Normally at this time of year, AA is devoting time to predicting which canned line Jim Nantz will use at the end of the national championship game. His clever punnery has reached legendary status and has grown into a tradition unlike any other. A few suggestions for tonight's game…
@awfulannouncing my money’s on something like “The national championship has a NEW Kentucky home…” after he used Old Kentucky Home last year
— Mark Ennis (@Mengus22) April 8, 2013
@awfulannouncing Be-WARE of the Cardinals… Louisville is your national champion!
— Kevin (@kederart) April 8, 2013
@awfulannouncing these wolverines have made a Beilein to the national title
— Jason Grefer (@JasonGrefer) April 8, 2013
@awfulannouncing "Release the white smoke…this Cardinal is on top of the world"
— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) April 8, 2013
Nantz's championship calls represent his perception as an announcer to a wide swath of sports fans. Scripted, safe, predictable, perfectly milquetoast. You won't find very many people with a passionate opinion of Jim Nantz, positive or negative. He doesn't get the praise and adulation of Marv Albert or Al Michaels nor the disdain of Chris Berman or Joe Buck. He's the ideal corporate face for CBS Sports, which is why he'll be announcing all of their biggest sporting events until 2068. Nantz is just as comfortable behind the mic at the Super Bowl or March Madness as he is shaking hands with his friends at Augusta National in famed Butler Cabin.
Those factors are why it's so easy to look past Jim Nantz as an announcer. Nantz is the face of the establishment. He's a fine announcer, but one that will never be the cult favorite like Gus Johnson or Kevin Harlan nor receive the plaudits of a rising star like Ian Eagle. We know what Jim Nantz is and who Jim Nantz is as an announcer and the book has largely been written already.
That's why when I was watching the Final Four on Saturday night, something seemed different. Something sounded different, to be more precise. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until midway through the first game of the evening between Wichita State and Louisville.
Jim Nantz actually sounded excited!
Go back and listen to some of the highlights and the big calls from both semifinals on Saturday night.
"How bout this!"
"Look at that play, McGary running down the floor!"
How often have you ever heard Jim Nantz say "wow" during a game? Nantz didn't suddenly morph into Gus Johnson, (although I did joke on Twitter it sounded like he was shot up with horse steroids) but there was just enough of an increased energy level throughout the night to notice a difference from what I've become accustomed to hearing over the years. And this was with a crowded three man booth where his first priority rotates between calling the action and being a traffic cop for Steve Kerr and Clark Kellogg. Especially during Louisville's comeback when their press was finally sinking in during their second half rally, it sounded like Nantz had as much energy as he did when Phil Mickelson first won the Masters.
Not everyone has to scream with every dunk and change of momentum to be enjoyable as an announcer, of course. I have always thought of Jim Nantz as a golf announcer first and not a college basketball announcer because that's the sport that best fits his temperament as an announcer and the sport he's most closely associated with. Nantz rarely calls any regular season college basketball games (still a point of contention in my view for the voice of March Madness). Yet, Saturday night's action sounded like Jim Nantz was involved in the excitement and flow of the game. It was less the calm and composed storyteller sitting in the 18th tower and more someone truly engaged in the action.
Nantz's work Saturday night was reminiscent of another top announcer, Joe Buck, and how he's added just that extra tenth or two of energy and excitement to his calls in the last year. This wasn't a huge transformation by any stretch, but it was noticeable and it added to the experience of watching the games because it relayed the intensity and energy on the floor and in the building.
Maybe I'm just now noticing Nantz's delivery after so many years of merely seeing him as the announcer that begins every broadcast with "Hello Friends" and ends it with a headline straight from the cover of Sports Illustrated. Maybe none of us have really paid too much attention to Nantz because we're looking for the next in line that deserves his seat. Then again, maybe all the praise for announcers like Johnson and social media buzz has caused announcers like Nantz and Buck to step up their calls a notch.
Whatever the case, I enjoyed Nantz's call of the Final Four on Saturday night. After 23 years of calling the Final Four, I appreciated the sense of renewed energy coming from the broadcast booth.
I'm not expecting Jim Nantz to be a storyline coming out of tonight's title game by any stretch of the imagination. We'll joke about his title winning call and he'll go onto Augusta and the sun will rise as it always has. Even if nobody really notices or cares to notice, I'm hoping he keeps the energy level up for tonight's championship game. Who knows, perhaps tonight will finally be that one Jim Nantz call we'll remember in the March Madness highlight reels. Perhaps we'll even embrace Jim Nantz as the voice of March Madness.