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Volume 20 No. 46
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Nantz, Romo credit their natural chemistry for positive reaction

atching Jim Nantz and Tony Romo call an NFL game for CBS is akin to watching two good friends having an animated chat.

Like most broadcasters, they stand throughout the game. What’s different about these two is that as they stand, they angle to face each other. It’s a subtle positioning that underscores how much Nantz and Romo genuinely like each other — a fondness that comes through the TV screen.

As he calls the action, Nantz’s head swivels from the field to the monitor to his new broadcast partner. He occasionally puts his leg up on the desk in front of him, a sign of the comfort he already has in the booth with his new partner.

As he talks, Romo frequently reaches over and excitedly slaps Nantz’s arm or hand. They smile and laugh together — two buddies taking in a football game from the 50-yard line.

“It hasn’t felt like hard work,” Nantz said. “It is easy to communicate with Tony. We had a lot of common interests.”

The scene in the broadcast booth is unique enough that CBS Sports President Sean McManus and producer Jim Rikhoff mentioned it during a review session after their first game. A CBS Sports PR executive was so taken by the natural interplay and laughter between the two that she snapped a photo of it.

Nantz and Romo have been the most talked about broadcast team this NFL season. The veteran broadcaster and the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback have received much more praise than criticism for the enthusiasm they’ve brought to games.

They are both gratified by the public reaction so far. Both credit their genuine affinity for each other, which they believe is coming across on TV screens.

“Behind the scenes, Jim’s a fun guy’s guy,” Romo said. “If you’re going to do this for a long time, you’ve got to really enjoy being around your partner. I think that comes across on air. Jim and I genuinely enjoy each other. It’s fun. We go out to dinner. We hang out. We talk. We laugh.”

The friendship does not appear to be contrived for this season. The two say they have been close for years — so much so that Romo invited Nantz to his wedding in 2012. Nantz couldn’t attend, but a year later invited Romo to be one of about 50 people who attended a charity event at Del Frisco’s in Fort Worth.

“Before the season started, I heard people asking, ‘Who’s going to be a better broadcaster, Jay Cutler or Tony Romo?” Nantz said. “I just sat back and laughed. I so badly wanted to speak up and say, ‘You guys just don’t know. You really don’t know what we know or what our instincts are telling us.”

With only half a season under their belt, the two still have a lot of work to do. Romo talks over Nantz on occasion and sometimes takes too long to make his points. But in McManus’ view, the two have improved since the season’s first week, and he expects them to be better next season, too.

“The chemistry and the timing is so much better than it was in week one,” McManus said. “Those things are demonstrable and evident to the viewer at home.”

Pat Summerall and John Madden are the gold standard of NFL broadcasters, having worked NFL games at both CBS and Fox. Nantz and Romo still have a long way to go before they are in the Summerall-Madden conversation.

But …

“I kind of hear their style a little bit in our games,” Nantz said. “John was given the room he needed. He had a lot to say. He was a fascinating guy. Pat was one of the great setup guys of all time. He took great pride in being able to play that role — to give John everything he needed to coordinate their chemistry.”

CBS’s pairing of new NFL analyst Tony Romo with veteran Jim Nantz has won praise.
In separate interviews, Nantz and Romo were quick to bring up Summerall and Madden as a broadcast team whose style they try to emulate. Nantz worked with Summerall on CBS golf events in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nantz even served as a sideline reporter for Summerall and Madden in 1987 during the three replacement games.

“I give Jim a lot of credit for being unselfish with respect to being the play-by-play man and setting Tony up to make Tony look really good,” McManus said. “There’s a great simpatico between them. They’re a team that hopefully can be here for a generation.”

It was risky back in the spring to give an untested announcer the top NFL analyst spot, as McManus did with Romo. But both McManus and Nantz said any concerns they may have had were alleviated May 17 — the day Nantz and Romo called their first test game from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York.

It was a Carolina-Oakland game from 2016. Nantz originally called the game with his previous partner Phil Simms. Romo had never seen it before.

Nantz and Romo sat in a small room, calling the game off a monitor. Rickhoff watched from another room, and occasionally came in to offer advice.

Romo’s first-half performance was pedestrian — he looked and sounded like the rookie he is. That is, until the fourth quarter when Carolina tried to complete a comeback. During the Panthers’ two-minute drill, Romo wowed the group by articulating strategy in a clear, concise and animated way.

“I was blown away,” Nantz said. “His breakdown of what’s happening in the last two minutes. … He had not seen the game before. As they’re running down the field, Carolina is trying to make some plays and Tony starts talking about everything they have to do.”

Nantz and Romo left the CBS Broadcast Center for Carnegie Hall, where the network was having its upfront presentation for advertisers. McManus asked Nantz how it went.

“Just watch the fourth quarter,” Nantz told him. “He’s got it. He’s going to be exceptional at this.”

Three-and-a-half hours before a “Thursday Night Football” game in Baltimore last month, Romo and Nantz were in the M&T Stadium broadcast booth, poring over notes. As Romo conducted an interview for this column, he suggested that we move outside. “That will let me say what I really think about Jim,” he joked.

Romo laughed, walked past Nantz and gave him an enthusiastic pat on the back. Nantz’s ear-to-ear smile showed just how much he is embracing Romo’s style.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.