2/09/2006 - Al Michaels traded for a cartoon

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(Al Michaels and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Photo courtesy of Inhistoric)

For 36 years, ABC showcased Monday Night Football and was considered the most esteemed NFL carrier, in thanks to broadcast icons like Howard Cosell and Keith Jackson. But the ratings had fallen dramatically over the years, and with a contract in place that payed the NFL roughly a billion dollars a year, that simply wasn't acceptable for ABC.

So following the Steelers victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, ABC ended its long-running partnership with the NFL. Monday Night Football would move to ESPN, where it had a greater chance of banking revenue, while NBC would assume ESPN's old Sunday Night Football slot.

It was initially thought that John Madden and Al Michaels, the present Monday Night Football tandem, would join the broadcast's migration to ESPN. But Madden bolted to NBC right before the Super Bowl, leaving Michaels, who only did football games and was not a fan of ESPN, to ponder his future.

A few days after the Steelers' win, Michaels followed Madden to NBC in one of the strangest ends of an era, ever. ABC released Michaels from his contract and allowed him to sign with NBC. But in return, NBC had to give the Disney-subsidiary extended Olympic highlights, Ryder Cup coverage, and the complete rights to "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit," a cartoon from 1927.

"Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice," said Michaels, referring to what the Jets got for releasing coach Herman Edwards to the Chiefs. "This is pretty cool. I'm going to be a trivia answer someday. "

Disney produced 26 episodes of Oswald in the late 20's, but did so under the umbrella of Universal Studios (NBC's sister), who owned the cartoon's rights. Disney then abandoned Oswald and created his replacement, Mickey Mouse, who from ears to pants resembled him entirely. Mickey would go on to become the mascot of the Disney corporation while Oswald faded into obscurity.

Disney president Robert A. Iger had promised Walt Disney's daughter, Diane, that he would attempt to return Oswald to his stomping ground. "I appreciate that he is a man of his word," Diane said of Iger. "Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun."

To date, ESPN has yet to utilize Oswald in any of its programming, which is a shame since he'd be terrific on SportsCenter. But who knows, if he can be traded for a 30-year veteran, nothing is out of the question.

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