George Michael recognized sports for what it was: entertainment.
He covered all sports with a passion: football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, rodeo, NASCAR and even “wiener-dog racing”
Like my wife, he was a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. Why not? They both hailed from the Gateway City area.
But we would become fans of George Michael during our 23 years in Washington. The man who started out as a rock and roll disc jockey moved into sports in the competitive New York Market but later moved to Washington. He was the local sportscaster for WRC Channel 4, the NBC-owned affiliate in DC and also host of a sports wrap-up show first called “The George Michael Report” and later “The Sports Machine,” which started out locally but gained a national audience through syndication.
Before ESPN, there was George Michael, providing Sunday night highlights of football games. Before NASCAR became a national brand, Michael covered it as a sport. He loved rodeo and brought highlights a national audience. He covered “professional” wrestling with a wink and a nod.
I met Michael when we appeared together on a panel at American University in Washington to debate changes in media. We would run into each other from time to time over the next few years. He was a great storyteller, a charming personality and an obsessed perfectionist who bullied staff, sports figures and celebrities alike but was still admired and respected by many who ran afoul of his wrath. He possessed a towering talent and an ego to match. He could chew out a staff member seconds before going on the air and then turn on the charm when the cameras came on. But when NBC started cutting back on his Sports Machine in 2007, he quit, saying that if staff had to go he would “take the first bullet.”
Michael died Wednesday night after a two-year battle with leukemia. He was 70. He made sports broadcasting what is is today but it will never be the same without him.