AP Photo/Evan Agostini

23.5 million: Viewers who tuned in to the Sochi Olympics on Feb. 17, Costas' first night back on air after contracting an eye infection

Why he matters: It's a testament to Costas' singular place in sports that his eye infection became one of the most memorable headlines to come out of NBC's Winter Olympics coverage. Costas can laugh about it now, but being sequestered in a darkened hotel room while Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira ably filled in was a blow -- albeit softened by his return to those record-breaking ratings. Through 14 Olympics and more than 30 years in broadcasting, Costas, 62, has become the antidote to the saccharin that has crept into sportscasts. He offers reasoned opinions on the racial insensitivity of the NFL's Washington Redskins ("If you encountered a group of Native Americans, would you say, 'Hello, Redskins!'? It's absurd") and the NFL's troubling gun culture, among other issues. "Would I talk about steroids with the bases loaded in the ninth inning? No," he says. "There's a time and a place -- a well-constructed 20 seconds can get the job done."

Goal for next year: "I'd like every football season to include a legitimate, substantial sit-down with [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell, whom I like very much. But he runs the league; he should be subject to direct but fair questioning."

He can't work without: "Evidently, eye drops."

Off-hours: "Both of my children are in New York: My son, Keith, 27, is at MLB Network, and my daughter, Taylor, 24, is getting a master's at Columbia," says Costas, who lives on Central Park West with his wife, Jill, "so I spend as much time with them as I can, whether it's going to the movies or a ballgame or play."