Credit: CBS

“I know I’ll probably stink for a while.”

That was Tony Romo in May 2017 as he prepared for his first season as an analyst for CBS. Turns out, he couldn’t have been more wrong. At least, at the time.

The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback drew rave reviews for his debut alongside Jim Nantz while CBS brass said he had “exceeded our expectations” with his exuberant exclamations and innate ability to predict plays.

While networks often have high hopes for former players transitioning into the booth, few ever seem to put it all together so fast like Romo. He parlayed that early success into a very lucrative contract in 2020 that made him the highest-paid NFL analyst at the time.

When former NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol lobbed some criticism at Romo in October 2022, saying he “does not seem to be the storyteller that he should be,” it was seen as overly harsh. However, pretty soon after, the good vibes from those early years vanished and audiences started to sour on the analyst.

His thoughtful analysis and predictive wizardry were replaced by generic platitudes and obvious statements. Viewers were more likely to notice his grunting and loud noises rather than remember any cogent discussion points. It started to feel to many like they were watching a game with an annoying roommate instead of a football expert. He also fell victim to the classic NFL analyst trap of becoming infatuated with certain quarterbacks and losing the ability to effectively critique them. All of a sudden, Dick Ebersol looked pretty prescient.

The drumbeat about Romo’s drop-off became so loud that people started wondering if CBS would come to regret the massive deal they’d given him. Then came news that CBS executives had attempted an “intervention” with Romo. CBS Sports chair Sean McManus initially called it a “mischaracterization” but later admitted that he had “emphasized…some ways I thought [Romo] could be better”).

Initially, Romo tried to take the criticism in stride while Nantz claimed there was some kind of “agenda” at work. Eventually, Romo joined him in the “agenda” camp.

While the offseason allowed things to cool down, Romo entered the 2023-2024 NFL season with something to prove. Signaling a return to form, criticism died down early on in the season. Some said that social media had gotten its pound of flesh and was done with Romo. Others presumed that critics had turned their bullseye on Al Michaels instead. There’s also a case to be made that Romo just wasn’t in the national spotlight for much of the NFL season.

While Nantz and Romo remain CBS’s No. 1 team, they didn’t exactly have the sexiest selection of games this year. They were stuck on Jets duty early on as that team tried to make Zach Wilson happen. They called a few Patriots games, which wasn’t the draw it used to be. They did a couple of Lions and Ravens games, but neither team was truly in the national limelight at that point. It wasn’t really until Week 13 (Bills-Eagles) and Week 14 (Bills-Chiefs) when Nantz and Romo were regularly speaking to the nation.

It is perhaps not coincidental that the anti-Romo sentiment started to kick up again around this time. It became pretty commonplace to see Romo trending on X/Twitter during these games for all the wrong reasons. His affinity for Josh Allen and the Bills became a full-on trope. His ongoing presumption that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are married became a common confusion. Things boiled over in the playoffs where Romo’s weird vocabulary, awkward moments, and obvious Bills rooting interest brought things full circle for a lot of viewers.

It would be unfair to say that the Romo hate is universal. He has plenty of defenders. For the record, he and Nantz came in sixth (out of 17 broadcasting teams) in Awful Announcing’s 2023 NFL Announcer Rankings, which are based on reader grades. There are plenty of people out there who enjoy his calls or, perhaps even better, don’t have a strong opinion about him (a compliment in its own way).

However, as Romo gets ready to call the AFC Championship and, in two weeks, Super Bowl LVIII, the spotlight on him and Nantz is turning back into a bullseye. This time, it’s hard to blame it all on a shadowy agenda.

“It was almost cringeworthy at times listening to Romo,” said Sports Business Journal’s Austin Karp on Wednesday’s episode of The Marchand and Ourand Podcast when discussing his and Nantz’s performance over the weekend. “I think he has really lost whatever mojo he started with.”

Karp added that there seems to be a disconnect in the booth between Nantz and Romo, something audiences shouldn’t be feeling six years into a broadcasting partnership.

“They’re not there. They’re not in sync at all. Like you see almost every time with [Joe] Buck and [Troy] Aikman, I’m just not feeling it with Nantz and Romo,” said Karp. “The rapport is getting worse and not better, I feel. And that’s not what you want to see, especially given the money that he got a couple of years ago.”

Podcast host and NY Post reporter Andrew Marchand said that the issue isn’t specific to Romo but that the booth as a whole is having problems.

“They make a lot of mistakes,” said Marchand. “They kind of make calls where they say it’s caught or they’re confused. The one that really stuck out was the fake punt when Sean McDermott called that with Damar Hamlin. Could’ve been an amazing story considering his backstory. And then they didn’t get it… That was like the biggest call of the year and when you listen to that call it just didn’t hit the moment in any way.”

“I know CBS is trying to make it work,” added Marchand. “They’re trying hard to figure out ways to enhance it but it’s a struggle right now. The next two weeks, or really three weeks, it’s gonna be something to watch, the Romo-Nantz combination.”

Here’s the rub for Romo and CBS. While having the rights to the Super Bowl is what every NFL broadcasting partner wants, if there’s outsized attention on the problems in their booth, it could end up creating some very unintended consequences.

Whereas last year was a coming-out party for Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen, CBS’s goal this year might be to figure out how to minimize Romo. At the very least, cut down on the chances for audiences to notice the things they’ve come to dislike about his style. That’s asking a lot when 115+ million people are tuning in and paying very close attention to your broadcast.

Had Olsen stunk up the Super Bowl last year, Fox had Tom Brady waiting in the wings. If Romo ends up being on everyone’s “Thumbs Down” list on Monday, there isn’t really any backup plan for CBS. It’s one thing for the Week 7 regional audience to come away annoyed at Romo, it’s something else altogether for the Super Bowl audience to remember how much they disliked him (and for that to be a talking point the next day).

Maybe this is just how it is. There are plenty of loud Cris Collinsworth, Joe Buck, and Troy Aikman haters out there but that’s not reflected in overall announcer grades. Maybe we’re just still settling into what the Tony Romo experience was meant to be. Grating and annoying to some but ultimately not enough so that it becomes a true problem. Maybe he’ll work through it and his quirks will become weirdly charming again.

Like the man said back in 2017, “I know I’ll probably stink for a while.” Maybe he just had the timeline wrong.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to