(Jim Nantz at NFL on CBS Media Day – Photo by Jason Schott)
Jim Nantz is looking forward to the upcoming NFL season, especially calling Super Bowl 50 with Phil Simms on CBS. They will also be entering their second season working on Thursday Night Football on CBS and the NFL Network.
I caught up with Jim at NFL on CBS Media Day on Tuesday afternoon.
Jason Schott: What themes do you see in the NFL this season?
Jim Nantz: For us, the biggest theme of all, we got, I hate hyperbole, but maybe the biggest television event maybe in the history of the country, Super Bowl 50. It’s an overriding theme all season long, already has been. We’ve been working on various things as a network, branding CBS with the big golden anniversary of the game. Believe me, it’s got my attention. Plus we have a steady diet of every Thursday and every doubleheader game. We’ve got a lot to do. As far as the game goes, you’re probably thinking more broader football-wise, it’s the usual stuff. Right now, we’re all waiting to see who can get through camp healthy, what are the Broncos going to be like with a new coach, what’s going to happen with the Brady situation. It’s very exciting, very exciting. I go through certain times of the year where I get near the end of a season, I can’t wait to get to the next sport. I’m jumping off the walls right now waiting for football to get here.
JS: You’re at the end of the golf season. This past weekend, Tiger Woods made it to the weekend for the first time in a while, and it was a rare weekend off for you and Nick Faldo.
JN: It’s the only time he’s hit a live golf shot on a Sunday on CBS the whole year, except for the Masters. It was our 17th PGA Tour event, he had not hit a live golf shot. He had made the cut a few times, but he was so far back, he would be finished by the time we came on the air. It was the first time, excluding the Masters, where he was 10 shots back going into Sunday anyway, only time he had played on a Sunday this year. How do you know? Credit to him, he found it for three and a half days, you know, he was back playing some beautiful golf.
JS: How many Super Bowl broadcasts have you been a part of?
JN: I’ve done five, two as the host, three as play-by-play, so this’ll be my sixth Super Bowl broadcast. It’s 77.4 miles from my front door. For me, I’ve been blessed to have a lot of big assignments, hosting the Olympics, 30 Final Fours, 30 Masters, but Super Bowl 50, it’s a real honor to have that assignment.
JS: This is you second year doing Thursday Night Football.
JN: I loved it, I got to see the rest of the league, I like doing games under the lights. Our schedule’s a little bit better this year. We suffered through a lot of blowouts at the start of the season last year, and who knows how that breaks, the games got closer as the season went on. I think this year, the ratings are bound to be up because we had so many games that were over by halftime last year, the CBS portion of the schedule.
JS: How was it last season preparing for Thursday and Sunday games, and is there anything he would like to change about that?
JN: If there’s some other way to prepare that I didn’t know about, if you know what it is, let me know because no one reads more than I do. I read everything, I talk to coaches and players, and I get very focused this time of year, very focused, and I just kind of lock myself in on the thought that it’s four and a half months of football, being ready for it, having the energy, and trying to balance that between family and football. The next four and a half months is all about that for me.
JS: Is there a different excitement when it is a Super Bowl year for you?
JN: It is different, that’s a fair question, because you have so many people that are asking about it, but there are a lot of other demands on your time from the network as the guys calling the game. More promotional things, going up from here to go shoot, like, for the fourth time this summer, more promos that are customized for certain affiliates. There’s more speaking engagements, cocktail parties, things on behalf of the network that you have to attend. It’s all stuff that we can handle, it’s all fun.
JS: There has an issue with the sod at Levi’s Stadium this preseason.
JN: They’ll have it figured out by then. It’s close enough, I could go mow it myself, they’ll be fine.
JS: The news that Frank Gifford died came out while you were calling a golf tournament. Was he an influence on you?
JN: It crushed me…All of that generation was an influence. Frank was a friend. I just respected him so much. I wasn’t super-close to him, but I had a deep admiration. Honestly, I was kind of like in awe of him, so the times that I was around him, it was a little hard for me to like get real with him, he was Frank Gifford. Interestingly, we had not approached Frank about this, we were talking internally about possibly bringing Frank in for the session that just finished this morning. I had pitched the idea, would it be great to have Frank, which never got written about, he was the analyst for Super Bowl 1 on CBS, wouldn’t it be cool to have Frank come in and surprise everyone, walk him out, talk about what that was like, Super Bowl 1, and then here we are doing Super Bowl 50. We had that chat, I did with Ross Milloy from CBS on the Wednesday before he died. Here I was on the air five days, four days later in Akron, and I was told in my headset that Frank Gifford had passed away, get ready to put a few thoughts together. Obviously, it crushed me, saddened me that here I was, fresh in my mind, thinking I was going to perhaps be the one to approach him in the coming days about coming in and speaking on the 24th to our CBS family, and we never got to make that phone call.
JS: That first Super Bowl was broadcast on both CBS and NBC, so it would have been interesting for everyone to hear his thoughts on that.
JN: That’s for sure, you know, they had to re-kick the second half kickoff there. They had to take a mulligan because NBC wasn’t back from commercial. There actually was a play in Super Bowl history, Super Bowl 1, the second half kickoff was a do-over. CBS had it, covered it, and then the officials found out NBC wasn’t back yet, wasn’t coordinated, they went back and re-kicked it, no play. There’s one gentleman still alive who called Super Bowl 1 on either of the two networks, and that was Jack Whitaker. Jack was the play-by-play man for the second half, and I’m going to see him from here. I’m going down to see him Thursday down in Philadelphia. He’s 91 years old now, a great friend.
JS: Do you have any traditions with the Super Bowl, as you do with the NCAA Tournament?
JN: None that I can think of, it’s just hard to believe this is already the sixth time that that day has arrived. It definitely feels a little bit different. There’s just so much coverage around the Super Bowl, and then suddenly the day is upon you, and there’s some obligations to go on CBS Sunday Morning, you’re doing some hits into the pregame show, and then at 6:00, suddenly, it falls into a coordinated effort from out of our booth and through our truck, to go through bringing the teams on the field, calling out the national anthem, the coin toss. It’s all a coordinated effort, about 30 minutes of television time, so you have that to deal with, and when you get through all that traffic, it’s also your voice is going into the stadium under the PA and over the air. Once you’re finished with that, all of a sudden, you’re kicking the biggest football game of the year. It’s a wild experience, but it’s like everything else, if all this time to build it up, months and months and months, and then, actually get to that day, it’s a blur, it flies by, and it’s over. I still have to go from the booth down to the field to give the trophy away, and the last five times I’ve given that trophy away, I just sat there in amazement that I’d been a part of it.
When we got the NFL back in ’98, I did the math on it at that time. I was starting to think, wow, every three years, wow, if this plays out, get a few renewals with the NFL, Super Bowl 50 would belong to CBS, that would be unbelievable, now here we are. 17 years ago, I hoped to be a part of it, and here we are.