Let’s be honest.
When Tony Romo announced that he was retiring from the Dallas Cowboys and joining CBS Sports as an NFL analyst last spring, the prevailing reaction was suspicion. What kind of broadcast experience did he have? Why was he immediately given the top spot, a spot long held by Phil Simms?
It all seemed a little forced to the outsider.
But to those closest to Romo, his overwhelmingly smooth transition from playing to broadcasting this fall comes as no surprise.
The praise for Romo, working alongside Jim Nantz as CBS’s lead NFL announcing team, came immediately and just about universally early in September.
Romo’s ease in the booth, his ability to clearly explain the intricacies of the game and his penchant for accurately predicting the upcoming play has created substantial excitement around his new career.
He’s funny, he’s informative and he’s a natural.
“Most people know a quarterback and a coach from what they see in press conferences and the sideline snippets that television shows,” Cowboys legendary play-by-play man Brad Sham said. “That’s almost never who the guy is. So if you knew him, yeah, you knew that was his personality and that’s who he is, but most people didn’t know him. You don’t, you can’t.”
Sham thought early on that Romo was going to pick up the broadcast game quickly. It was just a matter of Romo getting used to the technical aspects of calling a game. The stuff viewers don’t see, such as the voice of the producer talking in his ear in the middle of a sentence.
“Once he figured out what was involved, there was no question he was going to be good,” Sham said. “I knew about [Troy] Aikman because I had done a little bit with Aikman before he retired. In Tony’s case, it didn’t take long, but there are little mechanical things that unless you broadcast a game, that never occur to you.”
Why has Romo been so good so quickly? His former coach and teammates saw all the necessary attributes during his playing days.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit. He knows football inside and out. He loves talking about football. He’s got a great personality,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who admitted he’d only seen a few moments of Romo in the booth. “He is a very charming guy and he has taken it by storm from what I hear.”
Garrett is excited to see Romo during production meetings before the Cowboys’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium. This is the first time Romo has called a game of his former team. Romo’s ability to easily communicate with players and coaches in the league has been another reason for his fast start in the booth, CBS producer Jim Rikhoff told Sports Illustrated.
“Tony has real natural ability doing this. Sure, I think we laid a good groundwork, but he does some things that are so natural that you can’t teach,” Rikhoff said. “He has a natural excitement and passion about the game and a great balance of enjoying the game and making people enjoy he and Jim calling it. Most importantly, when he sees what is on the field, he has a great way of expressing it to people in a way they enjoy and understand.”
Mavericks radio play-by-play man Chuck Cooperstein credits Nantz for being the perfect partner for Romo.
“He also has been blessed to work with a great TV play-by-play guy in Jim Nantz, who understands that TV is an analyst’s medium and thus gives his analyst as much time as possible to explain before setting up the next play,” Cooperstein said. “There are some play-by-play guys who aren’t so giving. And I think Tony’s enthusiasm has rubbed off on Jim, who I’ve found to be more passionate and emotional this year. I think they have a heck of a good broadcast.”
Cooperstein said the best analysts are coaching the game for the viewer. Cooperstein calls Tim McCarver the best ever baseball analyst, “because he was managing the game right along with you. Telling you what pitches pitchers should throw, when managers should go to the bullpen, et cetera. Romo is this way in football. He’s coaching along with you. When to run or pass, how best to milk the clock late in the game. Why someone is involved or not involved.”
“He’s excellent,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. “I guess you can just look at any of the reviews of who’s following him and watching his games. Hopefully, he doesn’t call out and guess too many of our plays. He’ll still be very familiar with them so hopefully he can stay away from that.”
Romo helped guide Prescott as a rookie a year ago while on injured reserve on the Cowboys’ sideline. He’d shoot straight with Prescott on the good and bad. Prescott doesn’t expect anything different with Romo the broadcaster.
“I mean, I kind of expect him to be,” he said. “I hope he is. It will be cool to see him and talk to him at the production meeting.”
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who was Romo’s teammate for seven seasons, isn’t surprised by his television success. Like Prescott, Bryant said criticism from Romo wouldn’t faze him.
“He’s a smart guy, that’s why it’s easy for him ... that’s right up his alley,” Bryant said. “I think the NFL needed that, a guy in there with that type of experience.”
Romo’s humor in the booth was on display late in a blowout game on Thursday night last week. A cat ran onto the field and Romo provided analysis of the feline’s slo-motion streak across the field.
“That’s Tony. That sounds just like him,” said Bryant. “He’s a super cool guy. Sarcastic, but funny as [heck]. That’s just who he is.”