunday, when it was beaten by Game 5 of the World Series.
“Last year, clearly the [presidential] debates ate into our ratings,” Michaels said. “I'm not blind to what people are saying with the protests. I don't know how much of an effect that really does have. All of these things aside, and we all know what the underside is of the league - it's the protests, it's concussions, it's the Ezekiel Elliott situation. There are a lot of fans sick of that. I don't know how many are totally turned off by it.
“I look at the ratings as a great stock. If you bought Apple stock years ago, you are really rich right now. If you look at the Apple stock graph, or any company that does extremely well over the years, there's a not a straight line up. Where are you going to go? Through the stratosphere? I knew it had to come at a certain point, there had to be a little bit of a decline. It happened to every television show that had great success [such as] All in the Family. They went off the air. Football is not going off the air.”
But he said that perspective is needed, that NBC’s package is still No. 1 and NFL games comprise the vast majority of the list of television’s most-watched programs this season.
Michaels, 72 and winner of five Emmys for outstanding sports personality, hasn’t given any thought to retiring. Working alongside one of the best analysts in sports in Collinsworth, Michaels remains at the top of his game, alert and attentive to detail, and his voice always conveys a big-game presence.
“When it comes to thinking toward the future, I live by the words of [former Bills coach] Marv Levy; Marv always said if you are thinking about retiring, you are already retired,” he said. “I've been blessed with good enough health. I feel really good. Knock on wood, no issues. The key is passion, to love what you do. I still love it, still have great passion.
“I work with a fantastic group of people. I don't think there's any analyst in any sport better than Cris Collinsworth. [Sideline reporter] Michelle Tafoya does a phenomenal job. It's the No. 1 job in television. I have a job most people would die to have.
“I begin to feel like the veteran quarterbacks I know very well – Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning. You are closer to the end than you are to the beginning. There's more of an appreciation and a savoring of the moment.”
Michaels is also pleased that the NFL changed its position this year and permitted Mike Tirico to call NBC’s seven-game November/December Thursday package with Collinsworth.
“What happened when NBC got the contract for Thursday night [last year, sharing it with CBS] was part of the deal was you had to provide your No. 1 crew,” Michaels said of the league essentially requiring Michaels to work those Thursday games last season even though Michaels and NBC would have been perfectly content with Tirico calling those games after he left ESPN.
“The Sunday night package is 24 games: two preseason, 19 regular season and three postseason games this year with the Super Bowl on NBC this year,” Michaels said. “That's a pretty full plate.
“The [NBC] Thursday night package is seven games. Thirty one games is maybe a little overextended for anybody. We had a guy who's damn good, Tirico, [on staff]. This was a win/win as far as I’m concerned.”
Here’s my scoop earlier today on Dolphins tickets prices going up. And please check in a little bit for some Dolphins on-field personnel notes.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz