50° Good Evening
50° Good Evening

No bandwagon here: Al Michaels a die-hard LA Kings fan

NBC play-by-play commentator Al Michaels looks on during

NBC play-by-play commentator Al Michaels looks on during the Super Bowl XLVI Broadcasters Press Conference at the Super Bowl XLVI Media Center in the J.W. Marriott Indianapolis on January 31, 2012 in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Halleran

LOS ANGELES - Al Michaels did not play in Game 7 of the NHL Western Conference final, nor did he call it on television. He did not even attend it.

And yet, "the next morning when I woke up I felt like I'd been hit by a truck," he said.

Such was the emotional investment from a man who in his professional life strives to be neutral in calling games on national TV and in his personal life is a long-time, passionate extremely knowledgeable Kings fan.

Michaels said watching their eventual overtime victory over the Blackhawks in Chicago last Sunday involved much fidgety pacing.

"It was like a fish fighting a one-hour fight to be pulled into the boat; that's what I felt like," he said.

Mostly Michaels was just rooting for the Kings, the team for which he has been a season ticket holder since 1991-92, sitting center ice, 14 rows up, with four seats on the aisle at both the Forum and Staples Center. But he also was rooting for a matchup that eluded him in 2012 when the Devils beat the Rangers to reach the Cup Final against the Kings.

As he put it, "the team of my youth against the team of my dotage."

Michaels, 69, lived in Brooklyn and briefly Long Island - where he was a Newsday paper boy - before moving to California in his early teens.

But during his time in New York, his father introduced him to hockey, first the New York Rovers, an Eastern League team that played at the Garden, and later the Rangers.

When asked his favorite player, Michaels named Andy Bathgate. Then he proceeded to list much of the roster of the mid-1950s Rangers off the top of his head, including Lou Fontinato, Bill Gadsby, Wally Hergesheimer, Harry Howell, Dan Lewicki and Gump Worsley.

In the early 1960s, Michaels started following the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League, taking his future wife Linda on dates to their games. (They have been married 47 years, and she was to attend Game 2 with him Saturday night.)

On Oct. 14, 1967, Al and Linda were there the night the Kings beat the Flyers, 4-2, in Long Beach Arena in the first game in franchise history.

You probably can understand by now why Michaels found it both annoying and comical that a blogger lumped him in with other bandwagon-jumping L.A.-area celebrities who have been seen at Kings games.

"I have to laugh like crazy," he said, then guessed he has spent about $350,000 in tickets, parking and whatnot to attend Kings games over the years. "Yeah, I'm a bandwagon guy."

The Michaels family kept coming, even during the lean years between the 1993 Final and the run to the 2012 Cup.

"We would walk out of the building after so many games and say, 'Why can't we ever be the Red Wings?'" Al said. "In 2012 we morphed into the Red Wings."

Michaels recounted those playoffs in detail, including his mixed emotions when the Kings had a chance to clinch the Cup on the road.

On one hand, he wanted the team to secure the championship. On the other, "I didn't want to have them skate the Cup on television in Newark," he said.

The Kings lost, then won Game 6 at home in a rout. "To watch that Stanley Cup being skated at Staples, it was surreal," he said.

While Michaels found the 2012 playoffs "thrilling," he said, "This one is a root canal without Novocaine."

That is because of the Kings' repeated near-death experiences, including falling behind the Sharks three games to none in the first round.

Even though he loves the sport and called the most famous hockey game in American history in Lake Placid in 1980, Michaels has no interest in doing the job for NBC.

For one thing, he said no one could do it better than Doc Emrick. For another, being able to follow a team purely as a fan helps him appreciate the audience he is speaking to when he calls other sports.

"It's kept me connected in a way," he said. "This amazing run the last three years, with all the passion. You now understand what a fan goes through."

Michaels and his wife have passed their love of the game to their children and grandchildren. Two grandsons play the game. Their youngest granddaughter recently was working with her mother on learning the number that follows 10.

When told it is a 1 followed by another 1, she understood the concept immediately and said, "Kopitar."

New York Sports