Throughout his long broadcasting career, Jim Nantz, who works as CBS’ lead play-by-play announcer for the NFL, college basketball and golf, has only ever called one network his home. That’s a rarity for most broadcasters, but it was exactly how Nantz drew it up as a child.
“I knew when I was 11 years old,” he recalled. “I told my family I wanted to one day work for CBS.” He explained that his desire to be a sportscaster had little to do with wanting to see his face on television. “It had everything to do with wanting to be able to attend these big events and tell stories.”
Beginning next month, Nantz will embark on a 70-day sports marathon that will see him call the Super Bowl, the NCAA men’s basketball national championship and the Masters tournament —the third time in his career that he will helm this envy-inducing trifecta in a single year, having also done so in 2007 and 2010.
“The electricity inside an arena of some 80,000 strong versus a major golf tournament spread out over 100 acres is a different vibe,” he said. “But man, they are both very special.”
At an event this month promoting CBS’ Super Bowl XLVII coverage, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus quipped, “Not a bad run in just 70 days.” For Nantz, however, it’s just another day at the office.
“I don’t prepare any differently for a playoff game or a Super Bowl than I do for a regularseason game,” he said. “I don’t feel the awe of the audience size.” Instead, Nantz gets his joy from being entrusted to spin the game’s tale.
He noted, however, that the site of this year’s Super Bowl holds a special significance. Nantz spent time as a child in New Orleans, even attending the New Orleans Saints’ firstever game back in 1967. “I find it pretty neat to go back to New Orleans,” said Nantz, who has never called a Super Bowl from there. “I have a lot of ties to that city.”
Nantz loves “building and constructing the research for a broadcast,” and joked that viewers often think broadcasters just simply “walk in the booth and a football game breaks out and we just start telling [them] things we see.” Nantz often has pages and pages of research, most of which he doesn’t get to use.
“You don’t have time for a homily in a broadcast— you have time for 15-second stories,” he said. “Having your stories lined up and able to drop them in seamlessly, at the right time— that’s the real heart of the business.”
Nantz said his knack for broadcasting the behind-the-scenes stories more than a game’s X’s and O’s was something he learned from his broadcasting idols, who include the likes of Jim McKay, Chris Schenkel, Keith Jackson, Jack Whitaker, Pat Summerall and Dick Enberg.
“These voices of my youth, they were my heroes,” he said, adding that one of the biggest thrills over his career was that he got to know each of them personally. “They’ve become a part of my life,” Nantz says.
That life destined behind the mic began for Nantz while studying radio and TV at the University of Houston, where he spent time as a spot anchor for the local CBS affiliate (KHOU) and hosted his own call-in radio show on KTRH. “Everything was done in an effort to one day be recognized and get hired by CBS.”
Shortly after he graduated, he left for a job at the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City, where he would get to call his first games for the NBA’s Utah Jazz and Brigham Young University football. Within two years, he got a call from B&C Hall of Famer Ed Goren, who was then a producer at CBS Sports; Goren wanted Nantz to audition for the network’s college football studio show. “My dream was realized when I was 26,” Nantz recalled.
Since then, Nantz has held a variety of studio and broadcast positions in addition to his current roles with the NFL, golf and college basketball. He has worked the Olympic Games, tennis tournaments and even hosted CBS’ coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
While his broadcasting exploits keep him pretty busy, Nantz has plenty of outside interests. “I do juggle a lot of things,” he said.
Most important among them is the Nantz National Alzheimer’s Center (NNAC) at Methodist Hospital in Houston, which was named for his late father, who battled the disease. (Nantz published the book Always By My Side, about their relationship, in 2008.) “It’s an everyday part of my life,” he said.
Four years ago, Nantz started a wine brand, The Calling, with industry entrepreneur Peter Deutsch. Nantz’s goal is to create the “next great American premium wine brand,” but he also uses company earnings to help fund the NNAC: “It’s given me another platform for [the center],” he says.
Nantz has also become a part of the fraternity of sportscasters who have dabbled in the entertainment space, having made cameos over the years on such CBS shows as Criminal Minds; Yes, Dear; and, most recently, a 2010 episode of How I Met Your Mother.
As someone who is used to living in the moment, having scripted lines to read was a bit jarring. “It de! nitely had me a little more nervous than doing live television,” he said. Despite the nerves, Nantz is hopeful for another chance. “I keep waiting for the call back,” he joked.
But fans who might be worried that Nantz would ever quit his day job should just listen to his boss. “I may retire,” McManus said recently, “[but Jim’s] not going to.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays
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