Former TV golden boy Tony Romo came into Super Bowl LVIII as the most second-guessed Big Game analyst in years. But it’s easy for armchair critics to forget that Super Bowl analysts are as good as the games they call. That all changed with Romo’s call of the overtime thriller between the 49ers and Chiefs.
Heading into Sunday night, CBS’s A team of Romo, Jim Nantz, and Tracy Wolfson had called two Super Bowls together. But the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams in 2019 was dull and the Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over the Chiefs in 2021 was a one-sided affair.
After seven years on the job at CBS, Romo finally got the nail-biter Super Bowl that announcers dream about. The Chiefs’ 25-22 win over the 49ers will go down in the history books. It was a sloppy game, full of fumbles and penalties. And I didn’t follow Romo’s dissertation on overtime rules before the winning play. But for the most part the 43-year-old analyst delivered the goods.
Before the Chiefs’ winning drive, play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz set the table, noting that K.C. would be the first back-to-back Super Bowl championships since the Patriots in 2003 and ’04.
When Mahomes threw the game-winning TD, Romo put an exclamation point on the game. “The game-winning drive of Mahomes’s career he’s been waiting for. He’s won Super Bowls. He’s never had it in overtime. He is the best. He is the standard. Michael Jordan wins it again.”
In the first half, Romo saluted 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan for calling a risky trick play that resulted in a Christian McCaffrey touchdown: “Shanahan says we’re coming here to take it and win. You’ve got to take it. You can’t just be safe and beat Patrick Mahomes, Jim. You’ve got to make calls like that. What a play.”
Romo showed he was loosey-goosey when he hummed an Adele song before going to commercial in the first half. That was a good sign for the rest of the game.
Now, let’s get to the elephant in the room for the pigskin diehards. Did CBS overdo it with Taylor Swift cutaways? I don’t think so. If anything, I thought CBS underplayed her presence a bit given her star power. And why not? To the NFL, the star of the Super Bowl is always… the Super Bowl. But TV producers are shrewd. I thought it was a nice touch when CBS cameras caught Tay-Tay nervously chewing her nails in the fourth quarter, then falling into a group hug after her boyfriend’s team won the game.
With Super Bowl LVIII coming down to the wire, my bet is that CBS will set a new record for the most-watched TV show in history. Fox Sports set that record last year, averaging 115.1 million viewers for its telecast of the Chiefs’ victory over the Eagles. But Swift brought millions of new fans to the NFL this season. When her private jet landed in Los Angeles on the way to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, executives within CBS and the NFL started popping champagne corks.
A few more takeaways from Sunday:
Funniest Pregame Bit: Nate Burleson and the rest of the NFL Today cast did a pretty good acting job in their takeoff of the Las Vegas comedy The Hangover. But give it up to real Hangover star Ed Helms for putting the skit over the top with his appearance.
Best Quote: During the pregame show, CBS inevitably zeroed in on a shot of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell chatting up Taylor Swift in a luxury suite. Quipped Phil Simms: “Roger Goodell’s going, ‘Thank you so much.’”
Best Commercial: It was hokey, but I liked Rob Gronkowski in the old-fashioned single-bar helmet attempting another FanDuel Kick of Destiny field goal attempt. Kickers have a tendency to overcompensate. After duck-hooking last year’s boot, Gronk pushed this one way right. Oof. Maybe next year.
Worst Strategy: Why did advertisers decide this was the year to beat viewers over the head with serious socio-political commercials? Look, it’s a free country, and I have no objections with groups pushing their points of view. But you’ve got to read the room. The Super Bowl is the wrong time and place for that kind of messaging. It’s America’s unofficial national holiday. Super Bowl viewers like commercials that make them laugh or feel good. Hence the popularity of babies, puppies, and Clydesdales in Big Game ads. So give it a rest, will you Madison Avenue? Save the serious spots for the Sunday morning talk shows.
Best Replays: CBS used a record 165 cameras on Sunday. They got their money’s worth. The network’s behind-the-line replay of the 49ers’ trick play TD pass from Jauan Jennings to Christian McCaffrey was—chef’s kiss. CBS also captured linebacker Dre Greenlaw of the 49ers suffering a non-contact injury as he jogged back onto the field from the sideline. It was smart behind-the-scenes camera work that showed how the biggest of games can pivot on miniscule moments. There was smart analysis, too, by former placekicker Jay Feely on why the 49ers’ Jake Moody missed a pivotal extra point in the fourth quarter. The kick came off low from his ankle, noted Feely, leading to an easy block by the Chiefs.
Fumbled Opportunity: One of the most dramatic moments of the game came when a ferocious Travis Kelce banged into coach Andy Reid on the sideline. “I know one thing: That caught Andy Reid by surprise,” noted Nantz. “He almost knocked him off his feet; almost knocked the playsheet out of his hand.” … Then CBS quickly dropped the subject. Why?
Can you imagine anybody on the 1986 Giants trying that on Bill Parcells? They would have been cut by halftime. Forget about old-school coaches like Vince Lombardi. Kelce’s shove should have been the big story at halftime. Instead, the only analyst addressing it was Boomer Esiason. “I did not like it. That tells me [the Chiefs] are frustrated.” That’s it? Not good enough CBS.