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How Former NFL Quarterback Tony Romo Got His Broadcast Break

Feb 1, 2019
Originally published on February 1, 2019 6:41 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

You know those sports fans who like to watch a game on TV and turn the sound down? Well, CBS has a message for those fans. Turn it up this Sunday when the network televises Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and the LA Rams. That's because Tony Romo's in the booth. The longtime Dallas Cowboys quarterback is in his second year as CBS's main NFL analyst, and he's a hit with his own special skill. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Tony Romo can't really be a seer of football plays, can he?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

JIM NANTZ: What do you see here, Tony?

TONY ROMO: (Laughter) Well, I thought they were going to run the ball to the right. Now he's going back left with the run.

NANTZ: There you go. To the left it is. Rashard.

ROMO: The quarterback's going to roll right and launch the ball out of bounds. It's going to look weird.

(CHEERING)

NANTZ: Rolling right. Launching out of bounds. And Tony stealing the signals once again. Well done, my friend.

GOLDMAN: That's a smattering of Romo's seeming clairvoyance and his partner, Jim Nantz's, bemusement. This week, the veteran play-by-play man, Nantz, repeated the nickname he's given Romo, based on the 16th-century seer Nostradamus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANTZ: Romo-stradamus.

GOLDMAN: The sports world has been buzzing about Romo's ability to predict plays. It prompted The Wall Street Journal to dig in and find out if he's really that good. The Journal studied every one of the 2,599 thousand plays Romo called this season. He was right on 68 percent of his predictions. Not bad, but not perfect, proving he's not some soothsaying mystic, rather, a guy with a specific football skill set.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROMO: I feel like, when you're broadcasting, for me, it's like I'm still looking at it from the quarterback's perspective.

GOLDMAN: And it's working for him, says Jimmy Traina. He writes about sports media for Sports Illustrated.

JIMMY TRAINA: You know, he went from the field to the booth. So he knows the offenses and defense of all the teams in the league. He knows the players. He knows the schemes. The knowledge is there.

GOLDMAN: But it's not just the knowledge that made CBS execs take what they say was a calculated risk throwing Romo into the lead analyst's chair with no broadcast experience. They found in private conversations with Romo that he also was really easy to listen to and had an almost giddy enthusiasm about football. Again, Jimmy Traina.

TRAINA: He's sort of a combination of a football idiot savant and the drunk guy at the end of the bar during a football game.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROMO: Oh, boy.

NANTZ: Yup.

ROMO: Field position, everything, points - this is huge, Jim.

GOLDMAN: That savant drunk-guy duality mirrors, a bit, his life on the field. He was a really good quarterback, but also one prone to injury and blunders, none more infamous than in a 2007 playoff game when Romo was the holder as Dallas prepared to attempt what should have been a game-winning field goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Romo holds.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Nineteen-yard field goal attempt. And it's fumbled by Romo. And then Romo's going to...

GOLDMAN: Ten years after that moment, heard on NBC, Romo retired and began a broadcasting career that so far has hit all the right notes. Although, one is never safe from the snark. The Onion posted an article last week with the headline, "Tony Romo Realizes He Should Have Used Ability To Read Defenses Back When He Was Still Playing." Romo tamped down his play-predicting this season. CBS denies it told him to. Romo says he doesn't want to do the same thing over and over again. But this week, there was a hint of what may be in store Sunday. A reporter asked Romo to predict a Super Bowl score, and he didn't dodge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROMO: I'm going to go 28-24. And I think the team who has 24 has the ball at the end, and they don't score.

GOLDMAN: He didn't predict a winner because even Tony Romo-stradamus is only willing to go so far. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.