A former full-time Utahn, now a part-time resident, will be front and center at the Super Bowl on Sunday. He’ll be involved in every single play as well as the pregame, halftime and postgame.
No, CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz won’t be on the field during the action, although he’ll be down there socially distanced during the postgame trophy presentations. But he’ll be calling the game from the broadcast booth — his sixth Super Bowl call since CBS Sports hired him away from KSL-Channel 5, where he was the weekend sports anchor, way back in 1985.
Over the years, Nantz has told me repeatedly that his relatively brief stint at KSL (1982-85) was a great time in his life. That he loved working alongside Hot Rod Hundley during Jazz games. That he loved calling BYU football. That he loves Utah. Which is why he bought a house in Deer Valley, and still spends time here every year.
(Not so much during the pandemic, which has kept him mostly at his primary residence in Pebble Beach, Calif.)
One of his favorite sportscasting memories happened way back in 1984 at what was then Cougar Stadium, when he and his partner/analyst, Steve Young, were in Provo to call a BYU-San Diego State game for KSL — and they got stuck in a malfunctioning elevator and missed a big chunk of the first quarter.
Well, not so great at the time. But he’s told that story at a lot of banquets and other events.
More than 36 years later, Nantz will be sitting alongside another quarterback — former Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo — when Tampa Bay and Kansas City take the field for Super Bowl LV. (And, by the way, Romo was 4 years old when Nantz and Young were stuck in that elevator.)
It’ll be Nantz’s sixth time calling a Super Bowl, including 2007. 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019. He also hosted the Super Bowl studio show in 2001 and 2004. And, while he’s not in the habit of making predictions, he’s pretty much certain that Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. vs. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be a better game than the last time he called TV’s biggest event.
“You just almost couldn’t write a better script for us going this game,” he said. “I feel like, in some respects, we’re due.”
Two years ago, Nantz, Romo and the CBS Sports team anticipated an exciting matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots, teams that had averaged 33 and 27 points per game, respectively, that season. While it had “the making of an electrifying, high-scoring affair,” it turned out to be the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever — a 13-3 snooze that featured the fewest points ever scored by the winning team (New England) and the fewest ever scored by the losing team (Los Angeles).
“But moreover, we had one play in the entire game that was run inside of a red zone,” Nantz said.
Brady is back, this time with the Bucs. Mahomes, 25, is back with the defending champion Chiefs. And Nantz — who doesn’t generally make promises like this — is all but guaranteeing Sunday’s game won’t be another low-scoring bore.
“I look at this matchup — that’s impossible. That won’t happen here. That can’t happen here,” he said. “Hold your breath — there’s going to be a big highlight coming at you every couple of minutes.”
Just over two months ago, Nantz and Romo called a game between the same two teams in the same stadium, a game K.C. won 27-24. And Nantz is sure that Sunday’s rematch is “going to be good. We’re going to have a lot of talk about.”
Just maybe not with as much personal insight as he’s usually able to provide. Pre-pandemic, Nantz spent a lot of time in the Super Bowl city before the game, talking with players and coaches. “There is a lot of good material that comes out of that time when you sit and you just talk about football, you talk about life,” he said. “And it’s amazing … how often that plants the seed for what’s in the broadcast on Sunday.”
Nantz also feels like his chemistry with Romo has lost a step because they can’t spend time with each other because of the pandemic. They spend hours talking on the phone, but they won’t see each other in person until shortly before the Bucs-Chiefs game kicks off — the same pattern they followed during the regular season.
“It’s nuanced, and the guy at home probably doesn’t know what he’s missing. But we know there’s a subtlety that’s not there,” he said. “We’re not looking for any pity just because of the fact that we’re not now having dinners together. We love having the chance to broadcast these games. And I’m proud of the work we’ve done and we’ve found every avenue we can to round up information and be connected without being in each other’s company.”
While they’re both expecting an exciting game, Nantz hasn’t always exactly had a clear view into the future. Two years ago, after the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, “We felt like it was a foregone conclusion” that it was “Tom Brady’s last Super Bowl,” he said.
And last season, after the Patriots lost to Tennessee in the first round of the playoffs, “We felt this was probably it” — the end of Brady’s career.
“And here he is again.”
Super Bowl LV kicks off Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on CBS/Channel 2.