Emptying the Tony Romo saddlebag after a most eventful day in the life of the new number one NFL analyst for CBS, and the third-leading passer in yardage (behind Jimmy Garoppolo and Sean Payton) in Eastern Illinois University history:
• Check me on this, loyal readers, but I do believe Tony Romo is the first player in at least a quarter-century to leave the field and start his TV career as the number one analyst in a two-man booth for a major network’s top crew. On Tuesday, CBS announced Romo would be paired with Jim Nantz on the lead AFC team this fall, breaking a 20-year run by Phil Simms in the top CBS booth. I think Boomer Esiason (Bengals 1997, Monday Night Football booth 1998) is the closest; he and Al Michael and Dan Dierdorf worked the MNF booth in ’98. Troy Aikman had some training in NFL Europe and then in a three-man FOX booth. Cris Collinsworth worked on a low NBC team, and with HBO, before getting top billing. Phil Simms had a short run at NBC, and in a three-man booth, before taking the top CBS job two decades ago. This is a gutsy, risky move by CBS, particularly for a rookie who’s never done TV, throwing Romo in with the sharks as a TV rookie, and the football and TV worlds were chirping about it throughout the day.
• Boomer Esiason on Romo. The advice from the only player recently to walk off the field and into one of the biggest booths was plentiful. “It’ll be a trial by fire. It’s dangerous,” Esiason told me Tuesday night. Esiason is now in the CBS “NFL Today” booth, as well on on “Inside the NFL” with Simms. “I guess my first reaction is: If I only knew then what I know now. I should start by saying I am really sad for Phil. He is a very close friend of mine. I have the utmost respect for him. … Jim Nantz will be really good for Tony. He knows how to make a guy in the booth feel comfortable, and he knows they’ll be highly scrutinized. … One thing I would say is, try not to be all things to all people. I just overkilled the first year. I read so much, prepared so much. Have fun. Don’t think you know more about football than everybody you’re talking to. … Social media will be a killer. The slings and arrows, you won’t know where they’re coming from. But they’re coming. It’s Twitter muscle. Alcohol Twitter muscle. But it’s just like being a quarterback. We’re used to criticism. We know we’re going to take shots. It’s part of the job. He has to know that going in. … I hope he can criticize a play call. He has to do that.”
• What this is like. This is a ridiculously simplistic view, but I will tell you what major-league TV is like for a newspaper/magazine/web writer like me. I’d proven myself to some degree in my world, the written word, and then I went to a few TV gigs, and most recently to NBC for the Sunday night games. If you’re in the studio, you’re around 30 strangers (at first); if on the road, you’re around 30 different strangers. They all have jobs, and you have no idea what they do. They’re scurrying around, and you’re told you have 45 seconds to bat a topic back and forth with a host or a partner, and if you exceed it by eight or 15 seconds, you’re in deep crap. You might say to yourself, There is no way to explain that in 15 seconds, but it doesn’t matter; that’s what you have. And if you blow it, you’re the goat. Multiply my pressure times 13, and that’s what Romo faces in the first year he’s ever done TV. Romo is going to be in an altogether different world, with no football players around, no coaches. And the red light will go on, and he’ll have to smile and be really smart, and he’ll have to do it opening day, in 11-second bites. He’s going to have to be brilliant, fast. Or else. Is it insurmountable? No. Is it different? Yes—like becoming fluent in Russian in three months.
• You need to have different gears. Great verbiage by a TV veteran Tuesday evening, who said that. His point: You’re going to be critiquing a play-call one moment, yukking it up about a player’s funny vacation the next, and a few snaps later, talking seriously about a star being suspended for domestic violence. Viewers will want Romo’s opinion on all those things.
• I was impressed by the support for Simms by his peers. Reviled by social media, respected by those in the booth. I asked three different top network analysts for their opinions about this move, and about whatever advice they had for Romo. All declined. One said it just didn’t feel right because of his respect and friendship for Simms.
• Not sure this is a big deal, but it seems significant to me. Romo played his career, 162 games, all in the NFC. The CBS schedule is AFC games—or games with at least the AFC team being the road team. In Romo’s 162 games, he played at New England once, at Denver once, at Pittsburgh once. In 2017, he’s likely to do eight games or so involving those marquee AFC teams. He’s stood on the sidelines in Philadelphia 11 times, and all that homework may go for naught now. Think of this, too: Phil Simms and Bill Belichick are tight. Simms played when Belichick was the Giants defensive coordinator. They’ll be close for life. Belichick told Simms things he didn’t tell anyone else. Troy Aikman found how foreboding Belichick could be when he started doing Patriots’ game. One Aikman friend said, “For a long time, Troy thought going to Foxboro and talking to Bill was a total waste of his time—because it was.” So will Romo get much out of Belichick, a coach he probably doesn’t know well? Doubt it.
• Houston wanted Romo. I doubt Denver really did. Denver GM John Elway would have been interested in a low-cap-cost Romo, but wouldn’t have spent much for him; he didn’t want to retard the development of Paxton Lynch, and Elway still has hope for Trevor Siemian. But the Texans, once Romo was released, were going to pursue him if the price wasn’t silly. Romo has to imagine what that would have been like, playing with probably the best defense in football with J.J. Watt likely back, and with DeAndre Hopkins his new (and calmer) Dez Bryant.
• Don’t cry for Romo, but he got jobbed last year, and that was always in the back of his mind as he made this decision. I did a podcast with Romo a week before he got hurt for the last time in Seattle (he broke a bone in his back) in an August game. And his passion, his excitement about playing with so much offensive talent, dripped from the conversation. Funny thing: After the preseason game in Seattle, when he thought he just had a crick or a muscle pull in his back, he was in the locker room telling a friend, “We’re gonna be so good. It’s scary how good we’re gonna be.” And then Dak Prescott experienced the goodness. It’s life. But it’s also one of the reasons why coming to this decision was harder than you think it was.
• Romo works his rear end off, and that will help. He knows everyone’s doubting the CBS call. He knows he has to get good, and very fast. He’s already had dinner with TV power people, and talked to others on the phone, and surveyed the TV landscape at the Super Bowl two months ago. He’s learning his new world. He knows his voice has to get more authoritative. He’s taken in the advice, and he’ll spend the next four months working like he’d have worked studying the Houston Texans offense had he signed there.
• I still think the door is 3 percent open to a return to football. He misses it. He will miss it in August. Interesting that he said Tuesday on a CBS conference call it was 99 percent he would not return. “I don’t envision coming [back to football],” Romo said, “but I’ve also seen enough things from ‘I’m not going to Alabama’ to ‘I’m not returning to football.’ Do I envision coming back to football? I do not. You never say never.”
• Finally … Romo told me on my podcast last summer what makes him tick, and now we’ll see if he follows that. He said, “There is a naive thing in there sometimes, where people say, what was your backup plan if you didn't play football? And I was like, you know, that half-scholarship kid at Eastern Illinois just knew he was going somewhere. So at some point I was going to get to the NFL. It seems naive in some form but I feel like you just don't make decisions based on money. It's not how you get anywhere in life. If someone is going to offer you to go play over here for 100 million and someone else is going to offer you 100,000, I understand. … You should definitely choose where you are passionate about and where is going to give you the best chance to be successful.”
This spring, for Tony Romo, that was CBS, and the broadcast booth.
How should Tony Romo be remembered? He was always better than the teams he was on.
—Stephan G., Plano, Texas
Good question. Very good. I’ll attack that in my column Monday, when I can mull it over and get some input from those I respect.
Re the Browns and Paul Depodesta: Imagine in the 2014 draft if the Browns selected Odell Beckham eighth overall, instead of cornerback Justin Gilbert, and paired him with Derek Carr at No. 22 instead of Manziel. They were both available at those picks and probably would have changed the Browns franchise for the next 12 years as a competitive team.
You’re right. I think every team has similar stories of the big fish that got away.
So the league wants to shorten overtime by 5 minutes in the name of league safety. But it wants to extend the season to 18 games. Explain that one to me. The league is simply playing lip service to player safety.
The league hasn’t talked about an 18-game schedule in a couple years. Not to say the owners don’t want that. But it’s not been on the agenda for a while.
Speaking as an African-American professor at Bowdoin, I want to thank you for the article. It was finely measured and deeply considered and shed a great deal of light. It was also encouraging to see someone like Jim Harbaugh educating himself and speaking frankly. I regularly enjoy your work, but this one was particularly important to me personally, and I wanted to make sure your knew people were out here who were grateful and supportive of your efforts.
—Anthony W., Brunswick, Maine
I’m grateful to Michael Rosenberg for coming up with the idea and delivering it in timely and cogent fashion. I really thought it summed up Colin Kaepernick’s story well. Thanks for noticing.
I am the guardian of my 10 year-old grandson. My refusal to let him play contact football is a major stress point between us. Every time I read something like the Toradol article my resolve is strengthened. I worry enough about his hockey, which has occasional contact. I refuse to let him take the risk of contact on every play, 30 to 40 times per game. Unfortunately, he and his friends consider flag football and soccer unmanly, so we will just have to keep on with the tension. Thank you for the articles which reinforce parental resolve not to let children take these ridiculous risks of permanent injury.
—Robert K., Toronto
Good luck, Robert. Parenting in this day and age, with all the pressures, cannot be all fun. There are so many good things about football, but playing tackle football at 12 or 14 is worrisome to me, and it sounds like it is to you too.
GREAT YEAR IN SPORTS
In your list of noteworthy sports stories over the last year, you forgot about Leicester winning the British Premier League. Thanks.
Thanks, Matt. Not the biggest thing in America, but I get it.
I feel that you were neglectful not to mention a great finale to the NHL season. The Pens looked doomed to miss the playoffs before turning it all around and winning the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup and making Crosby one of the best ever just months after people were questioning if he was in his decline. I'm sure Peter would have mentioned the Devils; he should have mentioned the great run of the Penguins.
—Weston, Bowling Green, Ky.
Fair, I guess. Just not a momentous moment in the series, in my opinion.
GRAPEFRUIT OR CACTUS LEAGUE?
Next year I want to fulfill a lifelong dream and go to spring training. Do you have a preference of Grapefruit League or Cactus League? It's a long trip for me so I want to get the most out of it.
—Michael L., Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
Wow, Michael. You’d be coming a long way. I would strongly recommend Cactus. For these reasons: You would be driving less; all venues are within an hour of each other by car, end to end. … You’re far more likely to get better weather. The three games I saw were mostly cloudless, with temperatures from 75 to 84. Arizona weather in March, I’ve found, is more consistent. … And the restaurants, almost everywhere, are more varied.