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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019

From the booth, Tony Romo is the likely Super Bowl MVP

The former Cowboys quarterback is making a name for himself as the best commentator in sports, writes Steve O’Rourke.

American broadcaster and former NFL quarterback, Tony Romo.
American broadcaster and former NFL quarterback, Tony Romo.
Image: Mark Goldman

I NEVER HAD much time for Tony Romo the football player.

As a quarterback, he was the equivalent of a toasted cheese sandwich and a pint of milk in a pub; perfectly fine, but you wouldn’t recommend it for a Michelin star.

As a colour commentator, however, Romo has blown the cliché-laden competition away to become not just the best NFL analyst in the business, put perhaps the greatest in all of sports.

Doing what Romo does, and making it sound so natural, is not easy. Just ask his former team-mate Jason Witten whose contributions to ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasts have been widely, and rightly, panned.

The former Dallas quarterback first appeared in the CBS booth on 9 September 2017, when he called a game between the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders.

Were it not for Romo, that game would be easily forgotten. One reason it’s so memorable is that it was where he first showcased what has since become his calling card, repeatedly – and correctly – telling the audience exactly what was going to happen before the ball was even snapped.

Dallas at Philadelphia Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has made a successful transition to punditry. Source: TNS/ABACA

Not only did he determine that the Raiders were going to go for it on fourth down by the way they lined up on third, but he also correctly predicted a safety blitz from the Titans that resulted in a sack of Oakland quarterback Derek Carr.

Basically, Romo was more clued into what was happening than the Raiders’ offensive line.

It was a trick he was to repeat over and over again during his debut season and it came to the fore again during this year’s AFC championship game when he was able to diagnose the adjustments Kansas City needed to make.

Chiefs’ defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton, did not and was subsequently fired.

Source: Close Look/YouTube

It’s not just that Romo tells us what is about to happen but, crucially, he explains why teams are doing what they’re doing.While he tends not to spend too long getting bogged down in the likes of protection schemes and the like, he gives his viewers more insight than most.

Of course, not everyone is a fan. Some are all too keen to point out that before every game he commentates on, Romo gets to watch teams in training so quite a lot of the time he’s working with inside information about what they might be planning for that Sunday.

Others will claim that his pre-snap predictions are the result of years of standing at the line of scrimmage and countless hours spent poring over game tape featuring formations and, crucially, teams’ tendencies in particular situations. Anyone with NFL experience could do the same they say.

But as Witten, Phil Simms, and countless others over the years have proven, they clearly can’t.

For their part, Romo fans will argue that it’s as much his positive personality that separates him from his peers as his knowledge of football.

And while his enthusiasm is a refreshing change from Cris Collinsworth’s laid back drawl or Troy Aikman’s impression of the priest with the fierce monotonous voice from the Fr. Ted Christmas special, there are times it veers slightly into Jon ‘wild eyes’ Gruden territory.

That said, when he calls his first Super Bowl for CBS on 3 February, and Romo’s charms are exposed to wider audience, they’ll discover what the rest of us have known for some time.

Super Bowl Romo Big Stage Football Romo's NFL coverage and analysis has been one of the standout features from this year's campaign. Source: Michael Ainsworth

The real reason he’s the best in the business is not just because of his ability to see into the future or that he musters up more fervour than most for a day’s work.

Sure, that’s part of his appeal but the real reason for his success is that he makes NFL fans smarter. He challenges them – without most even realising – to become better football fans.

To watch the NFL and ask why that wide receiver is moving from the slot to beside the tight end and what it tells us about whether the defence is in man or zone coverage.

As someone with a coaching qualification in American football and who has been around the sport for as long as I have, it’s easy to take that kind of thing for granted. But building up knowledge changes they way we watch sport.

In much the same way Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher altered how we watch the Premier League or how The42’s own Murray Kinsella revolutionised rugby coverage, Tony Romo has ripped up the playbook of American football punditry.

And as we’ll see during Super Bowl LIII, he’s made the sport a better spectacle because of it.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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