Jim Nantz Is Thriving With New Partners
On Sunday, Jim Nantz will call his fifth Super Bowl for CBS. However, it’s the first one he’ll be calling without Phil Simms by his side in the broadcast booth. Nantz has been working alongside Tony Romo for the last two seasons, and Romo has taken the NFL world by storm with his analysis. But overlooked in Romo’s shining debut has been the increased enthusiasm and energy from Nantz, which has slipped into his NFL calls this season after years of bored sounding commentary with Simms.
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And it’s not just during NFL games where Nantz has shown more energy and enthusiasm. Nantz has worked the NCAA Tournament for CBS with a variety of partners for decades, but it’s been over the last five years, teamed with Bill Raftery and Grant Hill, where Nantz has thrived. There was always chemistry with Billy Packer and Clark Kellogg, but neither of those men bring the sheer joy that Raftery does to broadcasts, and that’s rubbed off on Nantz.
Take the wild UNC-Villanova national title game from three years ago. Nantz’s call of the final minute-plus with Raftery and Hill conveys the high stakes and incredible drama of the game, and the trio all sound like they want to be there and are having the time of their lives. It doesn’t sound like a job, it doesn’t sound like a chore – it sounds like fun, which we don’t get enough during sports broadcasts these days.
You can see that joy bleeding through during the two biggest games Nantz has called with Romo, last year’s AFC Championship game between the Jaguars and Patriots and his year’s incredible game between the Chiefs and Patriots. Nantz plays off his partner so well and puts him in a position to succeed and share insight, which is an underrated trait in play by play broadcasters.
If anything, Nantz has been so ever-present over the past three decades that he’s become underrated. For years, no one had much of an opinion on Nantz. He wasn’t despised like Joe Buck. He wasn’t largely beloved like Keith Jackson or Brent Musburger. He was just there, minding the ship and not creating any waves. That’s a good way to avoid controversy and attention, but it’s also a good way to fade into the background and be replaced by a younger broadcaster with more sizzle.
One of the funny things to me is that Raftery and Romo are almost polar opposites as people. Romo had a 14-year career (nine as a regular starter) as a player and is in his second year as a broadcaster. Raftery never played professionally, had a 16-year coaching career, and has been a broadcaster for more than 30 years. Romo is 38. Raftery is 75. Yet, despite those different backgrounds, they’re both bringing out the best in Nantz.
Nantz also brings a level of stability to CBS Sports that is largely absent at the other major networks. Joe Buck calls most of the major events for Fox, but Buck is nowhere near as well-liked as Nantz, and his partners (Troy Aikman for NFL, Paul Azinger for the US Open, John Smoltz for MLB) aren’t as highly thought of as Nantz’s partners (Nick Faldo for The Masters, Raftery, Romo). At ESPN, each sport airing on the network has a different broadcast crew, from the widely derided Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Baseball teams to the predominantly well-liked top college football and college basketball crews.
In fact, if there’s a current national announce that could follow a similar path to Nantz, it might be Turner’s Brian Anderson. Anderson has called the NCAA Tournament since 2012, and has worked his way up to the #2 team (behind Nantz, Hill, and Raftery), teaming with Chris Webber for the last two years. He was the main voice of Turner’s MLB Postseason coverage in 2018, teaming with Mets broadcaster Ron Darling in the ALDS and ALCS. Anderson is also the reported favorite to succeed Marv Albert as the voice of the NBA on TNT, and he’s moving his way up the network’s regular season and playoffs coverage there as well (though I firmly believe both Ian Eagle and Kevin Harlan are superior NBA voices to Anderson).
Nantz’s ability to do so much so well is finally getting the attention it deserves, and while it’s a shame that it’s taken the standout performances of his analysts to bring him this attention, it’s better late than never.
Joe Lucia has been covering sports media since 2011, and is a fan of the Ravens, Braves, and Manchester City. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, but now makes his home in southern California with his wife.