It has been quite a week for Jim Nantz, and not just because he is the host of CBS’ four-hour Super Bowl pregame show Sunday.
This week has been a special homecoming for Nantz, one of incredible joy offset by deep sadness.
He threw a party to beat all parties for the city Monday night.
And every day since then, he has visited his father in a nursing home here.
His father, who is actually Jim Jr., has Alzheimer’s disease and has been in the home since suffering a second stroke in the fall of 1999. “It’s something I’ve never wanted to talk about before, because I’ve never wanted to exploit him,” Nantz said. “But there is no shame in what he is suffering. I’m very proud of my dad and love him very much.
“After I went to CBS in 1985, he never missed any of my broadcasts. I mean that literally. He watched every one. Since he has been in the home, the nurses make sure any broadcast I do is on in his room.
“Because he is in the late stages of the disease, he no longer recognizes me or my voice,” Nantz said. “But that doesn’t matter. It’s just important to me to know that just maybe, for a second, he might recognize my voice. When I see him on a good day, sometimes I get the feeling that, for a second, he actually does recognize me.”
Nantz said his father moved into the nursing home a few days after Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. And, to Nantz’s good fortune, that was a CBS Super Bowl.
“From that moment on, I wanted to do something special for Houston and for my father.”
Nantz calls Houston his adopted hometown. He was born in Charlotte, N.C., and grew up in Colts Neck, N.J. But he moved to Houston with his family as a teenager, attended the University of Houston after being recruited to play on the golf team and began his broadcasting career here.
Longtime Houston resident George Bush, the former president, calls Nantz “a very close friend.” Nantz and his family visit George and Barbara Bush every summer at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and have gone on vacations with them.
Nantz came up with the idea of a gala event to kick off Super Bowl week that would include the Bushes and Houston sports legends. As things turned out, it included 41 legends. Coincidentally, Bush was the 41st president.
“The stars have been aligned for this from the beginning,” Nantz said.
Nantz not only created the event, he organized and produced it.
“It was in the planning stages for 4 1/2 years and consumed much of my time the past 12 months,” Nantz said.
The event was a roaring success. The game ball, beginning with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, was passed from dignitary to dignitary until it had been touched by everyone. The group included Roger Clemens, George Foreman, Mary Lou Retton and Earl Campbell.
The event was big news in Houston, but it wasn’t televised.
Nantz said late Thursday he had just completed a deal for CBS affiliate KHOU to show it Saturday night.
“The people at KHOU had to move mountains to get this done,” Nantz said.
There remained one last hurdle. It was too late to find a sponsor. So Nantz agreed to pay for the time.
Nantz also made arrangements for the NFL Network to televise it nationally. A date and time have not been set.
Nantz said his sister, Nancy Hockaday, who lives in Houston, would be with their father Sunday.
Nantz hopes that, just for a second, Jim Jr. will recognize his voice.
The ways things are going, Nantz is feeling confident. Asked about Sunday’s game, he said, “I’m going to go out on a limb and predict we’re going to have the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.”
But if there is only one pregame show you watch, make it the “Road to the Super Bowl,” NFL Films’ wrap-up of the season. It will be at 1 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
Steve Sabol, NFL Films president, is continually seen on television these days, particularly by those who get the NFL Network. But Sabol, whose father, Ed, created NFL Films in 1963, never intended to be an on-air personality.
In 1980, about a year after ESPN went on the air, Steve Bornstein, then a young programming executive for the fledgling cable network, made a deal with Sabol to begin carrying “NFL Films Presents,” which became the company’s signature show.
“We were looking for a host, and then Bornstein suggested I do it,” Sabol said.
“I said, ‘But I’ve never done anything like that. What if I’m terrible?’ ”
“Steve said, ‘It won’t matter. Nobody has cable, so nobody will be watching.’ ”
Attention, Ad Fans
For those who would prefer watching the commercials to watching the game, check out “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials” at 9 p.m. Saturday on CBS. The show reviews the most memorable Super Bowl commercials.
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, was asked about the appeal of the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers.
“To a large extent, the rating is bulletproof,” he said. “People watch because it is the Super Bowl. What we hope is that the game doesn’t get out of hand. A close game is what we hope for.”
Enberg Likes Role
Sunday is the first anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and Dick Enberg will offer a tribute during the pregame show.
Enberg says he enjoys his role as a feature reporter for CBS. When he was at NBC, he was the Super Bowl play-by-play announcer.
“I don’t miss it,” Enberg said. “The problem with doing the play-by-play is that you’re never done with your preparation. There are so many stories out there, you’re always afraid you’ll miss one of them.”
What a Difference
A year ago, when ABC televised the Super Bowl, Howard Katz was the president of ABC Sports. He now works for the NFL.
“Comparatively speaking, this is like a vacation this year,” he said.
Carolina Coach John Fox gave Jay Glazer, CBS’ “NFL Insider,” almost full access to him all week. The two have been close since Fox was a defensive assistant coach with the New York Giants and Glazer covered him as a beat writer for the New York Post.... Commentator Phil Simms was with the Giants when the Patriots’ Bill Belichick was an assistant coach. “He was so unhip he was cool,” Simms said.
You can bet on just about anything connected with the Super Bowl, including the television rating. A website, betwwts.com is offering a wager on whether the rating will be above or below 40. Over 40 is the 6-5 favorite.