They are both highly skilled play-callers, meticulous about their craft and painstakingly prepared for the NFL’s biggest stage.
There’s the seasoned veteran at the top of his game, who has deftly navigated every conceivable situation. There’s the rapidly ascending and unflappable newcomer, who has succeeded where so many before him have failed.
And the thing is, neither of them will take a snap or make a coaching decision Sunday .
The two close friends and golfing buddies sat down this week for a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“I told Tony, he’s already done the game,” Nantz said, referring to the conference title game between New England and Kansas City, the most-watched AFC championship in 42 years, with 53.9 million viewers. “Our ratings in that fourth quarter, by the quarter-hour rating, was a Super Bowl rating. [Turning to Romo,] ‘You’ve already done it.’ ”
Numbers aside, Romo is as relaxed as a Sunday in the South, as unhurried and natural as his Tour-caliber backswing. So he shrugs off all the hubbub about his uncanny predictive ability to decipher where the ball is going before it touches the quarterback’s hands.
“You study something your whole life, you have a little bit of ability to feel like you know something a little bit,” he said. “But the game is always evolving.”
As is Romo’s reputation. His powers of prognostication are so remarkable that Ben Cohen and Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal reviewed every play of every game that Romo called this season — 2,559 plays and 46 hours of footage — and determined that he was correct on 68% of his 72 predictions. He is the Evelyn Wood of pre-snap reads.
“I think you just kind of feel it,” Romo said. “We don’t plan any of that. We don’t plan, other than you feel a moment and you kind of go.”
Romo’s sense of what’s about to happen has become such a thing, such a viral sensation, that Nantz has nicknamed him “Romostradamus” after the 16th Century astrologer and seer Nostradamus.
Then again, it takes one to know one. Years ago, Nantz got the nickname “Nantztradamus” from on-course reporter David Feherty for his keen insights when calling golf tournaments.
“I loved it of course,” Nantz said of the moniker. “It’s been sitting there dormant for a good while, and then last week, [Patriots quarterback Tom Brady] hit [tight end Rob Gronkowski] on a crucial fade pattern, and Tony drew up, circled Gronk at the top of the screen, and it just boom. I thought, ‘Man, he’s going through a stretch here. It’s freakish.’ So I said, ‘You’re right, Romostradamus!’ ”
Nantz is the network’s North Star. In the first five months of 2019 he will have called five championship events: the AFC title game, Super Bowl, Final Four, The Masters, The PGA Championship.
Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said Nantz and Romo started strong and have continued to make big strides together.
“We thought they were going to be good as a team, and they’ve exceeded our expectations,” McManus said.
If anyone should be credited with seeing the future, it’s Nantz, because years ago he predicted Romo would flourish as an analyst. Nantz got to know him in production meetings when he called Cowboys games.
About five years ago, over a round of golf at Bel Air Country Club, Nantz and NBC’s Al Michaels, two industry legends, compared notes on which current player would eventually be a star football analyst.
Both said they had someone in mind. Nantz recalled the conversation was a version of this:
Nantz: “My guy is going to be the dominant, most important voice for a generation of football fans.”
Nantz: “Who’s your guy?”
Michaels: “You go first.”
Nantz: “Tony Romo.”
Michaels: “Wait. That’s my guy.”
Romo might seem effortless in his delivery, but Nantz says that’s a mirage. He said the retired quarterback uses the same kind of laser focus that allowed him to rise from obscurity as a player.
“He’s got a full-blown case of undrafted-itis,” Nantz said. “He comes in the league and he’s got to figure out how he’s going to make this NFL thing work. Because he wants it, trust me. I know what burns inside of him. So how is he going to get there? ‘I’m going to watch more film. I’m going to do more things than anybody has ever done before.’
“He’s got this fast brain. He can see things fast … You’ve got this fast brain and this ability to communicate, and a warmth and likability quotient that is off the charts. I mean, it’s all mixed together. He was made for this. He was born for this.”