Tony Romo Brings Unbridled Love of Football to CBS
ATLANTA — The NFL on CBS has spent years preparing for this moment. Their expansive broadcast team lines the stage at Georgia World Congress Center while media outlets from Australia to LA anxiously wait to hear from the CBS analysts, announcers, and reporters discuss the network’s broadcast of Super Bowl LIII. Not surprising the interest in Tony Romo is particularly thick. CBS Sports Chairman, Sean McManus, tells the crowd CBS thought of this moment when hiring Tony Romo in 2017. Romo, who has quickly become a household favorite, has a boyish charm on-stage. He’s still lean from his playing days and has a quick back-and-forth with Jim Nantz, his broadcast partner, friend, and, according to Romo, the “perfect storm” of play-by-play announcers.
An audience member asks Romo to flex his now famous predictions and Romo obliges. “The final score of the Super Bowl will be 28-24.” Romo adds to the awed crowd, “The team who has 24 will have the ball at the end and won’t score.” The room felt quiet, and I know what every person in there is thinking because I’m thinking it too, “Could Tony Romo be right, and if he is, how crazy would it be?”
Later, I met Tony in a private room, where he sat comfortably. His charm is on full display as he talks to more media outlets, this time one-on-one, a setting it’s obvious he prefers to the crowded scene a few minutes earlier.
Romo is dressed in a blue suit, with a barely noticeable checker pattern. He wears a white dress shirt and white no-lace sneakers, which he reaches down during one interview to clean. He is relaxed and talking about a game he loves, and it’s this point that makes him such a special talent. When Romo begins to speak about football, it’s as he’s morphed into a child thrilled to share his favorite story.
“It’s football, and I enjoy it,” he says before pausing to think. “I feel like I want to get you involved. I want you to care about what we’re watching and get excited,” he said. “When I’m talking through the game I just want to be like, ‘What would you care about in this moment to get you interested?’”
The CBS crew is aware of Romo’s rare talent that for some has sparked a renewed interest in football. While NFL viewership as a whole was up five percent from the 2017 season, CBS specifically saw an increase of six percent. In addition, CBS touted three of the five most-watched games of the season, all games Jim Nantz and Tony Romo called together.
“It just feels like I got lucky,” Romo recounts. “Being in a great spot, obviously with Jim Nantz and our whole team at CBS.” When I analogize Romo’s broadcasts to the Rocky series, his curiosity is peaked. I tell him people who don’t even like boxing love Rocky and add he does that for football games. He chuckles and says he’ll take the Rocky reference.
“It just doesn’t feel like it’s more than just me trying to educate and also make it fun,” he says. “Over three hours watching anything, everyone’s on their phone and everybody just kind of does their thing, but how do we keep your attention? It’s hard. I know how I am, and so I think I’m going to talk about this because I’m getting bored. And by the end of it, it’s like oh that’s more fun.”
However, some of those ratings are more indicative of the games than those calling them, something Romo recognizes. “When the game is great, everything is easy. It’s just like, call the game, talk about how big of a play this is, and try to communicate it.”
Another part of Romo’s success is his team. Working alongside broadcast legend Jim Nantz and sideline veteran Tracy Wolfson helps Romo who’s just in his second year with CBS.
Bragging on his booth partner, he says. “You can’t quantify [what Jim Nantz means to my career] because without him I have no idea how average I would be. He makes my job way easier. He’s so talented. He’s got such wisdom, advice and he’s got such a history. He such a good person. I like him all the way around. I like hanging out with him, I like calling games with him, and he’s better than everybody at this.”
It’s not just Nantz that makes the CBS crew special; the team has a special chemistry that shows when I ask Romo what we should ask Wolfson when she appears on the TFG pod, a conversation which has since occurred. Romo takes the longest for this question. He thinks of something before changing his mind noting “better not go there,” then finally settles on, “Who has the girly-est drink at dinner out of everyone at CBS?” He quickly adds, “I bet she goes with our producer Jim Rikhoff.” Some remaining CBS executives laugh, and Tony makes eye-contact with them as he chuckles. I feel like I’ve been let in behind the scenes; it’s the same feeling I get watching Tony call games every week.