The 70 days of Nantz-a-polooza — a broadcasting tradition like no other — is down to its final week. Seven more days in which CBS’ Jim Nantz will come into your living room and hit all the emotional octaves as he bounces from a rowdy dome in Atlanta to a certain sylvan chapel in Augusta.
Throw in the 108 million or so pairs of ears and eyes that caught Nantz’s act at the Super Bowl, here is a fellow who in just over two months will play to a bigger turnout than the last presidential election.
Nervous yet, Nantz?
“This time of year I feel extra fortunate to have all these series of events in a row. I’m just enjoying every minute of it,” he said with an ease born of experience and the knowledge that his is a job that any fan would consider a trip to fantasy camp.
This will be the 28th year Nantz, 53, will make the Final Four-Masters swing. The Super Bowl was a far more recent addition to his workload, only five of those in some combination of host and play-by-play man.
In between calling the Ravens raucous win in New Orleans and speaking with the next Masters champion in the Butler Cabin, there have been several other lesser stops, too, none of them exactly requiring him to wear steel-toed boots and a hardhat. Such as assorted other PGA Tour events, including the one at Pebble Beach, within walking distance of his home and the site (the seventh hole) of his marriage last year.
These next six days, as they always do, will provide Nantz the greatest opportunity to stretch his announcing range. Tonight he’ll be part of the NCAA Tournament’s loud crescendo, calling the national championship game. Then on to the Masters, where one is expected to speak as if delivering a benediction. There couldn’t be two events demanding a greater difference in approach and tone.
Turning the Nantz knob down several notches is not really all that difficult.
“I get asked this question from time to time: C’mon how can you go from shouting out Team X has won the national championship and then by Thursday you’re doing first-round coverage of the Masters and whispering?” Nantz said.
“People think it’s phony, saying I sound so vastly different (in Augusta) then I do at the Final Four. But if I stood on our set there on the 18th tower and yelled, ‘TIGER WOODS FOR BIRDIE!!!’ now that would be a fraud. You adjust.”
So many events that follow so many different arcs, there is an encyclopedic collection of background stories to catalogue these days. Enough, Nantz admits, that he occasionally has trouble keeping them straight. Although he probably won’t get confused and start talking this week about the horrible broken leg Tiger Woods suffered last week in the Elite Eight.
The Final Four experience in Atlanta so far has been routine, as routine as these mega-events ever can be. At least, so far, the electrical system at the Georgia Dome is holding up pretty well for an apparently doomed stadium. No blackout yet like the one during the second half of the Super Bowl inside the Super Dome that suddenly unplugged him from the broadcast.
“Please. I get a little twitchy when you mention that,” he said.
Between the Final Four and the Masters Nantz finds a comfort level that he doesn’t share with other sports. Once offered a chance to do baseball, he declined. He never felt completely at ease during his brief foray into tennis and the U.S. Open, he said.
Basketball he played in high school. Marlboro (N.J.) High, however, went 2-42 during his two years at guard.
Golf he played just well enough to snooker the University of Houston into letting him onto the golf team. There he roomed with a couple notable players – Fred Couples and Blaine McCallister – which would seem to imply that Nantz competitively belonged in their company.
He insists upon a truthful accounting: “My reputation in some circles for being a good golfer is one of the most exaggerated myths out there.
“I was on the fringes of the golf team. There were 18 players on the team. Maybe one week I was 17, but most weeks I was No. 18. I never came close to playing in a varsity tournament. I knew I could never beat the guys I was living with. Never beat them once.”
There are some perks to those old college days, though. Next month, when Couples is inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Nantz will be his presenter.
Leaving Atlanta and heading east on I-20, Nantz will be delivered to an event that lends itself more to eloquence than any other he’ll voice-over. There is something about the Masters that produces stirring commentary.
His calls at Augusta are probably the most lasting utterances of his career, simple yet elegant in their own way:
“It’s a perfect fit: Fred Couples…Masters champion.” – after his former roommate at Houston won (1992).
“Is it his time? Yes – at long last.” – after Phil Mickelson’s first Masters and first major (2004).
“A win for the ages.” – after Woods’ breakthrough Masters (1997).
Nantz dislikes rating specific calls, believing that a broadcaster’s work is more mural than snapshot. “I’m not there just to call one clip or moment; I’m there to tell a story for hours,” he said. Although, he admits to giving a lot of thought to the Woods moment of triumph in ’97 as this 21-year-old was running away with the tournament.
“I knew that clip of him holing his last putt was going to be around well beyond our lifetime. When somebody is doing the opening tease to the 2215 masters, there is going to be a clip of Tiger Woods holing the last putt back in 1997. And the narrative with it will be there, so I better have something interesting to say,” Nantz said.
“I did think about that one. It had to be short and sweet. It was a big moment and I was fortunate enough to be there to document that moment. What came to mind was a win for the ages, something that would last for the ages.”
There is much rustling in the azaleas now, something about Woods being ready to put behind him the weight of scandal and injury and resume his throne. Another huge moment possibly awaits Nantz’s call, challenging him again to sound more blessed than nervous