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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

What’s Wrong With Tony Romo? Why He Might Be Regressing

  • Romo razzed by critics and fans for his call of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
  • In contrast, ‘Romostradamus’ called perfect game 4 years ago in same stadium.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

What’s wrong with Tony Romo?

According to some critics and viewers, that question is being asked more frequently, with the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback seemingly declining as a TV analyst. 

The second-guessing of Romo reached a crescendo during CBS Sports’ telecast of the AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

The clairvoyant “Romostradamus” of previous seasons was mostly missing in action. Instead, viewers got an over-caffeinated, sometimes confused cheerleader.  

The game was “outstanding,” according to Romo. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was a “wizard” committing “wizardry.” The receivers ran “perfect” routes. 

There was even speculation Romo was on the verge of uttering a slur that could have endangered his broadcast career. Romo’s 10-year, $180 million contract with CBS is the biggest in sports broadcasting. His $18 million annual salary ties him with Troy Aikman of ESPN for the largest yearly compensation.

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Romo’s uneven performance directly contrasted with his brilliant call of the 2019 AFC Championship between the Chiefs and New England Patriots in the same stadium. After that telecast, he and play-by-play partner Jim Nantz were hailed for calling a virtually perfect broadcast.

Enthusiasm is great. But it doesn’t make up for garbled analysis. The reviews for the former TV golden boy were withering this weekend. 

“Tony Romo’s performance during his final broadcast of the season Sunday encapsulated all of his shortcomings: constantly shouting at the viewer, offering inane analysis, struggling to make sense,” wrote Alex Reimer of Audacy. “Each week during the playoffs, he reached a new low.”

Added Sean Keeley of Awful Announcing: “Two years ago, Tony Romo was hailed as the next great color commentator, seemingly able to predict plays in real-time and provide interesting game analysis. Since then, however, he seems to have devolved into a human catchphrase and exclamation machine who can’t even be counted on to be ready to speak when asked a question.”  

As for his trademark play predictions, they’ve become few and far between. As Garrett Searight noted at Barrett Sports Media: “Now, if you watch any of his work, a Sasquatch sighting is more likely than a play prediction.”

Since jumping directly from the football field into the broadcast booth in 2017, Romo has been widely considered the NFL’s top game analyst. But Greg Olsen of Fox Sports has risen quickly, with some saying the former Carolina Panthers tight end has surpassed Romo in just two seasons. 

Peyton and Eli Manning are on the cutting edge of innovation with their “ManningCast” of “Monday Night Football” on ESPN2. And Pat McAfee is now the hot new personality in broadcasting.

So has Romo regressed in his six seasons on the air? Or is the 42-year-old TV star a victim of a fickle public and media critics? Front Office Sports talked to several TV power players (all of whom declined to be named) for their thoughts. 

Here are seven theories on why Romo might be moving backward: 

Let Romo be Romo

The former quarterback’s superpower was his ability to predict plays before they happened. But Romo and CBS executives worried his fortune-teller routine would become schtick. By the end of his fourth season, Romo admitted to Richard Deitsch of The Athletic that he had “throttled” back on his in-game predictions. 

Fine. 

That’s his prerogative. But maybe Romo without “Romostradamus” is just average. Romo should return to what made him great next season, suggested one executive. 

He needs coaching

Sports TV legend Dick Ebersol touched on this. If he were Romo’s producer, said Ebersol, he’d work on his passion and preparation. “This is somebody who should be an announcer for the ages, but clearly has lost his passion for it,” Ebersol said to CNN anchor Chris Wallace. “And I would have him in my office often not to kick his ass, but just to keep reminding him of what put him there in the first place.” (Ebersol later clarified his comments, saying Romo is “as good as it gets.”)

Competitors are catching up

At CBS, Romo set the bar high for his competitors at ESPN, Fox, and NBC.

They’re fighting back.

ESPN recruited Aikman and Joe Buck from Fox to improve their broadcast booth. Fox elevated Olsen pending the arrival of the biggest name of them all, Tom Brady, in its No. 1 broadcast booth. 

“He hasn’t regressed. But there are other players out there now. Because of him, the other announcers have stepped up their game. So it’s not such a stark comparison anymore,” noted another source. “At first, his predictions were a big thing. Now others are incorporating that into their repertoire. So it’s not as special.”

The NFL has changed

When Romo retired from the Cowboys in 2017, he was fresh off the field. With 14 NFL seasons under his belt, it was easier for him to diagnose formations, defense, and quarterback signals. But the league’s always evolving. Romo might have to hit the film room more to keep up with today’s game. 

“He obviously doesn’t really prepare. He’s guessing a lot,” said one source.

He yells too much

Many viewers appreciate Romo’s fan-like enthusiasm. But the yelling can be a bit much, especially when he steps on Nantz’s play-by-play calls. 

“It’s obvious he doesn’t watch his own broadcast because, if he did, he would change,” said another source. 

Romo doesn’t do much media

CBS’ No. 1 analyst doesn’t do many media interviews. That’s his choice. But competitors like Olsen, Aikman, Buck, Kevin Burkhardt, Kirk Herbstreit, and Al Michaels are out in the market, giving interviews, participating in podcasts, and chatting up sports media critics on a first-name basis. That helps slant coverage in their favor. 

Passage of time

You can only be avante-garde for so long before becoming garde. 

For five years, Romo was the coolest kid on the block. Now the worm has turned – and social media is giving him the same treatment it gave his CBS predecessor Phil Simms. By this reasoning, it’s only a matter of time before a bigger target, such as Brady, comes along. Then Romo will revert to being the consensus favorite analyst.

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Don’t cry for Romo.

In a survey by The Athletic, he, Nantz, and Tracy Wolfson were named the favorite NFL broadcast team by a wide margin. In his short TV career, he’s already called two Super Bowls. CBS just posted its most-watched NFL season in seven years, averaging 18.487 million viewers. 

In the end, only one critic counts, and that’s CBS Sports boss Sean McManus. And McManus has always been firm in his belief CBS has the best NFL analyst in the business.

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