For Nantz, unusual situations at big events came in threes
Before the Masters started, CBS’s lead announcer, Jim Nantz, had a feeling something unusual would happen during the golf tournament.
A little more than two months earlier, Nantz was broadcasting the Super Bowl when the Superdome’s lights went out early in the second half. Just two weeks earlier, Nantz was on play-by-play for the NCAA tournament Elite Eight game when Louisville’s Kevin Ware broke his leg, one of the most gruesome on-air injuries to be shown on sports TV.
Nantz says he was prepared for the chaos that ensued Friday night and Saturday morning of Masters week when Tiger Woods, golf’s biggest TV draw, faced the possibility of disqualification.
“I could feel it coming. I told people that something unusual was going to happen at the Masters,” Nantz said. “There was not a doubt in my mind, coming off the blackout and the Kevin Ware injury. … It was bound to happen.”
I caught up with Nantz last week and asked him to talk about how he handled these events that spilled away from the field of play. A longer version of the interview will be available in SportsBusiness Daily this week.
■ THE SUPER BOWL BLACKOUT: CBS has been criticized for its performance during the blackout, when the network’s sideline reporters struggled to provide news about what had happened and when power would be restored. All power in the broadcast booth was out, too, so Nantz did not know what was going out over CBS’s air. But he got ahold of producer Lance Barrow via cell phone and offered to help report the news.
|Nantz (center) was prepared to bail out of the broadcast booth to get the Superdome story.
Barrow told Nantz to stay in the booth, which is where CBS needed him to be once power was restored.
“I look back on it now and I just wish I could have helped out,” Nantz said. “There was nothing I could do.”
■ KEVIN WARE’S INJURY: Nantz did not see Ware’s injury because he was watching the shot from Duke’s Tyler Thornton go through the basket. It wasn’t until producer Mark Wolff warned him of the gruesomeness of the injury that Nantz realized what had happened.
Nantz recalled reacting after the first replay by uttering, “Oh, Lord.”
“That’s not like me to say something like that on-air,” he said. “That was just my reaction. My heart went out to the kid.”
After the second replay, Wolff told Nantz that CBS would not broadcast it again. During the nearly 10-minute delay that followed, while trainers and doctors tended to Ware on court, Nantz was uncharacteristically quiet.
“Instincts just take over,” he said. “I never felt any urge to open my mouth. I never felt compelled to try and add a narrative to it. It’s a visual medium to begin with. … Sometimes it’s much more important what you don’t say versus what you do say. I couldn’t even tell you how long we remained silent, but it felt like the right thing to do.”
■ TIGER WOODS’ ILLEGAL DROP: It was close to 10 p.m. Friday night, and Nantz and David Feherty were just about finished taping the late-night Masters highlights show for CBS when producer Bob Mansbach saw tweets suggesting that Woods might be disqualified from the Masters the next day. The two had only a 45-second closing segment left to tape, but the breaking news seemed big enough that they retaped the show. “We handled it like a news story,” Nantz said.
Masters officials made the decision to penalize Woods two strokes rather than disqualifying him on Saturday morning. CBS continued to treat it like a news story during its Saturday broadcast, eschewing its normal Masters opening tease by going straight to Nantz, who ad libbed for five minutes talking about the rules violation and the little-known rule that kept Woods in the tournament. That led to an on-air interview with Fred Ridley, the chairman of the competition committee at Augusta.
“There were some really firm questions that had to be asked there,” Nantz said. “I felt that interview was tough, hard-hitting and fair.”