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AA Q&A: Jim Nantz

Jim Nantz has been with CBS Sports since 1985. He hasn’t hosted The Masters for that long, it only seems that way. Nantz has been a college football studio host twice for CBS, called play-by-play on the sport, been on the PGA Tour and The Masters, hosted The NFL Today from 1998 through 2004 and since then, he’s been the main play-by-play man for the NFL on CBS.

Nantz has called every NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four since 1991. He’s been the host of The Masters dating back to 1989 and been in the 18th tower at Augusta since 1995. He’s called Super Bowls XLI, XLIV and XLVII. He’ll be in the booth for Super Bowl 50 in February 2016.

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Starting this season, Nantz will call Thursday Night Football as well as selected Sunday afternoon games.

Over the years, Nantz has worked with various partners such as Greg Anthony, Tim Brant, Randy Cross, Mike Ditka, Sir Nick Faldo, Pat Haden, Lou Holtz, Craig James, Clark Kellogg, Steve Kerr, Pat O’Brien, Billy Packer, Deion Sanders, Phil Simms, Lanny Wadkins, and Ken Venturi.

Earlier this week, Awful Announcing had the opportunity to talk with Nantz at the NFL on CBS Media Day about his work at CBS and one cause in particular that is close to his heart.

Awful Announcing: We at Awful Announcing have been trying to speak to you for years …

Jim Nantz: Oh, come on! Between you and Matt, I’ve been waiting for that phone call! It’s never reached me before.

AA: We’ve talked with people at CBS. We’ve been wanting to talk with you …

JN: You’ve got to go direct to the man!

AA: Well, we’ve finally got you.

JN: I’ve been wondering. Where’s Ken? Where’s Matt? What’s going on here?

AA: Well, Jim. Thanks very much.

JN: It’s my pleasure.

AA: New season .. CBS.

JN: Very exciting season. No question.

AA: I remember when you started doing college football with Pat Haden in the studio …

JN: You’re not old enough to remember that!

AA: Oh yes, I am. I’m older than I look ..

JN: It started right here, where we are standing right now. This is the studio. I debuted in September of 1985.

AA: What does it feel like to be finally calling a primetime football package on CBS?

JN: I can give you the argument that doing the national doubleheader game which we’ve done for years feels like a primetime package because late in the season, you’re playing under the lights, it gets darker earlier and the whole thing. It’s going to be a fresh, new challenge which I’m so excited to be a part of and I embrace it fully and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

AA: You’ve done the studio and you’ve done play-by-play. I remember when you did The NFL Today and you said it was one of your career goals, now you’re doing play-by-play. How do the two differ?

JN: Totally different. Totally different animal. You know, I was brought to CBS to host a studio show from this Studio 43, the Prudential College Football Report. And early in my career, I thought “I’m going to be kind of stereotyped as a studio guy. I want to go do games.” And within four years, I had left the studio to do the main college football games which was back then the CFA package, which was everything in the whole country except for the Big Ten and the Pac-10 at the time with Pat Haden and Tim Brant. Then we lost it.

Now I’m talking 1990. Got involved in the NFL. I did NFL play-by-play for four years, Hank Stram, Randy Cross. Did a playoff game. And of course, I was here when we lost the NFC package and it was devastating. Fox came in and what we thought was out of sight, just ridiculous money, doesn’t look so much now at all and we were on the sidelines, but I stayed here.

I just grew up watching Brent (Musburger) and Irv (Cross) and Phyllis (George) and Jimmy “The Greek” host The NFL Today in Studio 43 in New York and I always thought “Man, that would be cool to do that one day,” and I got to live it for six years and I loved every single minute of it.

But I’m so happy being able to broadcast the games, to have three hours of storytelling, to be in a stadium packed full of energy .. to get there five hours before kickoff and watch the stadium come to life, to prepare for the games. It’s a different level of preparation, charts and boards and spotting boards and meeting with players and coaches. And it’s more classical storytelling which is why I’m in the industry to begin with is to be a storyteller than a studio would ever be. The studio is moving around so fast, if you talk for more than five seconds (pounds table, then imitates a producer), man this is too long! Hand it off to the next guy!

Short answer is I love it. I love the games. I love the intensity of the games and I think we’re gonna see the intensity on Thursday night like we’ve never seen before.

The league gave us a beautiful schedule of divisional games. There’s only one non-divisional game on the entire Thursday night package, that’s besides from Green Bay at Seattle, Week 1 on NBC. There’s a Dallas-Chicago game on December 4th, but other than that, every game is a divisional game which brings out rivalries, which brings out energy, which makes the games doubly meaningful to these teams. And I think we’re going to see at home, a game that suddenly it’s kind of jumping off the screen, whoa! There’s a buzz, there’s some sort of energy wave that I didn’t sense in the past with Thursday Night Football. And I’m excited that we’re going to be right in there with this new scheduling and this new over-the-air network primetime scheduling and get to do the games.

AA: One thing sites like Awful Announcing does is look at what the announcers say. You always seem to come up with a phrase to put a caption on the event. Is that something you work on? Or is that something that comes out?

JN: You mean “Hello, friends?”

AA: No, not, “Hello, friends…”

JN: Oh ok.

AA: No, at the end like when Tiger Woods won The Masters and you said “A win for the ages…”

JN: It’s a case-by-case basis really, Ken.

“A win for the ages..” Tiger led by nine shots on Saturday night and I knew the next day, not only was he going to win, but that clip of him holing out at the 72nd hole was going to be played back over and over again ten years, twenty years, fifty, one hundred, two hundred years from now. Someone would be bringing The Masters broadcast onto the air and they’ll open up with the montage, opening tease what we call in the business and that clip will play and there will be the narrative that went along with it and I was wise to that. I knew that moment had to be something special.

So I’ve had some people come up and say, “Ahhh, gotcha! You pre-meditated that one.” Well darn right I did in that case! Sure I did. And if I didn’t, I wasn’t doing my job. Meanwhile, there were probably 500 media, much of it from out of the country in Augusta. And anyone worth their salt in journalism on Saturday night in 1997 was figuring out what their lede was going to be the next day. If they weren’t, they shouldn’t have been sent back there at somebody else’s expense. They were doing their jobs.

So that one is the one I think of the most because it was a deadlock cinch that it was going to happen and it was going to be an important piece of video. It had to be a line “There it is! A win for the ages,” that would make sense. Why was it important? Well, it was a win that was going to be meaningful forever. So that’s how we came up with that one.

Interesting. About a week ago, we had the PGA Championship and Rory won and I’m not even sure what I said. When I got off the air, (CBS Sports Chairman) Sean McManus said, “What did you say at the end?” And I said something about Rory continues his run with greatness. I said something about a shining star at sunset something like that.

Well, I found out what I did say as the putt dropped, “A shining star at sunset.” Now did I know on Saturday night that this was going to get pushed to the limit? That the sun was going down and that there was a race against darkness? No, it’s just what struck me at that moment.

I think a lot of people have some fun with it and want to see what’s the line going to be. I sometimes compare it though to headline writers. Like I’ve had some people who’ve taken issue “Oh, he scripts all this stuff!” I don’t script. If somebody wants to see … (pounds table) anybody in your industry that wants to come to the booth, they won’t find a script in front of me. And like I’ve had guys before say, “You have those lines,” wait a minute! Did you see what your headline was in your newspaper? Did you see what your back cover said? Did you see what the headline was to your story? Who came up with that quip? I know you didn’t because there’s a separate headline writer. Why don’t you take issue with that?

I’m sitting on an important moment and it’s what strikes me at that moment that’s fitting. The great, great, great majority of the time, there is nothing that sounds to me, you know, memorable to be honest. I couldn’t even tell you this year’s National Championship which UConn won. Not a clue. Kentucky and Louisville the year before, I couldn’t tell.

AA: It’s funny because people like to predict “What is Jim going to say at the end…”

JN: Yeah, I’ve had that.

AA: And some people like Dan Patrick have had fun with it …

JN: Which is good. I consider it a form of flattery. I do. I’ve had people walk into arenas and say, “What are you going to say at the end?” Well, I have no idea what I’m going to say. We’re paid observers really, Ken. We research all week long. You try to cobble together as many decent stories as you can that are placed in the right spots in a broadcast and most of the time, you try to stay out of the way. But then you get to the end of the game, it’s just like the other three hours of the broadcast. It’s what does that moment feel like?

AA: One thing that’s important to you is Alzheimer’s research and your dad …

JN: Succumbed to Alzheimer’s in 2008 and I knew after I wrote a book “Always By My Side” that there was such a reaction to the Alzheimer’s community and the caregiving community that I had to do something much, more more than just write a book. And look, I’ve been given this wonderful gift of living out a childhood dream. Every day’s a blessing. It’s not a bunch of puff. It’s truly what’s in my heart. I’m grateful. I say my thanks every day that I get the chance to do exactly as an 11 year old boy I could only hope to do and actually said this is what I want to do right down to the network.

So you’re given this gift of having the chance to live out this dream … well I needed to do something other than having the best seat in the house 47 weeks a year at some of the greatest championships in American sports.

I’ve got a platform and I’ve discovered that through “Always By My Side” that there is an Alzheimer’s community that was starved for someone to stand up and carry the flag and wave the banner and say “we need research, we need help, we need funding” and in 2011, we opened, named for my father, the Nantz National Alzheimer’s Center where people can find out more about it at Nantzfriends.org, as the most state-of-the-art research center for traumatic brain injury, for Alzheimer’s research. We just recruited a year ago, Dr. Joe Masdeu from the National Institute of Health, who’s probably the foremost advanced bio imagereader in the world.

We’ve put a team together there at (Houston) Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center led by Dr. Stan Appel, that is driven to find out answers in the world of Alzheimer’s and I hope to really one day to be able to broaden it to all neurodegenitive diseases because I think they’re all related. Again I’m a layman, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a trained researcher, but I do believe that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and ALS and Huntington’s Disease and MS, they’re all somehow tangled together and if we can start finding answers out about one, it’s going to affect others positively to about this research.

I appreciate you asking me about it because this is my other life.

We thank Jim Nantz for taking the time to talk with us and to discover that he’s not only a fan of Awful Announcing, but also his work in fighting Alzheimer’s and other traumatic brain injuries. Jim has asked that we post a link to Nantzfriends.org to find out more about the Nantz National Alzheimer’s Center in Houston.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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