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Friday, February 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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NFL Notes: Al Michaels traded to NBC

NEW YORK — Al Michaels was traded from ABC to NBC for a cartoon bunny, four rounds of golf and Olympic highlights.

The rights to "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit," a bunny created by Walt Disney in the 1920s before he invented Mickey Mouse, were transferred from NBC Universal to The Walt Disney Co. as part of the agreement to release the broadcaster from his contract with ABC and ESPN.

"As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney's creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs," Disney president Robert Iger said.

Michaels had been with ABC for three decades and had been the play-by-play announcer for "Monday Night Football" for the past 20 years.

"Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice," Michaels said, referring to what the Kansas City Chiefs gave the New York Jets as compensation for releasing coach Herm Edwards from his contract. "I'm going to be a trivia answer someday."

A four-time Emmy Award winner, Michaels agreed last July to stay with ABC/ESPN as the Monday game switched to the cable network next fall. But he asked to back out and instead will broadcast Sunday night NFL games on NBC with John Madden, his partner on ABC during the past four seasons.

As part of the deal, NBC sold ESPN cable rights to Friday coverage of the next four Ryder Cups through 2014. NBC also granted ESPN increased usage of Olympic highlights through 2012 and other NBC properties through 2011. NBC, in turn, gets expanded highlight rights to ABC and ESPN events.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said ABC Sports and ESPN president George Bodenheimer called last month to initiate talks, which culminated in an agreement Tuesday.

"He told me this incredible story that Walt's first really big production as a cartoonist for the cinema had been a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was before Mickey," Ebersol said. "And for reasons that aren't still totally clear to me, Walt lost those rights. He didn't have the money to hold onto them."

Disney and his partner, Ub Iwerks, created the rabbit in 1927 at the request of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures, and made 26 silent cartoons. After Disney learned that Universal held the rights, he created a new character, eventually named Mickey Mouse, who resembled Oswald, but with shorter ears.

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Universal continued to make Oswald films from 1929 to 1938 — Mickey Rooney was one of his voices — and Oswald appeared in a comic book from 1943 to 1962.

"We earn nothing from those rights; they've had no value in the United States," Ebersol said.

Michaels, 61, began to think about hopping networks during the past season, realizing he wanted to work with Madden, producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff, who also are moving from ABC to NBC.

"As the weeks went on, I began to realize more and more how much I was going to miss being with those people," he said. "That's my family, that's my broadcasting family, and they're moving out of the house, and I wanted to move back in with them."

Cris Collinsworth, who was going to be Madden's partner, instead will be a studio analyst.

Steelers' Hampton sick of officiating controversy

KAPOLEI, Hawaii — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter passed on the chance to weigh in on the Super Bowl officiating after taking part in his first Pro Bowl practice.

"It really doesn't matter to me," Porter said. "The game is over."

Defensive tackle Casey Hampton filled in nicely for his usually outspoken teammate.

"People crying about what happened, that's crazy. It doesn't matter," Hampton said. "You can't talk about what might have happened. Two or three years from now, people won't remember who we beat in the Super Bowl, just that we won.

"We went in feeling like we were going to win. We got that ring. Believe me, nobody on our team is worried about that. What is crying going to do? Whoever is supposed to win is going to win. That's how it feels."

Porter also declined to pile on Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens, who verbally sparred with Porter leading up to the game.

"It's tough enough for him to lose. I'm not going to dog him in the paper," Porter said.

Notes

• Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino have pulled out of consideration for the Oakland Raiders' coaching vacancy.

• A Cincinnati judge dismissed Hamilton County's federal antitrust lawsuit against the Cincinnati Bengals and the NFL because the suit was not filed within the four-year statute of limitations.

• The Denver Broncos signed safety Sam Brandon to a contract extension.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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