Support helps Michaels, Hillgrove

Tonight’s Steelers-Packers game might provide a challenge for some Steelers fans, at least it does for me.

It boils down to a determination of the lesser evil for coverage of the game.

Specifically, will that mean watching the game on TV and enduring Al Michaels on “Sunday Night Football?” Or will it mean taking a chance with the Steelers Radio Network and play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove?

Honestly, it’s probably 80-20 that it will be a TV game for me, but that’s more a matter of convenience than a decision based on clear-cut quality. Plus, it’s always a little better to see the action for myself.

In terms of TV play-by-play duties, there’s no mistake Michaels is one of the best of his generation. His resume includes almost every major sporting event. He’s respected and safely ranks among the icons in the business.

Plus, he has a spot in history beyond sports with his late-game call of the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s victory against the Soviet Union in 1980. “Do you believe in miracles? … Yes!”

That call was 37 years ago, though, and while Michaels generally deserves his seat as NBC’s top NFL voice, he’s hardly an unrivaled talent. Maybe it’s because viewers see him so regularly, or because he gets so many big assignments, but Michaels has some obvious faults.

First, he seems uncomfortable with any silence during a broadcast, or letting the TV pictures tell the story. There’s also a reliance on inside references and what feels like a look-at-me approach.

After decades of work, he has experience and insights that can serve viewers, but when you offer more of your opinions than just context or description that tends to feel like you’re shirking the nuts-and-bolts play-by-play duties and stepping on your analyst’s toes.

Analyst Cris Collinsworth works well with Michaels, though, and sometimes saves broadcasts because of his genuine enthusiasm. He knows his job and serves viewers well.

Unfortunately, it does not feel like Michaels is always as focused on serving those viewers — and that’s pretty much the job.

On Steelers radio, the results are somewhat similar. Hillgrove is nothing but a man of the people. He’s down to earth and a Pittsburgh sports broadcasting legend. Unfortunately, he’s also missing more calls than ever during games.

That can be identifying a play as a touchdown when it’s not or misidentifying a Steelers player who does something of note. Both are big basics, and when they happen on radio they make the broadcast frustrating and less enjoyable for fans.

Like Michaels, Hillgrove gets a strong assist from his partners, so that helps. With Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley, the team’s broadcasters do not lack for character or opinion.

Still, when it becomes a guessing game for listeners or they wait to make sure the facts are the facts because of things the play-by-play man overlooks or misses, that’s a problem.

Brent business

Do not be surprised if retired play-by-play legend Brent Musburger returns to the broadcast booth in the not-too-distant future.

He’s been a bit more vocal than usual in past weeks on social media — expressing opinions about how others in the broadcasting business are doing their jobs. So he seems a little antsy and a lot opinionated.

Still, his recent opinions seem a bit petty and just how and where he gets another on-air opportunity — if it comes — could be interesting.

Barkley interview

It was interesting to hear Penn State coach James Franklin take issue with media questions this week. He was ticked that people asked Saquon Barkley about his intentions for the team’s bowl game.

It sounded mostly like the coach trying to flex his muscle and keep “his” media contingent online. It was much ado about nothing, though.

First, the assembled Penn State media seems deferential and supportive of those it covers in most cases. And, second, if Barkley was not comfortable or upset about any line of questions he could have easily shut down the Q&A.

It’s hard to believe Barkley, his classmates, family and friends are not asking the same questions. So it’s hard to imagine the running back could not answer when the media asks those questions.

Hopefully all involved will find a way to get along. Otherwise it sounds almost like Franklin would prefer to hear only specific types of questions for his team.

Tuner tidbits

n “Golic and Wingo” the replacement morning drive offering from ESPN Radio for “Mike and Mike,” will make its debut at 6 a.m. Monday. The show features Mike Golic, the holder co-host from “Mike and Mike, and Trey Wingo, a proven ESPN talent on TV who might make the transition to radio well. Also Mike Golic Jr. will join the show daily during its first hour.

n ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith gets a more widely distributed nation radio show as part of other lineup changes for ESPN Radio. “The Stephen A. Smith Show” will air from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays beginning Jan. 2.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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