Jim Nantz feels so bullish about his new partnership with Tony Romo, he speaks in lofty terms.
"This is a group that really prides itself on establishing a team that will be around for a long time," said Nantz, who emphasizes he includes the entire crew of CBS' No. 1 unit in his assessment. "It's one that we would like to think people will regard -- when that time comes down the road -- as one of the great broadcast teams that was put together."
Year 1 of the Nantz-Romo team officially goes in the books when they call the AFC Championship Game Sunday on CBS. While there are many issues worthy of debate on and off the field in the NFL, Romo's work as an analyst has been almost universally acclaimed.
CBS was rewarded for its daring move of placing the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback immediately into its top NFL spot in the booth. Romo has received high marks for his football analysis and unique ability to forecast plays, candor, sense of humor, and the energy he brings to the telecasts.
Talking like a proud father, Nantz insists he knew Romo would be a big hit when they got together to do their first practice broadcast in a CBS studio last May.
"It may sound crazy, but by the time we reached the fourth quarter of that game, we were ready to go on the air," Nantz said.
For his part, Romo credits Nantz and the entire production team (producer Jim Rikhoff, director Mike Arnold, sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, among others) for creating the dynamic that produces an "enjoyable telecast." The rest, he says, simply fell into place.
"The game kind of calls itself," Romo said. "If a player does great things, you want to talk about it. Hopefully, you show the viewers what they're seeing, and tell them the why and how. Hopefully, they enjoy the energy you bring along the way."
Indeed, Romo's passion for the game is evident on almost every play. Nantz feels it sitting next to him.
"Tony has energized us as unit," Nantz said. "Tony has made us all better."
In Week 1, much was made of Romo's ability to forecast plays when teams lined up in certain situations. He seems to have dialed it back a bit in that regard, but he does have the knack for accessing the situation.
Like he did as a quarterback surveying the field under center, in the booth, Romo says he continues to look for mannerisms, especially in young defensive players, that provide clues.
"I'm looking for the same movement," Romo said. "I may be higher up, but I'm not looking at the game that much different."
Romo admits he still misses playing in the first year of his retirement, although he says he feels much better getting out of bed on Monday mornings. But clearly he has moved on into his new career, as he talks of working to improve the telecast next year.
"You're always looking to get better," Romo said. "No matter where you are, you're looking to improve. We'll get together in the off-season to talk about a few new things."
Nantz admires Romo's approach. In late December, Nantz turned to Romo during a dinner prior to one of the final telecasts of the regular season. He wanted to deliver a message to his new partner.
"I told him, 'It makes me really happy because I've seen the effort you've put in,'" Nantz said. "'It's been fun trying to be a tutor, a mentor, and a friend to you."
Nantz then added, "Tony made this decision to walk away from football when he could have been playing for a few more years. That was a big leap of faith on his part. The fact that he's had a good time -- make that a great time -- I take a lot of satisfaction out of that."
Pro Bowling: ESPN announced Matt Hasselbeck will replace the departed Jon Gruden, working with Sean McDonough for the network's coverage of the Pro Bowl on Jan. 28. Is Hasselbeck getting a tryout to become the new analyst on Monday Night Football?
In a statement, Stephanie Druley, ESPN Senior VP, Events and Studio Production, said:
"Matt has experience calling games and will be a great fit alongside Sean McDonough for this Pro Bowl assignment. He is a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback with connections to many players and coaches throughout the league, and he was already scheduled to cover the game as part of our ESPN studio team.
"The process for determining our new Monday Night Football booth is already underway. We are looking at both internal and external candidates and expect to have a decision made this spring. This is one of the most high-profile and attractive positions in all of sports broadcasting so we want to take our time to ensure we make the best decision."
Reunited: Chris Berman and Tom Jackson will be reunited in a special edition of ESPN's NFL Primetime after Sunday's games. They will be joined by Keyshawn Johnson.
CBS, 3:05 p.m. ET
Jacksonville at New England: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo
Fox, 6:40 p.m. ET
Minnesota at Philadelphia: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman