About 30 minutes prior to Tony Romo’s regular-season broadcast debut on Sunday afternoon in Nashville, CBS Sports producer Jim Rikhoff told Romo what he had been telling the former Cowboys quarterback since they started working together in April.
“Tony, the first thing I ever told you was to be yourself on air,” said Rikhoff, the lead producer for CBS’s top NFL team. “So just be yourself.”
Then Rikhoff left Romo alone for a couple of minutes as he prepared to do a hit for CBS’s The NFL Today prior to calling Oakland’s 26-16 win over Tennessee.
The broadcast for both Romo and Rikoff—it was the first time Rikhoff produced CBS’s top NFL team—could not have gone better. There was overwhelmingly positive reaction for Romo’s work both internally at CBS, and externally on social media and elsewhere. CBS Sports execs were particularly surprised (and very happy) to see employees of competing NFL rights-holders praising Romo’s work.
“He had a really good day,” Rikhoff said on Sunday night. “I felt he was really prepared, did a great job on replays, and it gives us a great foundation to work with now. He’s so fresh from playing the game and sometime I immediately noticed in our production meetings with teams just how comfortable players were with him. We have some broadcasters who players have no idea who they are. But they know Tony, and I think he’s able to get interesting things out of them because he is so close to the game.”
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus watched his network’s set of games from the master control room at CBS’s headquarters in New York City. “Not surprisingly,” McManus said, “I was paying a little closer attention to Oakland-Tennessee.”
Like Rikhoff, McManus was immensely pleased by Romo’s debut. “I felt very good about it,” McManus said. “I have always said Tony is a work in progress and what I wanted to see this week was passion and energy from him. I saw that. It is not easy to speak in short bursts between plays and I thought he did that very well.”
McManus said he wanted to find examples where he learned something from Romo’s analysis and said he found several. Impressively, McManus said he found Romo to be very predictive in his analysis. For example, he called a run from the Raiders on fourth down immediately after they decided to run on the previous down. He diagnosed zone coverages before plays started. On a screen play that did not go well, Romo said perceptively, “I never wanted rookies blocking on a screen play because they never seem to get it right.”
As for what must get better, McManus said something he wants Romo to work on telling the audience things about players that you don’t already know. Rikhoff said Romo will continue to work on the mechanics of television and specifically, how he interacts with the production truck. All the broadcast nomenclature remains new to him and Rikhoff scaled down some stuff to make things easier for his new charge.
Rikhoff said he would watch the entire broadcast again—Jim Nantz and Romo planned to as well—and would hold a conference call on Tuesday with his team to go over what he liked and what can improve. The next game for the Nantz and Romo is the Patriots-Saints on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 1:00 p.m. and Rikhoff said he planned to get together with Nantz, Romo and director Mike Arnold on Friday in New Orleans to watch the Raiders-Titans in person. At 37, Romo is younger than both starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady, 40 and Drew Brees, 38). The road continues.