For anyone who loves football, and especially anyone who loves good quarterbacks and wants to see them on rosters competing for championships, Tony Romo‘s exit from the NFL and entrance into the broadcasting booth was met with somber.
Surely the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, or Miami Dolphins (after Ryan Tannehill got hurt) could have examined their roster this spring and felt they were an elite quarterback away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders? (The Jaguars are legitimate contenders without him, it just so happens)
Romo was an elite quarterback, and it was easy to see on the field and in his statistics. He is a career 97.1 passer with a 78-49 win-loss record. He had 248 touchdowns to just 117 interceptions, 34,183 yards and a 65.3 completion percentage over his 13 seasons in the league.
The only negative perception of Romo’s career was he couldn’t win the “big one.” To some extent, that is true, but it’s also not necessarily his fault. Football is a team sport as much as any. Quarterbacks get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses.
Ultimately, injuries and the play of rookie phenom Dak Prescott pushed him off the Dallas Cowboys. It never felt like his career was over, even the moment he signed with CBS to take over as lead color analyst along side Jim Nantz on their No. 1 team. With Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees still slingin’ the rock and all around Romo’s age or older, there had to be a team willing to take a chance on Romo.
It would end up not being the case, but as soon as you turned on the television in Week 1, you could see more of the reasons Romo was such a successful quarterback in the NFL. His ability to diagnose defenses and predict plays from the offense was uncanny. It was clear he did his homework. He combines that with an unbridled enthusiasm and love for the game that resonates with NFL fans everywhere. It is almost as if Romo was engineered to be the perfect color commentator.
This is why it was no surprise when Romo won Sports Illustrated‘s Media Person of the Year in 2017. He interviewed with Richard Deitsch and talked about how he believes he made the right decision to hang up his cleats.
RD: Has the first 14 weeks of the NFL season solidified in your mind that the decision to enter broadcasting was the right decision for you?
Romo: That’s exactly right. I think a lot of people want to stay within the game. My initial thought was that I was going to go coach when I was done. I wanted to stay within the game and I love the game of football so much; I want to learn everything about it. That’s why I keep these coaches for an hour longer than they are used to [in CBS production meetings]. There is just so much information and unique stuff in the game. So I knew I would stay in the game but not in what capacity.
The coaching side, you are away from your family and I have three young boys—5 years old, 3 and basically 13 weeks old—and it is really fun being around them. The 5- and 3-year-old are really at a fun age, and I want to teach them and be around them and play with them. I am not naïve about how fast they grow up, and I have a job that allows me to be home during the day. That is a very unique and special thing for a dad, and while they don’t know any different, hopefully they will one day. So for me this job allows me to hopefully be a decent dad and to do a good job at that—and still be in the game of football. I think this is the one job that allowed me to do that.
He also was specifically asked what he looks for when diagnosing a play from the broadcast booth and if there was a play that he thought stood out from the season so far.
RD: When you are watching a play during a broadcast, where are you specifically looking?
Romo: The reality of it depends on formation, tendency, the coaching staff and the system. There are certain tendencies in every coach’s systems. So if you are in a Rod Marinelli, Monte Kiffin or Lovie Smith system–these guys are all from the same tree of systems–the system will dictate a lot of time where I am looking. It’s a hard thing to describe because it also goes to things like: Are they in the red zone? Is it third or first down? Is it situational? Also, given I know some specific systems, I don’t have to watch if someone is blitzing because I know the tendencies for a Rod Marinelli defense—14% of the time they will be putting pressure [on the offense]. I will know if they are coming into a game with a pressure plan or not.
My eyes might be going to which linebackers are moving, which nickelback or safety is getting to the line. My eyes might move to the coverage, and then you look at the coverage and you all of sudden find quickly what they could run out of a certain pre-snap look. Then your eyes might take a peak at the defensive ends. Let’s say it is [Oakland Raiders linebacker] Khalil Mack. Are they going to give him help here, or is he going one-on-one [against a defender]? Because if he is going one-on-one there is a good chance that the quarterback is running something quick, especially if it is a good coaching staff on offense. If it is not a good coaching staff going in, it might be they are just hoping that this guy can block that guy and they are just playing ball. Things like that go through your brain.
RD: Is there a moment this year where you watched a replay of the game, or a sequence within a game and thought to yourself: This is the level of broadcasting I want to be at for all games?
Romo: [Jim] Rikhoff writes me a set of notes or he will call me if we have a game coming up in a couple of days. He gives me a report on what we were good at, what we need to keep working on, the strengths and weaknesses of the broadcast, and the things CBS Sports management liked and did not like. That is a good thing.
The game was the Raiders and [Kansas City] Chiefs on Oct. 19, and at the time the Raiders season was on the line. The Chiefs were 5-1 and the Raiders were 2-4. So if the Raiders lose they are 2-5 and are likely not catching the Chiefs. In that game, the importance of that final drive was so intense, so real and authentic.
If you go back and watch that drive, I am talking a little bit before the snap about what [Raiders quarterback] Derek Carr should do. At a certain point I circled [on the telestrator] the two Chiefs safeties and said if one of these guys drops down, he [Carr] should throw it outside, and if they both go back he should throw it to the middle of the field, probably to the tight end or something. Well you know what was so special about that? People don’t know what a team effort the show really is. As I am talking, my director Mike Arnold is listening to what I am saying. He pans out so as I am talking I can circle the safeties before the snap. So you see the two safeties. Nantz touches on it, and I talk about where the ball should go. The viewers see the two safeties and they both go back and Carr throws the ball to the tight end, right where you should against that coverage. So Nantz says, “He throws it right where you said!”
So it all looks simple, but it took five or six people at least to make that thing happen. I’m the one who said something so it makes me look smart or blah, blah, blah, but the reality was that was a brilliant sequence because of the teamwork it took for everyone to know what I was saying. Then right after that we got the four plays at the end and that was as exciting and fun to do as any drive or finish to the season.
Believe it or not, this is but a snippet of the full interview from Romo, which can be found here.
Tony Romo’s passion for the game is evident in everything he does for broadcasting, and he attacks it the same way he attacked every week of his 13-season NFL career. Being named Media Person of the Year is well-deserved.