Bob Costas, the face of NBC’s Olympics coverage for a quarter century, stepped away from the job on Thursday, passing the torch to Mike Tirico, both figuratively and literally.
The latter came in the form of a prop torch used for photos during an event in Manhattan that was as much a celebration of Costas’ career as it was a news conference.
“This is more than anyone could possibly ask for,” Costas, 64, who grew up in Commack said, growing emotional as he thanked colleagues, many of whom were in the room.
Costas hosted NBC’s late-night coverage from Seoul, South Korea in 1988 and has been prime-time host for the network’s 11 Olympics since 1992, ending with Rio de Janeiro last summer.
The announcement did not come as a shock. Costas had advised NBC executives as far back as 2012 that 2016 might be the end of the road for him, a plan he more concretely set in place about a year ago.
NBC hired Tirico, 50, from ESPN last year, and he was assumed to be a logical successor to both Costas and eventually to Al Michaels as NBC’s lead NFL play-by-play man.
“It seemed to me this would be a good line of demarcation,” Costas said. “I wanted to step aside when I was still able to do it and if they were in a situation where they needed me to continue I would have continued out of longtime loyalty to NBC. But luckily they have a more than capable successor in place.”
Costas will remain at NBC Sports. He will not host “Football Night in America” in the regular season, but he will host Super Bowl LII next year, when Tirico is preparing for the Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
He will make other appearances when situations call for them, assuming what he and executives have described as a role akin to that of NBC News’ Tom Brokaw, who still contributes to the network.
The “transition,” as Costas called it, will allow him to focus on other things, notably his play-by-play work at MLB Network. His recent schedule of 12 to 15 games likely will increase.
Costas said he reviewed recordings games he did in the 1990s and found his baseball play-by-play had slipped from a lack of consistent reps.
“I was better then, because I was in rhythm then,” he said. “I’d like to get back to whatever is my highest level. I’d like to get back to whatever my lifetime batting average is, and this will give me a chance to do it.”
Costas has known Tirico, a fellow Syracuse alumnus, for 30 years. They met when Tirico was an undergraduate and the first recipient of a scholarship named for him at Syracuse.
By far the two most prominent Olympic hosts have been the late Jim McKay of ABC and Costas.
Michaels knew them both, appeared live via satellite and said of McKay, “He was the standard bearer. He was iconic. He was the model. And I thought, well, who in the world could ever replace Jim McKay? Well, we had the answer. It was Bob Costas.”
The role of Olympic host is odd in that it is high profile and yet involves relatively little air time, less than ever in recent years, something Costas acknowledged not as a frustration, but “just recognizing reality. The role has changed.”
Now it is Tirico’s to shape. “He is the right guy to do this,” Costas said.
Tirico, who grew up in Queens, became emotional recalling visits to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree with his grandparents. But he said Thursday was the first time he had set foot in 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
“The greatest challenge is, how do I do the job as me, and not try to do what Bob did,” he said. “Bob is different. Bob is unique. He is special. He’s one of a kind.”
NBC has the American TV rights to the Olympics through 2032.