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Jim Nantz Recognizes the Grind and Appreciates the Journey with CBS Sports

Within every corner of Augusta National Golf Club, there is liveliness and tradition as competitors strive for entry into Butler Cabin to receive the heralded green jacket. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Scottie Scheffler are just some of the more recent names who have garnered the title, cementing themselves as champions and commanding the respect of their peers. Over the last several decades, Jim Nantz has been present for every playing of the Masters Tournament, narrating the clinching moments with a scintillating resonance that has left an enduring mark on generations of sports fans.

During the 2019 Masters, Woods was battling through adversity in trying to overcome a fourth back surgery and a decade-long championship drought. Amen Corner proved costly for several golfers, and Woods was able to capitalize by sinking a two-putt par and chipping in a birdie four holes later. Unlike his first Masters win in 1997, Woods’ victory was more difficult to prognosticate, rendering it difficult to think about how the moment could materialize. Nantz did not have anything planned and found out that his family was present as he walked up to the green. The improbable triumph represented a moment that Nantz documented with poignancy and prestige, emphasizing a return to glory for the decorated athlete.

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“We go on this journey together to watch it unfold; to find out what is in someone’s heart; to find out what it takes to be a champion,” Nantz said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be entrusted with to document those moments in someone else’s life.”

The calls stand the test of time and have impacted the athletes themselves, as evinced by Keegan Bradley after his Traveler’s Championship victory last year. While Nantz was on the putting green this year at Pebble Beach, Bradley came to thank him for what he said last year and said that it meant the world to him. As a golf commentator, Nantz views each tournament as its own movie and is granted different chances to chronicle history, but the Masters itself has a distinctive feel as “a tradition unlike any other.”

“To me, it has this vibe to it that every year you go there, it feels even more important, and maybe it’s the fact that I’ve now broadcast the Masters for 39 years since 1986,” Nantz said. “I’ve done 39 Masters tournaments, and I know I’m not going to have 39 more. As a matter of fact, I hope, good Lord willing, I hope I get a chance to do 12 more. I would like to get to 51; that is my career goal at this point.”

Nantz originally wanted to call 50 editions of the Masters, but former announcer Jack Whitaker convinced him to extend his goal by one year in order to reach the 100th playing of the tournament. Whitaker, who made his remarks after presenting Nantz with an award in Los Angeles, Calif., thought that he needed to be there to see it and that Augusta would need him there to usher in the next century.

“It was one of the finest pieces of wisdom and compliments at the same time that I’ve ever received in my life,” Nantz said. “So unfortunately, it’s getting closer; it’s drawing near.”

“Hello, Friends.”

After developing a pen-pal relationship with announcer Jim McKay in his youth, Nantz was invited by the award-winning broadcaster to play a round of golf and visit. The experience remains distinctive for Nantz, who vividly remembers advice that McKay gave him to communicate to one person when looking into the camera and to isolate his thoughts. Gazing into the diaphragmatic abyss to begin the broadcast one day, Nantz began the assignment by saying “Hello, friends,” a tribute to his father battling Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it is from the meadows of Augusta or within a broadcast booth four levels above the gridiron, the introduction persists and has become synonymous with Nantz behind the microphone.

“Until I said ‘Hello, friends’ and that became ritualistic for me, I didn’t know exactly what Jim McKay had told me years and years before,” Nantz explained. “I began to talk to one person – it was my father on the other side of the lens.”

Nantz does not feel complacency when he arrives in Augusta, Ga. every year; rather, he emits a sense of gratitude that he has been bestowed the coveted assignment. Even though he has been on the broadcast for 39 years, he feels more nervous calling the action than anything else he feels amid the broadcast. The origin of this self-applied pressure is something Nantz discovered while taping an episode of his annual special, Jim Nantz Remembers Augusta, interviewing three-time Masters Tournament champion Nick Faldo. Faldo explained that every time he took a shot on the course, it was a reflection of his ability and the realization of a moment he strived to attain.

“He didn’t know it, but that is the exact way that I’ve approached that broadcast since I was 26 years old,” Nantz said. “Every story; everything that leaves my lips is a matter of record on my ability that I trained my whole life to be to be sitting at Augusta to call that tournament, and I want it to be just right.”

The NFL on CBS

This past season, the NFL on CBS attained several viewership milestones to establish new records. Leading up to its broadcast of Super Bowl LVIII, CBS averaged 45.61 million viewers during the postseason, marking its strongest viewership since the network resumed telecasting NFL games in 1998. The AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens averaged 55.47 million viewers, marking the most-watched iteration of the event ever recorded. Within the regular season, CBS Sports had large audiences for its Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day games, all of which encapsulated a viable precursor to the ultimate endeavor many years in the making.

“The game is a book, and each play is a separate chapter, and you have roughly 130 chapters in this story that you’re going to tell, but you don’t know which chapter is the pivotal one, so you have to be ready for each and every one,” Nantz said. “I love that challenge, so I [try not] to overthink it; I really try to just be a fan.”

Leading into a typical NFL broadcast, Nantz is preparing throughout the week by reading, conducting interviews and reviewing key information. Once the game arrives, Nantz is situated in the broadcast booth alongside lead game analyst and former NFL quarterback Tony Romo, with whom he has worked for the last six seasons. Over that time, they have developed a relationship and built chemistry to allow themselves to accurately capture the game in a comprehensive and compelling manner.

“Instead of looking at the monitors or looking at the field standing side-by-side but not making eye contact, it’s the exact opposite,” Nantz said. “We’re making eye contact throughout the course of the broadcast, I mean constantly. When the play happens, our eyes go to the field. When the ball is tackled down or incomplete, we turn to one another and we communicate with one another, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to have that opportunity for a conversation with my partner on the air, and Tony’s been just ideal with that.”

Romo entered the sports media industry following his retirement from the NFL without any previous broadcasting experience, inking a 10-year contract with CBS Sports to broadcast games. The former quarterback, however, quickly showcased his aptitude and prowess on the telecasts and thrived in the new role.

Nantz and Romo called a series of rehearsal games in a studio with little to no preparation, a challenging endeavor that strengthened their bond and assembled a paradigm. The duo also announced three preseason games in person and built on the progress they had made. Tom Brady is on the precipice of starting his 10-year contract with FOX Sports and could experience the challenges that the role frequently presents.

“It’s just there’s that learning curve of, ‘How do you do this? I mean, man, that game just flew by. It moved so quickly,’” Nantz said. “That’s always the common theme that you hear from newcomers, and I’m sure that’s something that Tom’s going to feel as well.”

Continuing to develop a sense of timing and rapport as they called games, Nantz and Romo called their first Super Bowl as a duo at the conclusion of their second season working together. The matchup turned out to be the last time Brady won a championship as a member of the New England Patriots. Nantz and Romo called another Super Bowl broadcast two seasons later under health and safety restrictions implemented amid a devastating, unprecedented global pandemic.

This past February, Nantz called his seventh Super Bowl as a broadcaster as the Kansas City Chiefs faced the San Francisco 49ers. The week leading up to the game was replete with different obligations, including team meetings, an awards ceremony and a press conference. Nantz tried to keep things as normal as possible, preparing in the same way that he did during the regular season.

The game had plenty of star power with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Brock Purdy and Deebo Samuel among the cohort of players competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Moreover, award-winning singer and songwriter Taylor Swift was in the stands supporting the Chiefs and Kelce, whom she began to date several months earlier.

Super Bowl LVIII spanned four quarters and nearly a full overtime, ending on a game-winning touchdown caught by Mecole Hardman resulting in jubilance and despondency. Nantz did his best to depict the moment, punctuating the victory by exclaiming, “Jackpot, Kansas City!,” and allowing the euphoria to tell the rest.

“I’ve never been more proud of a show than what we did for the Super Bowl,” Nantz said. “There’s not a play or a call or a story that I want back – none, zero.”

“Jackpot, Kansas City!”

Super Bowl LVIII on CBS was the most-watched telecast in history with a total audience delivery of 123.7 million average viewers across platforms, including the CBS television network, Paramount+, Nickelodeon and Univision, along with CBS Sports, Univision and NFL digital properties. This broke the previous record set the year prior and also attained the highest unduplicated total audience in history with 202.4 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics. Although Nantz recognizes that the audience size for the Super Bowl is unparalleled, he approaches the high-stakes championship game in a similar manner to other broadcasts.

“It not only set records, it set a record that it’ll be ready hard to break that one in terms of audience size,” Nantz said. “I think it’ll sit on the shelf for a long time.”

Super Bowl LVIII on CBS won three Sports Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and received plaudits from those within the sports media business. Nantz estimates that he has called between 400 and 500 NFL games in his career and regards that broadcast as his favorite to have ever called in that area. Furthermore, he is fortunate to have worked with nearly 1,000 people involved in the broadcast who have earned the chance to work on the premier event of the football season.

“That one will be around for a long time as the standard for the most-watched television event – not sporting event – television event in American history,” Nantz said, “and I’m just really proud of Jim Rikhoff’s leadership, Mike Arnold’s directing of that game and everyone that answered to those two leaders because they do lead us through these shows.”

While the network has broadcast the big game before and is scheduled to do so again in the future, Super Bowl LVIII represented the last such broadcast under Sean McManus, the longtime chairman of CBS Sports. McManus retired from the sports media industry this past April after 27 years leading CBS Sports and was pivotal in reacquiring NFL rights and growing the division’s overall portfolio. McManus, the son of Jim McKay, grew up around sports media and has left an indelible legacy as a venerated, shrewd voice in the industry.

“We had our farewells and goodbyes to him at the Super Bowl, at the Final Four and then of course the last one being at the Masters,” Nantz said. “My life and my career is so intertwined with Sean – it goes way back – and I am so proud to be able to work hand in hand with Sean all those years. He will always be somebody that I’ll treasure the fact that we did these things together, and I hope he feels the same way.”

Signing Off from Houston

Nantz had always possessed a penchant for CBS, doing everything that he could to elicit the recognition of the broadcast network in his formative years in the business. While he was studying at the University of Houston, Nantz worked as a fill-in anchor for KHOU-TV and full time for the CBS Radio affiliate in the city. Throughout the process of honing his craft, Nantz played mind games to determine where he stood nationally, data that was harder to access because of the absence of the internet.

“I didn’t know what else was going on around the country, but I had to think that being in the fourth-largest city in the country and being on air on a network affiliate, I was doing good things,” Nantz said. “I was doing good things in pursuit of my goal, and I was completely – my life was overtaken by this goal – I mean, it was truly overtaken.”

Operating as a one-man band, Nantz did not always have time to write his own scripts and ad-libbed his way through the shows, growing comfortable speaking extemporaneously with purpose. He has been able to maintain the skill over the years and focus on speaking in a genuine, sincere manner to the audience rather than reading copy. At the same time, he also heeds the advice of legendary golf producer Frank Chirkinian of being himself and exuding his passion for the game.

“I would rather know what we want to say and stumble through it if I do as long as it sounds heartfelt,” Nantz said. “I would rather be choppy and real as opposed to being clean, perfect and unrelatable, which is what happens when you get locked in with that glazed-over look staring at a prompter.”

Nantz achieved his goal of working at CBS a few years later, originally contributing to golf and college football coverage in a variety of roles. When Brent Musburger left the company in 1990, he was promoted to the lead play-by-play announcing role for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Four. Following the end of the NFL season, Nantz would generally prepare to call contests throughout the tournament, including the National Championship Game, but this year signified a change in routine. The University of Connecticut Huskies secured the championship over the San Diego State Aztecs, after which Nantz expressed his sincere appreciation and gratitude as he signed off March Madness for the 32nd and final time.

“It was Houston, my gateway city to my career, and it was a CBS year, and the only thing that could have made it any better would have been if my alma mater would have been playing in the Final Four,” Nantz said. “We were a 1-seed, my Houston Cougars, but we got knocked out in the Sweet 16. But it felt right; it felt absolutely just right.”

Ian Eagle called the Final Four this year on television for the first time while Nantz took a block of time away from the business that he had not had for nearly four decades. For many years, his workload required a year-round commitment to calling several sports without an extended rest.

Nantz refers to it as the “golden hamster wheel” he has been on since the 1980s, and while he understands the gravity of what he has achieved, he wanted to step back and spend more time with his family. As a result, Nantz was able to enjoy spring break with his family and attend March Madness as a fan, including the Final Four from State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

“I sat there and watched it with a grateful heart sitting about five rows behind my old broadcast position thinking, ‘I sat in that seat for 32 years. How is that possible? How fortunate am I to be able to have had that seat?,’” Nantz reflected. “It was an amazing event to be entrusted with. It will always be an amazing event, and I just sat there so grateful to be in the arena and look at it from that lens.”

“Thank You for Being My Friend.”

The Sportscasters Talent Agency of America (STAA) presents the Jim Nantz Award annually to the top collegiate student sportscaster in the country, considered to be among the most esteemed honors in the industry for aspiring professionals. Many of the previous winners continue to thrive in sports media, including Drew Carter, Alex Faust and Carlo Jiménez, and also keep in touch with Nantz, who records a congratulatory video for the winner. Nantz himself does not have a vote for the award, something he expressed when it was first established, and he is somewhat incredulous that the distinction is named in his honor.

“These kids that are in the chase every year to win the award and receive also, by the way, tremendous recognition for being ranked in the country,” Nantz said. “It’s not just the one award winner every year. There’s dozens of kids who compete for this at these schools across the country, and I know what they’re feeling. I know their passion. That was me – that’s still me – but to have my name on it, I can’t begin to say how much that means.”

As Nantz reflects on his time behind the microphone thus far, he has called every event he has wanted to and realized a childhood dream. In broadcasting college football and NFL games, golf tournaments, college basketball and hosting studio programming, including The NFL Today for six years, he is appreciative of the trust placed in him to serve as a storyteller and guide, navigating the twists and turns of the action. Nantz is thankful for the relationship he has with the viewers and continues to demonstrate affability in his greeting.

“I can’t quantify it any other way than just the kindness that comes in my everyday life from people that want to say ‘Hello’ or say something nice or take a picture or whatever it might be,” Nantz said. “I’m touched that it means something to them because I long for nothing [and am] grateful for everything, but when I was a little boy, this was the life I wanted. This was the life that I obsessed and prayed for, and I’ve been given that chance and I will never take it for granted – never.”

Derek Futterman
Derek Futterman
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on X @derekfutterman.


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