Media Circus: Romo and Nantz did their best to liven up a slogfest, some pregame history, more notes (2024)

There is always plenty to diagnose about a Super Bowl broadcast — those who have produced the game will tell you that the broadcast is often judged on how the production handles the singular play of the game — but this Super Bowl was different because of one person:

Tony Romo.

Never before had a broadcaster become such an integral part of the pregame storylines. Romo did just two press sessions last week in Atlanta — a conference call by phone and the CBS Super Bowl Media Day in Atlanta— but it felt like he was everywhere based on the volume of stories written about him.

A small sampling of Romomania:

  • CNN: “Tony Romo is calling his first Super Bowl, but he’s not nervous about it.”
  • The Los Angeles Times: “Who knew Tony Romo would become ‘Romostradamus’? His Super Bowl broadcast partner Jim Nantz.”
  • The New York Times: “The Meaning of Tony Romo, Super Bowl Psychic.”
  • The Wall Street Journal: “Tony Romo Calls Plays Before They Happen. How Often Is He Actually Right?”
  • The Washington Post: “Tony Romo, at ease in broadcast booth, tells us how hard being an NFL quarterback is.”
  • Yahoo! Sports: “Tony Romo is more famous now than when he played.”

It will be a long time before we see another Super Bowl broadcaster generate such interest and CBS played to that immediately when Jim Nantz introduced his partner in the pregame show about 30 minutes prior to kickoff.

Nantz:Let me bring in my friend. Welcome to the Super Bowl, Tony Romo.

Romo: I’ve been waiting to hear welcome to the Super Bowl my whole life. This is going to be a fun one today, Jim.


Fun is, of course, subjective. If you enjoy thrilling, offensive football, Super Bowl LIII was not fun. But if you enjoy a telecast where the broadcasters recognized that humor would be needed for the occasion, then New England’s 13-3 slogfest over Los Angeles was expertly handled by CBS.

One of the great things about Romo this year is how loose he has been on-air. He has been unafraid to show his personality, including what he has termed as getting “cheesy” with Nantz. Sunday was the loosest I have heard Romo in a broadcast this year — and the game desperately needed it. The score was 3-0 at halftime and the broadcast highlight at that point was Romo chiding Nantz in the first quarter that he had jinxed Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski prior to Gostowski missing a 47-yard field goal, the first missed field goal of the year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Tony Romo's commentary 😂 @tonyromo #SBLIII

— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) February 3, 2019

“If you get a game that is 30-28 and it comes down to the last drive, we don’t need humor,” Romo told me last month. “But if the game isn’t really that great of a game, I want to laugh. I don’t want to go to a luncheon and be bored. I want to laugh a little bit. You just want to start to create something better for someone at home who is sitting there bored. I think football uniquely makes it fun at all times but there are times when one team is either blowing out the other or one team is stale that day and that has freed me up to try more stuff in that regard. Sometimes, it just happens and I go with it.”

The offensive slog continued in the third quarter but Nantz and Romo continued to address a brutal game in a proper tone. After Patriots quarterback Tom Brady audibled early in the third quarter using the word “Reagan, Reagan,” Romo beautifully quipped, “Is that Ronald Reagan? … Obviously, Reagan means run to the right.”

Later in the quarter, Romo and Nantz dialed up heavy mock enthusiasm for the longest punt in Super Bowl history – a 65-yarder by Rams punter Johnny Hekker. At one point, Nantz joked about the MVP race being between the punters, kickers and special teams. After L.A. kicker Greg Zuerlein’s 53-yard field goal tied the game at 3-3 with 2:11 left in the third quarter, Romo mocked the festivities, “I can’t believe it! We got points! 3-3 and it feels like we have a scoring spree going on!”

It wasn’t a perfect broadcast. Romo dropped some hagiography about Brady on his obvious desire to win this Super Bowl (“He wants this one as bad as he’s wanted any one,” Romo said unnecessarily), and I think CBS owed it to viewers to mention Julian Edelman’s suspension during the game given he won the MVP. But the production didn’t miss any of the important moments. CBS finally got a touchdown with 7:00 left following a great catch by tight end Rob Gronkowski and touchdown from running back Sony Michel. (CBS delivered a nice slo-mo replay of the Gronkowski catch and quality reaction shots on the Michel touchdown run.)

Romo was really on top of the late-game situation when there were dual penalties on the Patriots with 2:25 left. He was quick to point out the Rams needed to decline the penalty to gain a down. Said Romo: “This is big and here’s why. This is a huge call because you could actually decline this and then the clock will stop I believe and it will be second down. It is like having a time out. You should take this penalty.”

He was also ahead of the play when he said the Patriots should let the clock run down with 1:16 left and fourth and inches before calling any play —as well as predicting the Patriots should trust Gostkowski to make a 41-yard field goal. (Which he did.)

“It might have been the strangest game we had all season,” said CBS producer Jim Rikhoff on Sunday night, about 90 minutes after the broadcast went off the air. “But what I was most happy about was Jim and Tony keeping the game balanced. I thought we were great on the analysis and we had fun at the right time.


“Sometimes when it is not exciting you have the tendency to force things but I think we let the game come to us. We did not force elements or overproduce. I always say don’t do the game you plan for, do the game that happens. I think this was a great indication of that because this was not the game anyone expected but I thought we reacted well and Jim and Tony had an unbelievable night. If we had this game two years ago it would have been much harder but they are so good together with their chemistry and humor that you get a balance between humor and analysis.”

After the game, Rikhoff said he thanked Nantz and Romo for their work — Rikhoff and Nantz started at CBS on the same week in 1985 — and said the game felt like the culmination of two years of hard work with this crew.

“The last two games I could not have felt prouder — it has been the highlight of my professional career,” Rikhoff said. “Tony told me afterward that he felt all the games we had done up until this point had put us in a position to handle the game as it unfolded. He could not have been happier. He thought we really rose to the occasion.”

Additional Super Bowl notes:

  • I asked Rikhoff about his decision to stay with the shot of reporter Tracy Wolfson trying to get Brady even as Brady was interacting with others. “It was a total scrum but fortunately for Tracy she worked in the SEC and is used to those situations. As always she was a total pro. She got in thereand backed off a little bit to let him do his hugs. I am sure half the people loved the decision (to stay live) and other people thought we stayed on it too long. But to me that is what is great about live television. Tracy hung in there and she got the interview and asked the key question at the end. We could have gone to commercial but then maybe five seconds later she gets him. We were kind of at the point of no return. To me, it was great live TV. It is not scripted. It does not run perfectly like a sitcom. It was a great, unscripted moment and she handled herself like a professional and got three great questions and the third question was what everyone wanted to here — Brady is not retiring.”
  • Terrific work by CBS Sports producer Sarah Rinaldi, who produced this pregame feature on the host city of Atlanta and its role in the Civil Rights Movement:

Atlanta is known as "The City Too Busy to Hate." We take a look at the impact the Super Bowl host city had on the civil rights movement.

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 3, 2019

  • I thought the best Super Bowl commercial came from the NFL:

The all-time greatest, most competitive NFL players gathered for the #NFL100 gala. What could possibly go wrong?

— NFL (@NFL) February 4, 2019

  • St. Louis radio station KMOX aired Game 6 of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals during the Super Bowl. Gotta respect it.
  • Nantz is very close to 94-year-old Jack Whitaker — who called the first Super Bowl for CBS in 1967 — and cool of Nantz to give Whitaker a shout out in the third quarter.
  • Classy move by the NFL to honor Paul Zimmerman, the late and noted Sports Illustrated writer:

Fantastic gesture by @NFL to save a press box seat in honor of the late, great Dr. Z @SInow @peter_king

— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) February 3, 2019

  • Here is the Boston Globe Monday front page:

The Boston Globe after the New England Patriots win #SuperBowlLIII

— Sports Front Pages (@SportsFrontPage) February 4, 2019

  • Rikhoff said he arrived at the stadium at 10:45 a.m., about eight hours prior to kickoff. “I can’t stay in my room,” he said. “I went to the (production) truck, stared at the monitors and watched the pregame.”

The Ink Report

1. On Sunday, history was made on That Other Pregame Show (TOPS), the NFL pregame show that usually runs on CBS Sports Network but was bumped up to CBS as part of the Super Bowl pregame coverage. What history? The show featured a female lead producer (Deb Gelman), a female lead director (Linda Malino) and a female lead analyst (Amy Trask). It’s safe to say that’s never happened on a network NFL pregame show prior to Sunday.

“I have produced That Other Pregame Show for the past five seasons after 10+ years on ‘The NFL Today’ and Linda has directed ‘NFL Monday QB’ since it debuted seven years ago so it doesn’t seem significant or rare to me there we are sitting next to each other in the truck,”said Gelman. “It just seems like the culmination of a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. The great part of this week in Atlanta for me was to look around our production meetings and see that I am no longer the only woman in the room. It looks a lot different than the production meetings I sat in 18 years ago at Super Bowl XXXV.”

Gelman said that when CBS Sports execs decided to add TOPS to the CBS pregame lineup, Malino was the obvious choice for directing.


“No one knows the ins and outs of everything in the Super Bowl pregame truck better than Bob Matina and Linda Malino. I actually am convinced they share a brain after being with them on so many big events. It wasn’t even a question as to who would direct the show. Linda was the only person who could sit down and direct the show while Mats got ready for the four hour Super Bowl Today. Linda and I have worked together for over 20 years, and I’ve spent the last five years with her ‘air traffic controlling’ the NCAA Tournament studio show in NYC. She’s one of the best directors I have ever worked with.”

1a. I’ve thought for the last couple of years, perhaps counter-intuitively, that Patriots coach Bill Belichick would make an excellent NFL studio analyst should he pursue broadcasting following his coaching career. Three years ago, I did a piecefor The MMQB on Belichick’s weekly spot on Patriots All Access, a one-hour show produced by Kraft Sports Productions that airs weekly in Boston. As part of his “The Belestrator” and “Belichick Breakdowns” segments, viewers saw Belichick in his natural film-wonk habitat, a much more engaging figure than the grump we often see in press conferences. The segments provided compelling information, but most of all they were authentic and unique. If an NFL studio show was designed to let Belichick explain the whys of what was happening in front of us, it would be compelling television. (The studio is the only place I see this having any potential for both parties.) On a similar note, The MMQB’s Jon Jones examined this week the potential of Belichick as a television analyst.I was curious what Belichick could command as an analyst should he pursue sports broadcasting and spoke to three television agents who negotiate sports television contracts. One agent predicted $3 million+ annually; another put the price for Belichick between $6-8 million. A third agent estimated the salary around $4 million annually.

While acknowledging Belichick’s football genius, one of the agents said a prospective network would be taking a significant gamble unless they had confidence from production meetings with Belichick that his football acumen would translate into engaging television. “You’d win the press release,” the agent said, “but an executive could also lose their job if they guessed wrong.” In this scenario, CBS Sports would be the most likely suitor given the long relationship Belichick has with that network and staffers, including Jim Nantz.

2. Some stunning sports media news dropped shortly before the Super Bowl kickoff when Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that ESPN had fired the popular host Adnan Virk due to what the report termed as leaking confidential company information to the media on multiple occasions. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on specifics beyond saying, “Adnan Virk no longer works at ESPN.” The spokesperson confirmed Virk’s last day was Friday. When reached by The Athletic on Sunday night, Virk declined to comment.

Virk had recently signed a contract extension with ESPN, which he went into deep detail about during a podcast we did in April. His four-year deal with ESPN was set to expire on April 30, 2018, and he signed his new deal very close to the deadline. His new contract called for Virk to continue as a “Baseball Tonight” and college football host as well as do some MLB play-by-play and tennis. Expect lawyers to be involved to resolve Virk’s contract situation given he has more than a year-plus left on his new deal.

Virk joined ESPN in 2010 and rose up the ranks as a well-respected and well-liked host on multiple sports in multiple mediums. Sources said the decision reached the top of the ESPN management team, which means ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro was the final arbiter. Was a suspension considered for Virk as opposed to a firing? That is unknown at this time.

“Everything changes when you have kids,” Virk said on the podcast we did. “I have three young boys. You start to say, ‘I think we are good but you know what, anything could happen and maybe something has happened that I don’t realize.’ And you start to get a little nervous. There were definitely some sleepless nights where I was wondering, ‘Maybe this one slips through the cracks and they say we are just going to go in a different direction.’ Everyone is replaceable. It does become a mind game because we are all aware of the talented people who have left the company. If this company can say goodbye to Jayson Stark, Danny Kanell, Andy Katz, certainly Adnan Virk is expendable.”


Update [2:00 p.m. ET Monday] The Athletic reported on Monday that Virk wascurrently pursuing a lawyer regarding what is remaining on his ESPN contract/other issues related to ESPN’s decision. ESPN has not yet offered specifics on the dismissal. Asked specificallywhether Adnan Virk was offered a suspension versus a termination, ESPN declined comment. Marchand followed-up today with a piece worth reading that provides background on the leaked information.

2a. I did a media mailbag piece last week — most of you missed it based on the page views — and I was struck by the answer from Dave Pasch when asked about his on-air dynamic with Bill Walton. Here it is.

“When I first worked with Bill on the NBA in 2006, I was exposed to something as an announcer for the first time: My analyst wouldn’t talk to me before the game,” said Pasch. “If I brought up any subject, including the weather, Bill would say ‘save it for the air!’ I couldn’t quite grasp why he wanted no communication whatsoever until the broadcast started. It began making more sense when ESPN got the Pac 12 package and we began working together regularly. Finally, he said to me midway through our first season, ‘I worked with Ralph Lawler on the Clippers for 13 years, and we NEVER spoke before the game.’ I knew how much he loved Ralph, so it dawned on me not to take anything he said personally. There must be a specific reason to his madness of silence, which often included sitting as far away from me as possible before the broadcast. Bill wanted everything to be completely spontaneous. He wanted our interaction to be organic and unpredictable as if we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other until that moment. He would say to me, ‘Whatever I do or say, don’t take it personally. And don’t stop coming at me. Don’t back down!’ He views me as a teammate in that sense. The best way I can work with him is to be completely and utterly surprised by him and be ready to respond. My response, even if it is completely ignoring him, can actually enhance the broadcast, and thus be a better teammate. In another sense, he views me as a rival. He’s actually referred to me indirectly-while he was doing the bench press in his home gym (long story) as Kareem. I’m there to battle with him. To provide that game day experience of being his verbal sparring partner. No subject is off limits, and once the game is over, whatever was said or done is left on the court. After all, ‘It’s just a TV show,’ as Bill likes to say.”

3. Last week I interviewed Kevin Harlan and Mike Arnold for what turned out to be a fascinating podcast. On Sunday Harlan called his ninth consecutive Super Bowl game for Westwood One, the audio rightsholder for the Super Bowl. Arnold directed the Super Bowl game —his fifth Super Bowl as a lead director — for CBS.

In the podcast, Harlan discussed calling his ninth Super Bowl for Westwood One and how his radio call is different from his television work; the preparation he does to call a radio broadcast versus a television one; who he envisions listens to the radio call of the Super Bowl; creating chemistry with his color analysts including Kurt Warner and Boomer Esiason; being critical of his own radio work; where the radio booth is located at the Super Bowl and how that impacts his call; calling games through binoculars versus a monitor; how he defines satisfaction from the radio broadcast versus television; how long he hopes to continue with the radio call and more.

Arnold discussed the role of director on a Super Bowl broadcast; how many camera operators he directs on Super Bowl day; the conversations he has with the camera persons prior to the game; whether certain camera locations are more important than others and why; what is unique about Tony Romo from his perspective; how he determines success in a broadcast; how much interaction he has with his bosses on Sunday; whether he gets nervous prior to air; what is something viewers should know about the process, and more.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and more.

4. Non-sports pieces of note:

  • From Anna Lee and Nathaniel Cary and Mike Ellis of The Greenville News: In South Carolina, civil forfeiture targets black people’s money most of all, exclusive investigative data shows.
  • From Pro Publica’s David Armstrong: OxyContin Maker Explored Expansion Into “Attractive” Anti-Addiction Market.
  • Via Natalie Paddon of The Hamilton Spectator: The fast fall of a middle-class drug mule.
  • From The Atavist: In April 2018, a blind man with one foot robbed a bank in Austin, Texas. This is a heist story—but unlike any you’ve ever read. By Ciara O’Rourke.
  • Via the NYT’s Daily podcast: The Perils of Reporting On an investigation of a President.
  • Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives. By Zoeann Murphy and Chris Mooney of The Washington Post.
  • By Erin Griffin for the New York Times: Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?
  • W. B. Yeats and self-doubt. By Gabrielle Bellot of lithub.
  • The Newseum was a grand tribute to the power of journalism. Here’s how it failed. Via The Washington Post.
  • From Esquire’s Tim Bella: Over two years after 10-year-old Caleb Schwab lost his life on the tallest waterslide in the world, the amusem*nt park industry has yet to fully reckon with the tragedy.
  • Your neighborhood police. By Edward Conlon.
  • Via Amy Dockser Marcus of The Wall Street Journal: Two Sisters Bought DNA Kits. The Results Blew Apart Their Family.

Sports pieces of note:

  • Via Chicago Magazine: How an Olympic Hopeful Robbed 26 Banks on His Bike.
  • The New York Times had a fantastic pullout section on the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson.
  • Via Michael Farber for Stephanie Labbe’s story of depression, a bronze medal and perseverance.
  • From Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times: How Walter Payton’s Super Bowl ring ended up in a college kid’s couch.
  • Tony Romo Calls Plays Before They Happen. How Often Is He Actually Right? By Ben Cohen and Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal.
  • St. Louis’ Super Bowl: Confusion About the Rams—and Contempt for Stan Kroenke. By Joan Niesen of
  • From ESPN’s Sam Borden: In search of Emiliano Sala.
  • Via Nora Princiotti of The Boston Globe: Tom Brady and the rap game.

5. Turner and the NFL Network both announced last week that they had entered a multiyear partnership with The Alliance of American Football. As part of the deal, TNT will air one regular season and one playoff game each season. Turner’s B/R Live will also carry a weekly game. The NFL Network will air 19 games, including two games per week in primetime on Saturday and Sunday night. CBS previously announcedit would air the opening game of the league on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET and the championship game during the final weekend in April. CBS Sports Network is carrying one game per week. Here’s the on-air schedule for the league.


5a. ESPN/ABC drew a 3.2 overnight rating or its Saturday Primetime NBA game between the Warriors and Lakers. That was up 52 percent from last year’s Cavaliers- Rockets broadcast for the same week.

5b. The Athletic’s Katie Strang spoke with Olympic hockey gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield following her NBC Sports broadcast debut — which included a cringe-worthy exchange with inside-the-glass host Pierre McGuire:

“I was able to dissect what happened and see it from the viewpoint that the viewers saw it from. I saw how they interpreted it, how they were feeling and they are right,” Coyne told Strang. “If that was a former NHL player in my situation, was that what would have been said? Maybe not, but being friends with Pierre and knowing him, I knew how excited he was in that moment. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that that language needs to be changed in the future, the way women are perceived in the industry. And I think for all the young girls out there, it shows you need to have confidence in yourself, no matter what the moment is, and I think the takeaway I have from it — whether it’s a moment that someone wants to define for you, you need to define it for yourself. You’ve worked hard for that moment and that’s how I felt.”

(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Media Circus: Romo and Nantz did their best to liven up a slogfest, some pregame history, more notes (2024)


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