B+C Hall of Fame 2023 Speeches: Jim Nantz, CBS Sports Announcer
Lifetime Achievement Award winner's 18-minute speech, no notes or teleprompter, closes the evening on May 3
The 31st Broadcasting+Cable Hall of Fame class was inducted on May 3 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom at a black-tie dinner. The final speech of the evening fell to Jim Nantz, the CBS Sports announcer and recipient of the hall's Lifetime Achievement Award, a distinction the legendary sports voice referred to jokingly once or twice in his 18-minute speech, spoken behind a blank teleprompter. The evening emcees were NBC News's Craig Melvin and CBS Sports's Tracy Wolfson. Here is Nantz's speech (video is here).
OK. Hello friends, and good evening. I'm just gonna check my phone for a minute here. It's 8:57. Bill [McGorry, the B+C Hall chairman], I want to thank you, because you told me a couple days ago, "You’re gonna be the last man up, but you have to be done at 9:30.” [Laughter.] So we're gonna get a little extended play here tonight. Thirty-three minutes of my career coming up. Bill, I promised you, I promised you, I've gotta live up to my words. So, um, here's the long-form version of my story.
Actually, how great have both Craig and Tracy been tonight? I mean, I'm so proud of Tracy. Craig's awesome. I did the back half of this night, well, it was, it was 12 years ago. Regis [Philbin] did the front half. I did the back half. I said goodnight. It was 11:18. [Laughter.] Yeah, I'm not kidding. And when everyone walked out that night, somebody walked out with an idea for a new show: The Walking Dead. Yeah, great creative ideas come out of this evening. Sean McManus, an amazing friend and leader, boss. He was the one who originally called me and told me that I was receiving this award. He said, "Jim, you're getting the BC lifetime achievement award." I said, "Sean, I didn't go to Boston College. I went to Houston." And I couldn't believe it, because I had been here before and I sat out there to cheer on Sean, getting his induction. I think it was 2011. Never in a million years did I think that I would be on this stage in this capacity. Never. It still makes no sense to me. It truly doesn't make any sense to me.
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I would congratulate my fellow inductees, except I'm not an inductee. I'm the old guy. [Laughter.]
I get the Lifetime Achievement Award. [Laughter.] Never been made to feel so old and ancient in my life. So thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. How come I didn't get the Hall of Fame? And Al [Roker] didn't get the Lifetime Achievement Award. Ray Cole said he was 68 years old, that is way older than I am. He got the Hall of Fame. I got the Lifetime Achievement Award. [Laughter.] Makes no sense. [Laughter.]. None of this does. My career. I don't know where they got that 18 generations down the road video of me talking into a camera.
But the true story. I was 11 years old. I had this obsession with wanting to work for CBS. Totally obsessed. I know that's not a good thing, but I was obsessed. I admit to it. Fast forward 15 years later, I'm 26 years old, I get a call out of the blue to come to New York to audition for the host of the College Football Scoreboard show. This was 1985. It happened literally overnight. I got the call and the next morning I was on a plane to New York to go audition at the Broadcast Center on 57th Street. I was so excited to get that call that when I got to New York and got dressed to go down to the broadcast center, I suddenly realized I had forgotten to pack a tie.
Staying at this hotel on this block. And I walked to the Broadcast Center and I ducked into a clothing store that no longer exists. There's a Greek restaurant or something right up here on Seventh Avenue between 54th and 57th, somewhere in there. And I grabbed a very thin yellow tie, thinner than the one I'm wearing tonight. And I thought, OK, that might look stylish. Not. But I went in and I did a couple of scoring segments without any advanced warning of how this was gonna work, ad-libbing through the whole thing, which is comfortable for me. I hate scripts and I hate teleprompters because I feel like I've got a deer in the headlights look into a teleprompter. So my goal, my whole career has been to ad lib through it all. [Applause.] I would rather be uneven, choppy, stumbling through it, but talking from right here, than being letter perfect and clean and scripted. So I went into the Broadcast Center, I was the fifth of five to audition. Went through a couple of scoring segments, and then they said for the third segment, they're gonna bring out a college football expert and you need to interview him.
And around the corner comes this guy and he sticks a hand out and says, I'm Mike Francesa. [Laughter.] Says, you ask me anything you want. We did like a four-minute segment. I won the audition. I was 26 years old. This has been my dream. The first three or four years of my life, Mike Francesa was behind the scenes, behind the cameras, coaching me.
Again, nothing was scripted, but he would be almost like a conductor or an orchestra leader. And he'd be hanging on my every word, encouraging me. I could get through it. Because I was nervous, I was mortified. I had massive anxiety. Mike's here tonight. I wouldn't have made it in this business if it wasn't for Mike lifting me on his shoulders back when I was just a kid. And, um, he dedicated those four years through football, basketball, the Final Fours and hosting, all of that. And of course he went on to become a huge massive star here in New York. But Mike, thank you man, you're a wonderful friend.
Then I was talking about Sean. So this, this dream is, uh, building and building and building. And I hear all these voices of my youth. A lot of you know who they are. The Pat Summeralls and Jack Whitakers and Kurt Gowdys and Keith Jacksons. It's a dangerous game to go down this road. Chris Schenkel, and the ultimate one, Jim McKay. I wrote them letters. Rachael [Ray], you get letters. Soledad [O'Brien], you get letters. Al you get letters. Tracy, I know you get a lot of mail. What do you do with them, Craig? What do you do with them? I feel an obligation to write every single one of 'em back because Jim McKay wrote me back.
Of course, what do you do when he writes you back? You hurriedly write him back again. [Laughter.] You wanna, you wanna create a relationship. But no, I was in awe of him. So much so that when I graduated from college, he said, “Hey, I'm really proud of you. Why don't you come up to Connecticut? We'll play a round of golf.” And I did. I hopped on a plane and I slept on a locker room floor at a place called the Connecticut Golf Club in Easton, Connecticut. And the next morning I played 18 holes with my hero. It was bigger than life, but it made it all feel like it was possible. I was around greatness and he was encouraging and uplifting and I wanted to be him. And I hung on his every word. Three years later, I was hired by CBS, through a roundabout way of obsessing and dreaming, working passionately.
My friendship with Jim McKay became larger and larger as time would go on. So much to the point that, when he did his last show, it was at The Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2000, I had to be there, for his last show. I called and asked, fearing he might think this is getting past the line of friendship and into the realm of stalking. [Laughter.] I said, “Would you mind if I came over and was with you on the morning of your last show?” He said, “If you would really come all the way over to St. Andrews, Scotland, absolutely.” So I did. And I went over there to see him.
What was really nice, uh, it also happened to coincide with Tiger completing his career Grand Slam. And I wanted to be there to see that too, as it would turn out he would win that one and become the youngest ever to do that. But the morning of the final round, I went to the Rusacks Hotel in Scotland and I called his room from the lobby. And I went up to his room, knocked on the door, expecting to see Jim McKay in the biggest three-bedroom suite with the baby grand piano you ever saw in your life. Instead, it was a room, 10 by 14 maybe. I mean, it was so small. A tiny desk, one little twin bed. He wasn't even overlooking the 18th hole, he was overlooking the street. There was a bottle of red wine on the windowsill that had been uncorked, about halfway consumed, with a little wine glass there.
He had his notes on the desk. I sat there for an hour and just talked to him about his career, that magical journey that I wanted to live for myself. Now at this point, I'm 15 or 16 years into my career at CBS, but I was looking at the back end of it. He was 79, he was ready to go home. He missed Margaret. He'd had a difficult time connecting through Heathrow to get to St. Andrews. And he dreaded at this point going back through that to get back to Maryland. Here's a man who traveled the world and brought the world to us when Wide World of Sports really introduced us to the world. He was our tour guide. And he was not a road warrior anymore. All he wanted to do was be home with his family. I'm 63. I don't quite have that same feeling that he had that day. But I can see that, I can see how that comes. We're road warriors, those of us in live sports television. It's the golden hamster wheel.
We're storytellers. You know, I'm uplifted by stories. I heard — Wonya [Lucas], I don't know you, but that was beautiful what you said. And Mr. Bond, that death-defying experience that you went through. Uplifting. To hear the positivity in this room in a day when you're a storyteller or you're a member of the media and people think that's a bad thing. Tonight is affirmation that there's a lot of really good people in our industry, in front of and in back of.
I hate that term by the way, I'm sorry I even said it. We're all in front of, this is all in front of us. This is our lives. This is what we do. We inform people, we present them content, we tell them stories. But the positivity is what I've spent my whole career trying to do. Trying to be like Jim McKay, who took me around the world. Sean, you've been an amazing friend. I can't even begin to thank you for what you've done for my career. To work side by side with you, storybook. That's the way it's been. So thank you for that, Sean McManus.
We have, in sports television, there is no script. I was gonna joke that with the writers' strike that I have nothing to say tonight. OK? I wish everybody well on figuring that one out. But we are, we are extemporaneous speakers and storytellers. We see something and instantaneously we have to tell you what we see. And so do the people behind it. There I go again, but I'm talking directors here. I'm talking about the people that put the story on the line visually. After all, we are a visual medium, and I have to be respectful of that and just be a little bit of an undercurrent.
And I see out here tonight, friends like Suzanne Smith, who I started with. Mark Grant, who I had the blessing of working the Final Four with this year. He directed that. And Bob Fishman is here tonight, who just got the Lifetime Achievement Award by the DGA in Los Angeles, the first sports director in history to ever get that recognition. They are storytellers and I'm in awe of them.
So we only have 20 minutes to go. [Laughter.] I want to to say this. I've got my CBS family, I can't see, but they're table 15. I love you all. Thank you Jen Sabatelle. Thank you Harold Bryant, you're awesome. Steve Karasik, thank you. You guys live it every single day. I know David Burson's not here tonight, but I want to recognize him. And then I have my family and friends' table over here. Melissa [Miller], who for 25 years I've been honored to have her represent me in virtually everything, in my work and personal life, as my chief of staff. Sounds important. And she is important. She's vitally important in my life. Sandy Montag, who's just an extraordinary friend, the first stats guy I ever had. Now he is a big time agent, doing great things. But my Caroline. Caroline Beasley, you were here tonight and I was hearing all those stories about your dad. My Caroline is here tonight. She's my first of three. She doesn't know this. I've never worn these until tonight. She's a little girl who had to put up with her dad being gone all the time.
I don’t know if you can see these on the IMAG. Can you see that? Cufflink of a little girl with a smile on her face?
To my Caroline, my Finley, my Jameson. I can't thank you enough for putting up with daddy wandering around the world, wondering around the world, wandering around the world, whatever it is. Somebody put in a prompter for me, please. [Laughter.] Um, tolerating this nomadic life as I continue to chase an 11 year old's dream. These are great nights when you walk away feeling inspired. I hope one day I do get in one hall of fame. It's a tough one. There're only three voters. It has to be unanimous. And that's for one day for my kids to say on my last day that I was a hall of game dad throughout, throughout it all.
So I'm getting outta here, Bill. We're gonna leave early. This is not gonna be the night of The Walking Dead. But on that night, a month ago, it was a month ago tonight. It was April 3rd. I didn't even think of that, Tracy. It was April 3rd. I didn't want to have anything about this being my last of 37 Final Fours. And at one point, Grant Hill and Bill Raftery tried to bring it up and I said, no, this is not my night. This night belongs to Dan Hurley and the National Champion UConn Huskies. But they circled back after the confetti had fallen and Tracy had done an interview with, uh, with the coach. They came back and they said something. And now I knew with a countdown of 30 seconds to go and the music underneath, that perfect little NCAA music bed undercurrent. You heard it in the tape. But I'll say it again, for the last time.
We've been given a responsibility to do a lot of things. Those of us and every one of us in this room. Everybody has a dream. Everybody. Everybody has a story. Try to find that story in others. Try to find it. Your relationship will be better. And be kind. Wonya, you said that a couple of times tonight. And be kind.
And yes, I make eye contact with that camera every time I come on, as a message to my late father saying, “Hello, friends.” I'm talking to him. It makes me fall into the broadcast feeling I'm speaking to one person. But that night I said it, and I'll say it tonight, to everyone in this room, especially my family and friends at tables 14 and 15, those who have come here to support me tonight from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being my friend.
Thank you all very much.
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Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.