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  • A breakdown of Tony Romo's first call of a Dallas Cowboys game.
By Richard Deitsch
November 05, 2017

Jim Nantz made it clear on the opening drive of the Cowboys-Chiefs game Sunday that this was not your average CBS NFL broadcast.

“It's Tony Romo day in Dallas,” Nantz declared.

Romo has called just 13 games in his short broadcasting career and Game No. 13 was always going to be his toughest as a rookie NFL analyst. Romo’s producer, Jim Rikhoff, told SI repeatedly last week that they would treat the Cowboys-Chiefs game as just another broadcast, but of course it was not another broadcast—not when AT&T Stadium had signage inside the stadium reading WELCOME HOME 9, not when CBS opened its game broadcast by showing a tribute video to Romo voiced by longtime teammate Jason Witten, not when the entire Romo clan was floating around the booth prior to kickoff, and not when this was the first Cowboys game Romo was calling after playing for the franchise for 14 seasons.

“Obviously this is going to be emotional for Tony,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus on Sunday before the game. “But I assume he will be objective and I trust him to keep his head about him. I trust him to do this game as much as he can knowing that he is feeling a lot of emotions. I feel he has enough games under his belt to handle this well and I think he will do an objective and good job.”

Rikhoff made the decision to open the broadcast with Romo’s reaction to an in-stadium tribute for him following the national anthem. That shot included Romo watching the video and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones clapping on a JumboTron.

“I wasn’t prepared for that,” Romo said. “That was pretty emotional.”

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Romo was quiet, for him, in the opening quarter and on a very early timeout for the Cowboys—just 1:12 into the game—viewers heard nothing from Romo. (They should have given how early a burned timeout it was.) But Romo immediately showed viewers why he’s been so good in year one. He provided a great detail on a 10-yard read option run from Ezekiel Elliott, telling the audience that the Cowboys stole the play from the Chiefs and that teams will often try to use an opponent’s offensive plays against them. Later in the quarter he called Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee the “most underrated player in the NFL” and provided a nice detail that Lee often asked Romo questions about offensive strategy when the two were teammates.

“I'm sure Cowboy haters will think he's favoring Dallas and some Cowboy fans will think he's too hard on them,” Rikhoff told SI last week. “ I told him, 'Just be balanced and objective as always, and try not to say we,' which would only be natural after playing for them for so long.”

At the start of the second quarter, I thought the broadcast did something very smart—they went to a booth shot of Romo and Nantz and addressed the elephant in the room about homerism.

Nantz: “I didn’t know what it was going to be like for your return but through one quarter no 'us,' 'we’s' or 'them’s' so far.”

Romo: “Yeah, honestly I thought it was going to be tough. I played so many years here that when Kanas City has the ball I want to say, 'we.' But, no, my producer and you always say, 'Hey, it's not “we” this week, it’s the game and you are calling it.' Obviously, you loved playing for your team but I play it straight up the middle and you just watch the game and call what is happening.”

He did during the game, though the second-quarter featured Romo and Nantz showing Cowboys coach Jason Garrett the kind of love Jon Gruden usually shows for average quarterbacks. The opening half ended with one of the most remarkable first-half plays of any NFL season and the broadcasters exhibited the kind of enthusiasm that made the play even more fun  First, Romo questioned the Chiefs being aggressive on their own 35 with seven seconds left and no timeouts (a reasonable take). He then suggested Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith was going to have to launch one into the end zone (also reasonable) on the final play of the half. Instead, Smith found wide receiver Tyreek Hill on the Cowboys 43-yard line and the fleet receiver followed his blocks before darting into the end zone. It was one of the best plays of the season.

“Oh my gosh!” Romo exclaimed. “I have never seen that in my entire time in football and I promise you Jason Garrett hasn’t either!” (An aside: Great job by Tracy Wolfson who asked Garrett immediately afterward, “What happened on that touchdown?”)

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As a viewer, you wish Romo could have elaborated on why Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant has not had as much success with quarterback Dak Prescott as he had with quarterback Tony Romo. But that’s a small quibble. In the fourth quarter on a 3rd-and-1 from the Chiefs 9 with 9:39 left, Romo really gave something value-added for viewers. He broke down the reason for the motion used by the Dallas offense involving Elliott near the goal line. Viewers saw Elliott split wide but Romo was ahead of the play to explain that Elliott was coming back next to Prescott, with the quarterback having the option of keeping it or handing it off to Elliott. The play resulted in a key three-yard run from Elliott for a first down.

“So what they do with the motion there is they just want to hide that formation,” Romo explained. “When Witten is off to one side of the field by himself they want to hide that. This is where they love to run the ball out of in the red zone. Dak gets a chance to peek who is on Witten’s side …and he knows what [formation] Zeke can run against. It is tough to go against. They have all the facets.”

The next play was a touchdown reception by Cole Beasley—a great sequence for Romo. The final was 28-17 Dallas.

The only time I noticed Romo slipping up on his Dallas association was in the fourth quarter when he said of Dallas receiver Terrance Williams: "I always thought he was one of the more underrated players on our team." The word “our” is something Romo must eliminate even when discussing Dallas in the past if only to avoid giving anyone ammunition of favoritism.

Overall, I thought Romo called an excellent, impartial game, another quality broadcast from an analyst who has had one of the best rookie years in the history of NFL broadcasting.

THE NOISE REPORT

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. There is a handy chart on Wikipedia that displays the different World Series broadcast and studio teams that have worked for Fox Sports since 2010. It is a reminder of how subjective the business of sports broadcasting can be.

In the post-Tim McCarver era, Fox invested in a three-person booth that had one too many Harold Reynolds. It opted to use Erin Andrews as a field reporter as opposed to someone who covered baseball full time. Its pregame and post-game show (alums include Eric Karros, Ozzie Guillén and Nick Swisher among others) remained paces behind the best of the genre. But give senior management at Fox Sports credit. They tinkered with their product until they found a group that soared in 2017.

The result for viewers was a production that lived up to a terrific World Series that ended at 11:59 p.m. ET last Tuesday with the Houston Astros winning the franchise’s first championship following a 5-1 Game 7 win over the Dodgers. Here’s my piece on Fox’s World Series coverage.

1a. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp tallied up the audience trend for the World Series over the past five years. It shows you how well this year’s series performed.

2017: 18.909 million viewers over seven games (Astros-Dodgers)
2016: 23.388 million over seven games (Cubs-Indians)
2015: 14.699 million over five games (Royals-Mets)
2014: 13.825 million over seven games (Giants-Royals)
2013: 14.940 million over six games (Red Sox-Cardinals)

1b. The median age of this year’s World Series per Karp was 55.0 years.

1c. Fox Sports Go had an average minute audience of 293,918 viewers for Game 7, the second-best MLB game ever on the streaming platform.

1d. A spokesperson for FOX 26 Houston, which aired the game locally, said that Game 7 beat all Texans’ regular season and playoffs games in Houston and was the highest rated television event of the year in Houston, beating the Super Bowl.

1e. LSU-Alabama was far and away the most-watched college football game of the weekend. The game drew a 3.7 overnight rating and should finish between 6.5 and 7 million viewers.

Some other CFB overnights:

Ohio State at Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): 2.5

Virginia Tech at Miami (8 p.m. ET, ABC): 2.2

Clemson at NC State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC):  2.0

Wisconsin at Indiana (Noon ET, ABC):  1.9

Minnesota-Michigan (8 p.m. ET, FOX): 1.8

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (4 p.m ET, FS1) 1.7

2. On Thursday ESPN announced it had released an updated version of its social media guidelines. A quick FAQ:

Where can I see ESPN’s new social media policy?

Here you go

Is there a Cliffs Notes takeaway?

From the new guidelines: “Our engagement on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should be civil responsible and without overt political or other biases that would threaten our or your credibility with the public. Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy?

Were the changes made because of Jemele Hill’s suspension and other social media controversies?

No, according to ESPN president John Skipper. “It’s all intertwined with a moment in our culture and our political environment of polarization,” Skipper told John Ourand of Sports Business Daily. “It’s the right time to do it. We would never react to one incident or two incidents and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to look.’ It’s a unique moment in time.”

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Do you believe this?

Not really. I know ESPN has been discussing updating their social media guidelines for some time but you don’t need to be an architect to draw the line from ESPN-ers social media feeds being in the news to this coming out now.

Who put these guidelines together?

ESPN said senior management led by Undefeated Editor-in-Chief Kevin Merida. On-air talent such—as OTL host Bob Ley—were part of the committee.

What about the issues of front-facing people talking politics?

The policy does not outright forbid ESPN employees from addressing social issues on their feeds but it does urge them to use caution. Here is the biggest trouble spot, specific to commentary, for ESPNers to navigate.

Will this part be violated by ESPN-ers?

Yes, weekly.

How do the new guidelines impact ESPNers breaking news on Twitter?

High volume newsbreakers such as Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski will notify the news desk at the same time they are tweeting so the desk’s awareness and their tweeting are simultaneous. No changes there. Other reporters are expected to contact the news desk to go through the traditional process. Schefter and Wojnarowski are trusted by the desk and break news at a rate where they are given this unique provision.

Do sports commentators enjoy a legal right to opine on controversial political and social issues without fear of retribution by their employer? 

My colleague Michael McCann addressed that in this piece.

2a. Verne Lundquist is a genial man, son of a Lutheran minister, a man who collects people. Having spent time with him over the past few years I was privy to seeing how much his CBS colleagues loved him. Not liked him. Loved him. The CBS SEC production crew is a traveling family—a group of 70 or so men and women of different ages and job responsibilities who live across America and come together for 15 weekends each fall across the South—and the collective love they had for Lundquist you could see in the small details: a stage manager brushing off crumbs from his jacket in the Tiger Stadium booth, an operations manager alerting him to a curb so he doesn’t slip, analyst Gary Danielson hugging him after the broadcast.

This is the environment that Brad Nessler walked into this season as Lundquist’s replacement as CBS’s lead voice for SEC Football. The issue for Nessler was never going to be the game-calling—he’s a college football pro with a tremendous three-decade resume between CBS and ESPN. What Nessler had to figure out was how to get the CBS crew to accept him as one of their own.

Here’s my piece on Nessler’s first year calling CBS’s SEC games including last night’s Alabama win over LSU.

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3. ESPN reporter Marty Smith is the lead guest for Episode 144 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast. In this podcast Smith discusses how he is an anomaly on ESPN, from a reporting style that reminds one of a human energy drink to having, as he calls it, “a full-blown Appalachian Southern accent”; how he prepares and approaches long-form interviews; the challenges of reporting NASCAR, which Smith did from 2006 to 2014; what he was thinking when ESPN lost NASCAR to NBC in 2014; how former ESPN EVP, Production and Programming John Wildhack, now the athletic director at Syracuse, told him that his reporting passion in NASCAR would translate to college football.; growing up in Pearisburg, Va., about 24 miles north-worst of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg; how he weighs discussing politics on his social media feed; traveling to Iceland with producer Jonathan Whyley following the Iceland national team’s remarkable showing in the 2016 Euros; his top 5 atmospheres in college football; how to develop rapport with subjects; what the future holds at ESPN; talking to young sports broadcasters with Southern roots, and much more.

The second guest is John Ourand, the media reporter for Sports Business Daily. Ourand discusses his piece on the dissolution of the ESPN-Barstool relationship (and the end of the ESPN2 show “Barstool Van Talk” after one episode) including Sam Ponder’s agent sending an email to ESPN president John Skipper and Connor Schell, executive vice president of content about Barstool; how Ponder’s tweet galvanized a small but influential group within ESPN that voiced its displeasure internally; whether ESPN management did enough due diligence on Barstool’s content; the internal support at ESPN for the talent of Pardon My Take; why Skipper believed that Barstool would do something in the future that would put ESPN in a bad light; whether any ESPN managers or talent tried to talk Skipper out of his decision; whether any female senior managers at ESPN were involved in the final decision, and much more.

You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.

4. Non-sports pieces of note:

• This story from Amy Kaufman and Daniel N. Miller on Brett Ratner is absolutely convincing and journalistically tight. Respect to these women and reporters.

• NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talked with NPR CEO Jarl Mohn about how NPR has handled allegations of sexual harassment against NPR's Senior Vice President for News Michael Oreskes, who resigned. This interview is a clinic.

• Impressive work by NPR media reporter David Folkenflik covering his own organization

• From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: How an unassuming neighborhood in Pittsburgh became the overdose capital of the region

• An Associated Press team sifted through 19,000 lines of data to explore hack of Democrats. Terrific reporting

• Via Mike Mariani of The Atavist: Promethea Unbound

• From Alden Woods of The Arizona Republic: Seven hours of bravery at Las Vegas hospital after mass shooting

• Via the Guardian: The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed in a major new investigation into Britain’s offshore empires

• From the Texas Tribune: A Russian Facebook page organized a protest in Texas. A different Russian page launched the counter-protest: 

• Frontline’s two-part documentary on Putin’s Revenge is must viewing 

• From The New Yorker: A Pill to Make Exercise Obsolete

Sports pieces of note:

• Brilliant Game 7 piece by SI’s Tom Verducci 

• ESPN’s Mina Kimes on Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor

• B/R’s Howard Beck on: Nuggets center Nikola Jokic 

• Great piece by Sean Pendergast in the Houston Press on one of the great podcasts in the audio space: Something To Wrestle With

• SI’s Alan Shipnuck on how the Astros kicked Michelle Wie off SI’s cover 

• The Undefeated’s Maya A. Jones on the Alabama State Honey Beez 

• ESPN’s Ian O’Connor profiled Patrick Ewing, the new coach at Georgetown 

• From Mitchell Byars of The Daily Camera: Rashaan Salaam and the weight of life after football: 'Some days good. Some days bad.' 

5. SI’s Ben Reiter profiled David Ortiz’s work for Fox Sports 

5a. Raleigh News Observer writer Luke DeCock paid tribute to Caulton Tudor, an institution at the Raleigh Times and The News & Observer who passed away at age 70

5b. Good conversation on Turner’s KG’s Area 21 with WNBA players Sue Bird, Cynthia Cooper, Lindsay Whalen, and Turner Sports reporter Ros Gold-Onwude 

5c. A doc on Danica Patrick, produced by Hannah Storm, will debut on Epix November 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

5d. NBC hired Bode Miller, the most decorated skier in U.S. Olympic history, to be part of its alpine skiing broadcast team for its Winter Games coverage of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

5e. SI podcast producer Harry Swartout goes behind the scenes on how an SI magazine story is put together. His podcast is called “SI Narrative

5f. Can't Win 4 Losing, a podcast created and hosted by longtime sportswriter King Kaufman, has an episode on  the famed racehorse Zippy Chippy, who ran 100 times and lost 100 times, earning $30,000 in 10 years. "Can't Win 4 Losing" tells the story of some of the most famous losers in sports history

5g. Great sports media story from Game 7 of the World Series: Alanna Rizzo, a reporter with the Dodgers’ broadcast team at SportsNet LA, insisted that Claire Smith, a member of the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame and one of the first women to cover a major league baseball beat extensively, take her third-row seat in the press box for Game 7. Smith, a news editor for ESPN, had not been assigned a press row seat and had watched the games on a television monitor inside the stadium

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