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
From the Print Edition:
Jim Nantz, May/June 2011
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Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, says of his star, “You’ve got to have a certain ability with the right word off the top of your head. You’ve got to have the presence of mind to say the right thing. You have to recognize the big moments and know how to step up. Every time the pressure has been the most intense, every time Jim has been asked to step up, he’s done that. He’s not No. 1 just because he’s a good guy or an attractive man.”
And it doesn’t matter which sport he’s talking about: Nantz knows what to say, when to talk and when to shut up. That ability has served him well while covering some of the biggest moments in sports in the past 25 years. Still, some events are easier than others.
Nantz recalls calling the final round of the 1996 Masters, when Greg Norman appeared on the verge of winning for the first time at Augusta. Norman came into the final round with a six-shot lead, only to have his game collapse as he lost to Nick Faldo (now Nantz’s on-air partner for golf broadcasts).
“That was uncomfortable to watch. All of a sudden Faldo overtook him and defeated him,” Nantz says. “For four hours, it was like watching a train wreck. All you can do is tell people what you’re seeing.”
Nantz has called several Super Bowls and felt a particular kinship to the New Orleans Saints team that won in 2010 because “my father took me to see the very first game the Saints ever played, and on the very first play of that very first game, Jim Gilliam ran the kickoff back for a touchdown.” But the most memorable NFL game he has ever called, he says, was the 2007 AFC championship with the New England Patriots playing the Indianapolis Colts in Indiana.
“Indianapolis had never quite been able to get past their nemesis in New England—and at one point in that game, they were down by 18 points,” Nantz recalls. “But Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy engineered the largest comeback in NFL history.
They were down 21-3 but won it 38-34. It was a shocking comeback on a Bill Belichick–coached team. The Super Bowl that year was technically Indianapolis over Chicago— but the game that defined Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl title, and his remarkable career, was that 18-point comeback. It turned into this wild shoot-out with so much at stake.”
Phil Simms, who does analysis to Nantz’s play-by-play on NFL games, says, “He looks at a game faster than anybody I know. He’s on top of everything and brings out what’s important. When people hear his voice on TV, they know it’s a special sporting event. Something good is coming on.”
The key to on-air success, Nantz says, is attention to detail, preparation—and having a memory that could challenge the IBM Watson computer that won on “Jeopardy.”
“That first weekend of the NCAA, I’ve got to get to know eight different teams. That’s 96 players,” he says. “So I’m a fanatic about reading; I’m compulsive. I read everything that’s written about them—their school papers, their hometown papers—every feature story about them I can get my hands on. I have this ability to recall these things—it’s a blessing. When you’re live on the air, there’s no time to thumb through a stack of clippings.”
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Tracy Rowe — KS, USA, — November 20, 2011 5:32am ET
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