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The Voice of Sports

Jim Nantz began his dream job as a sports commentator right out of college, and to this day is thrilled by The Masters, March Madness and his NFL broadcasts
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Jim Nantz, May/June 2011

He’s known for his ability to spontaneously craft just the right phrase at the crucial moment. But when Tiger Woods won his first Masters Tournament in 1997, Nantz did something he rarely does: He figured out ahead of time what he needed to say.

He knew the night before the final round—with Woods leading the tournament at 12 under par—that he was witnessing history: the first African-American to potentially win at the once racially restricted golf club, with what could be a record low score (Woods’ –18 was a tournament low, as was his 12-stroke margin over his closest competitor, Tom Kite) and he was the youngest person ever to win the Masters. So Nantz made a point of being ready with exactly the right line when Woods approached the 18th green.

“I knew, as that final putt was holed, that this clip would be played back in 10 years, 25 years, 50 years,” Nantz says. “So I needed a line that was succinct to sum it up. The night before, we were going over notes and choreographing shots for the next day. And we knew this would be the clip that everyone would always go back to.

“I don’t normally script my closing lines. On the other hand, if you were dispatched to the Masters by The New York Times or Sports Illustrated, I guarantee that, the night before the final round, you were already thinking about what your lead was going to be on your story the next day. So I knew I would not be prepared if I didn’t think of the scene at the end.

“That moment, with the outcome never in doubt, felt as if the voices of my youth were peering over my shoulder. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized they’d actually be listening to me. It was a transcendent point in my career. So I wanted something that was worthy of their level of prose. And what I said was, ‘A win for the ages.’ ”

Nothing, on the other hand, could prepare Nantz for the most memorable—and shocking—finale to an NCAA basketball championship he ever called: the final seconds of the 1993 NCAA final game between North Carolina and Michigan at the Louisiana Superdome, with Michigan’s so-called “Fab Five,” a team whose games Nantz had called more than a dozen times.

Trailing and desperate, Michigan was bringing the ball up court when its star, Chris Webber, was trapped with the ball by the North Carolina defense. In desperation, he called a time-out—but Michigan had already used all of its time-outs, resulting in a technical foul and free throws that sealed the game for UNC.

“I had just said, ‘Michigan has no time-outs left’ when he called that time-out,” Nantz says. “When they lost because of that, it was a moment with such an air of disbelief and disappointment—to see someone make a mistake that big. Everybody was surprised. It’s one thing for the game to end on a missed shot, as it did last year in the Butler-Duke final. But to have it end with something that caused total disbelief—there was so much gloom in the Superdome about that finish.”

He’s seen it all in the past 25 years, because Jim Nantz is the voice of CBS Sports. He is the network’s most prominent and well-known sports commentator. Nantz has been broadcasting for the network since his mid-20s (CBS is the only network he ever wanted to work for) and he shows no signs of slowing down.

On this day, sitting in the lounge of a Manhattan recording studio, where he’s been doing voice-over work for a Rolex commercial, he’s just days away from the start of March Madness, the annual NCAA tournament that turns college basketball into a national mania (and gambling on tournament brackets into an obsession) for a few weeks. In a couple of days, Nantz will go on the air with his trademark greeting, “Hello friends,” doing play-by-play at the Big Ten tournament, then broadcasting the selection show when the tournament’s teams are announced.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Tracy Rowe — KS, USA,  —  November 20, 2011 5:32am ET

I have a collection of 40 cigars dating from 1897 to 1944 with a variety of brands. They are individual cigars in mint condition. The history or occasion is available for each one (wedding, birth of a child, company picnic, etc.). Any ideas where to sell them? Thanks, Tracy

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