The Nantz-Romo CBS Booth Runs Away With Wildcard Weekend

When we as fans, watch an NFL game from start to finish with rapt attention (i.e. the playoffs) it’s easy to get annoyed with the highly paid broadcast tandem assigned to the game we are watching. After all, we have allowed them into our living room as guests for 3 hours, and what they say, and how they say it, can have a direct effect on our enjoyment. (Regardless of our rooting preferences). The worst announcers leave you more angry than if they had eaten all your food, drank all your beer, and started making out with your girlfriend. The best ones make you say: “Hey, that was fun! See you next week!” as they walk out the door.

So with that, let me rank the four different “A-Team” broadcast booths from the Wildcard Weekend.

CBS: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Earlier this year, I said that my initial impression of the rookie Romo was good, but that he was “a little chatty.” Now after watching him slice and dice play after play in the Jags-Bills game, I am not afraid to say he’s best TV football analyst in my lifetime. Note: I said “best” which is an important distinction from “favorite.” For many, John Madden will always be your favorite, and you can still argue he’s “the best.” I won’t quibble. I will just say that Romo has cracked the game open on TV in a way that is revolutionary. No, it’s not just him occasionally trying to blurt out a play before it happens. It’s the fact that he is both telling you WHY a play did or did not work, while at the same time thinking about broader game/time/drive strategic decisions. Romo is also funny without trying, genuinely self-effacing, a little bit smart-assy, and best of all – genuinely excited to be watching football! I can only imagine how re-invigorated Nantz must feel, as I said the last few years that Phil Simms was the anchor threatening to drag both of them down. And you can cheap-shot Nantz all you like as the sotto voce voice of the Masters who doesn’t belong in an NFL booth – but you’d be wrong. Nantz’s calls are crisp, energetic, on point and on time. He’s now doing his best work yet on the NFL next to Romo. Oh, and Tracy’s great. Grade: A+

Fox: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
For some, Buck is too stentorian in his delivery, and just a bit reeking of overconfidence. I disagree. I think Buck is fantastic. He has great command of the game, understands and gets ahead of strategic moments to help set them up, and always delivers a perfect shot of announcer adrenaline on big plays. His partner though? Oooof. Aikman isn’t quite as bad as Simms was in the last few years, but it’s close. Contrasted to Romo, Aikman is great at repeating what you just saw happen in real time, although Aikman merely narrates the slow-motion replay. The how-what-why of any given play – i.e. the stuff we on the couch have little ability to decipher on our own – is almost never revealed. And when a point made with just 4 or 5 words will do, Aikman makes sure to use no less than 50. Worse yet, is that Aikman is a drone. His plodding cadence to every play, is so repeatable that I bet if you stacked his waveforms in an audio editor, they would look virtually identical. He leans on crutch phrases with no nutritional value (“great job” and “excellent play”) and has one of the least critical eyes you’ll ever see when it comes to penalties. (Hint: virtually all of them are “good call.”) And if Troy Aikman has ever said a single funny thing while calling a game, I’ve yet to hear it. Erin Andrews? Still a 10, in my book. Grade: B

NBC: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michelle Tafoya
My annoyance with Michaels and his elongated “whine-calls” is well documented at this point, so I will try not to pile on. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then listen to all the times he groans, growls, and extends a nasally syllable while he waits to see if a catch is made. Al’s saving grace is that he seems to hate replay as much as I do these days, and he loves sliding in a subtle point-spread reference on late game bad-beats. It still doesn’t make up for the fact that on obvious game-breaking plays, Michaels will often call them as a matter of fact 1st-and-10 play in the 1st quarter. The Mohammed Sanu screen pass that broke the Rams back is a perfect example. (You’ll either have to find it yourself, or take my word for it.) On the Collinsworth front, I have grown to be a (mostly) un-apologetic fan. He really peels back layers of the game that are not readily apparent, and doesn’t take himself or the game too seriously. He too could benefit from a less-is-more approach to word count, but so could they all. If only we could do something with that voice. Michelle is great. Whatever she does. Grade: B-

ESPN: Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Most people simply don’t have a taste for McDonough as a lead-voice on a big weekly national TV game. I get it. He’s like a cup of steaming hot black coffee. No frills. But gets the job done, and done right. I’m okay with him, because his preparation is first rate, and his calls have all the appropriate “punchiness” for the moment. That said, it was unfortunate that he seemed to transcend through his pre-pubescent years on the Kansas City fumble-TD-return-that-never-was, although I can understand how such a play might wreck an announcers vocal chords. Had it stood, it would have been the modern day Joe Pisarcik fumble, only with higher stakes since the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” happened in November, not the playoffs. As for Gruden, well, he played his character reasonably well all these nine years on ESPN. From the very start, it was obvious Gruden was pulling punches on teams, coaches and players while up in the booth. I think I said just a year or two into his stint: “He sure sounds like he doesn’t want to burn any bridges back to the sidelines.” And sure enough, that approach never stopped. Every now and then, Gruden would let some hot truth spill out into his headset. Most of the time, however, it was just giving Frank Caliendo more source material to work with. I don’t know who ESPN thinks is a front-runner to replace him, and I think it would make sense to re-configuring the entire booth (assuming McDonough doesn’t have some insanely huge buyout). And Lisa Salters gives short updates from the sidelines. She’s not Sergio Dipp. Grade: C-

About the Author

Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. He also appears on "Bob and Brian" in Milwaukee. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at

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  1. Here’s my ranking:
    1. Nantz/Romo/Wolfson (A) – Romo is really good and became better as the season progressed. He’ll get that less-is-more thing for next season. Tracy does well.
    2. Michaels/Collinsworth/Tafoya (B+) – Chris more than makes up for Al. Btw, thanks for pointing out Al’s squeak. I hadn’t noticed that until you pointed it out. Now, I hear all too often. 🙂 Michelle also does well.
    3. McDonough/Gruden/Salters (B) – I just don’t see the C- grade here. Jon is solid and Sean is consistent. I like the tone Sean takes. Lisa is dependable.
    4. Buck/Aikman/Andrews (C+) – Agree that Joe is great, but Troy needs to go. Troy has a handful of phrases that he just simply repeats over and over and over and… Joe just can’t make up for that. Erin is fine – she doesn’t do anything for me.

    Matt from Delaware (Podcast listener)

  2. My issue with Buck/Aikman/Andrews is that they seem to miss potential key issues in plays. Romo was all over the Clay out of bounds reception. It felt like the Jag’s challenge came as a result of Romo’s comments (likely not, but it was amazing how quickly he was on it). A number of issues with calls/non-calls were simply ignored by Buck/Aikman. It feels like they are too distracted trying to come up with new ways to use a cliche to actually catch nuances in a game.

  3. Czabe- just want to note, I love the blog and all content yu ae pushing. Fantastic. Thank you.
    On this one- love that you are not snowed by Gruden. He’s been brutal since the start, rarely giving any constructive criticism and always heaping praise. All the way down to the Henry non fumble late in the game where he went over the top with the “amazing play by KC” to strip the ball loose. When in reality you see the replay and it was nowhere near that. I will disagree on Michaels- I guess I have gotten used to his quirk and the nasal carry on.

  4. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I loathe listening to Romo. He talks too damn much and makes me feel like I’m watching the game in the bar with a bunch of idiots. I have to watch the games he does on mute.

  5. It has to be mentioned that some people FFFF hate Collinsworth’s voice. My girlfriend will complain and complain during his games and join the twitter hate crowd bemoaning Collinsworth’s weird voice.

    Me? I don’t mind. I also think he’s well prepared and makes interesting points. But maybe he’s like cilantro…love or hate…no in between.

    Aside from that…it’s always a treat to hear Joe Buck’s mellow sounds and it seems like I never get to hear Nance’s glorious “hello friends” voice during the season.

  6. There was a much bigger problem than sudden puberty on the Kansas City fumble-TD-return-that-never-was. It became apparent that “the moment” in football was all but dead. Its that moment when you can’t believe you what you are seeing, and if it is your team, it is a moment of pure joy and elation.

    Since the refs now defer to replay to call the game, “the moment” is spoiled with thoughts of doubt. In the KC game the instant thought was, “that was a late fumble recovery, he was probably down and they’ll make the call in replay.” If its your team making the spectacular catch the moment of unbridled joy is now replaced with, “what new and inventive way will they figure out to f*ck us on replay?” If Riggo’s 70 Chip run over Don McNeal happened today you spend the whole run worrying that the replay would show his knee brushing the ground as he rounded the corner.

  7. The only one I mind is Aikman. He is so stiff and dull that I find myself looking for the strings whenever he appears on screen. perhaps he’s nervous. Also Gruden’s relentless effort to never say anything negative about anybody, ever, is very annoying. Because this is not at all who he was as the head jerk, uh, coach of the Raiders and Bucs. A bigger a-hole than that Jon Gruden you would have to search long and hard for. Yet in the booth he just loves everyone and everything. Faker!

  8. I don’t like collinsworth. He always has a shit eating grin when he rolls into view, kinda pedophile looking. Can’t trust someone like that.

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