“People think Tony is a fortune-teller,” Jim Nantz says. “But this isn’t guesswork, and it isn’t psychic ability.”
When the lead play-by-play man for CBS says this to journalists huddled over their smartphones on CBS’ pre Super Bowl press conference in late January, he’s not throwing shade at his partner in the booth. Tony Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback turned television phenomenon, has made a cottage industry out of tipping plays seconds before they happen on live television.
Two days before Nantz complimented his coworker while standing on a jet bridge somewhere between Kansas City and Atlanta, Romo had correctly tipped a dozen plays in the AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. The overtime thriller was unpredictable, with late lead changes and improbable third down conversions for the Patriots leading to the same old team from the AFC making yet another appearance in the Super Bowl.
Romo actually managed to call some key plays down the stretch for the Patriots during the game-winning drive. But Nantz knows that Romo isn’t pulling plays out of thin air. He’s just an NFL player seeing what one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is seeing from the defense. It’s just what good quarterbacks do. The trick to what makes Romo so compelling, and what will make millions of people turn the TV volume up a bit higher than usual this Super Bowl Sunday, is all the work that’s been put in to make the lead CBS broadcast what it is.
“When we have these key moments late in the game and we’re all dazzled at what he’s doing, it’s a testament to his years and years of work and preparation,” Nantz says. “He’s not guessing. He’s not getting some sort of message from the gods. He’s seeing what [Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady saw. He’s sees a wrinkle, he sees an opening, and basically he’s suggesting where this is where the play should go.”
Romo is just a broadcaster still thinking like a quarterback in the booth, and it’s made for some great television and drawn high praise for the former Cowboys quarterback over the last two seasons. Last week the New Yorker called Romo a “genius” football commentator, while Nantz has already swatted down words like “fortune-teller” and “psychic.” But Romo, ever the athlete, says that it’s a team effort. And everyone on that team agrees it wouldn’t happen without CBS lead producer Jim Rikhoff.