Al Michaels' and Cris Collinsworth's boss, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus, laughed off the notion Wednesday that he or the NFL or anyone else could dictate to his opinionated football announcers what to say.
"No doubt; we've tried," he said, jokingly, after a news conference in "Saturday Night Live" Studio 8H to promote a new NBC boxing series. "It doesn't work for us."
Lazarus was responding to the beating Michaels and Collinsworth took Saturday on social media and from some sports media critics for their take on Roger Goodell and the recently released Mueller Report during NBC's coverage of the Ravens-Patriots divisional playoff game.
Collinsworth in particular was accused of being an apologist for the NFL commissioner, who was shown on screen during the first quarter. Collinsworth followed a summary of the report read by Michaels by saying this:
"The decision to suspend, initially, Ray Rice for two games was a mistake. Roger Goodell has admitted that. But I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner ever doubted his integrity, I think that came out in the report as well."
ESPN's Bill Simmons, who was suspended last autumn after calling Goodell a "liar" on a podcast, promptly sent out a WWE reference to his 3.25 million Twitter followers, writing, "I like Collinsworth and Michaels but come on. That was like listening to Michael Cole and JBL praising Vince McMahon."
Said Lazarus, "We knew there'd be some criticism, but we thought strongly a couple of things: One, that we were the first game since the report came out. Two, we had the team involved in our game.
"And three, the commissioner was in the audience. We couldn't show him and not address the fact that it came out. I think if you go back and read it, Al's statement was very much reporting what the report said. It was not editorializing by him. It was pretty much saying what the report said.
"Cris' comments were more his own opinion and he feels he said exactly [what he wanted] and he repeated that on our show the next day - that he had very direct and personal conversations with Roger and doesn't doubt the commissioner's integrity.
"I think it's offensive, frankly, that there are people who take a look at [Robert] Mueller, war hero, silver star, purple heart, you know, head of the FBI under two different presidents and they're questioning his integrity? I think that's somewhat offensive.
"That being said, Cris made the statement that he looked the commissioner in the eye and has dealt with him on hundreds of things and has never questioned his ethics."
Deadspin.com obtained audio of Michaels before he went on the air, during which he is heard consulting with a producer about the fact he would be addressing the Mueller Report after the commercial break.
Some took the exchange as evidence Michaels had been instructed to read prepared remarks.
"Al had some bullet points," Lazarus said. "What was said on the talk-back, the same thing happens on every commercial break of every broadcast. 'Al, here's where we're going. We're going to touch on the Mueller Report right here.' Al had some bullet points and said yup, yup, yup and that's exactly the way it went.
"You want to be precise with your words because you don't want to say something that's not what the report said."