Not many people get to watch a biopic and be surprised when they see something on screen that happened when they were in the room. For announcer Al Michaels, watching the Tonya Harding movie “I, Tonya” brought back a vivid memory from 27 years ago.
At the Television Critics Association press tour this week, promoting the upcoming Super Bowl LII on NBC, Michaels took a quick moment to reflect about being present for Harding’s landmark triple axel jump that features prominently in the film.
“I was watching ‘I, Tonya’ the other night. I’d forgotten I’d announced the triple axel at the Target Center in 1991,” Michaels said. “I’m going, ‘Wait a second. I did that!’ Then I went on YouTube and YouTube has the actual call. It brought back the memory of doing it with Peggy Fleming and Dick Button.”
Sure enough, here’s the original moment, in its full VHS glory:
Michaels, Fleming, and Button aren’t in the movie (“They didn’t pay any of us,” he joked). But much like Harding surprised the figure skating world at that particular event before becoming a household name at the following year’s Olympics, she caught the announcing crew off guard that day too.
“We didn’t know the Tonya story, but we knew that she was a girl who had a mother who raised her, the father wasn’t there, she had no money, they were living wherever they were living in Portland. We knew that almost all the other figure skaters had funding, they had good training facilities and all the rest,” Michaels said.
For Michaels, the movie was a reminder of how much he didn’t know about what Harding went through, even before that day in Minnesota.
“We knew that she was an outlier, not nearly to the extent of that story. Whether it’s embellished or not, I don’t know, but we had no idea her true background and the way her mother treated her,” Michaels said. “If most of it is true, and I assume most of it is true, it’s amazing she was able to do what she did. Amazing.”
Those familiar with iconic winter sports moments probably know that Michaels was on the mic for the United States hockey team’s famous 1980 upset over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. His closing “Do you believe in miracles?” call was a career-defining moment, and also presumably the basis for the title of another ice-bound biopic, the 2004 Gavin O’Connor movie “Miracle.”
“I was there for something that was so extraordinarily special. That’ll live forever. For me, as great as those Super Bowls have been and the World Series things that I’ve done, nothing comes close to that,” Michaels said.