Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tony Romo the early leader as TV Rookie of the Year

It’s early but the clear on-air standout of the NFL season is a rookie.

CBS color commentator Tony Romo has made the transition from the playing field to the broadcast booth almost seamlessly. There’s little question about his expertise and the few questions about his approach and style seem petty.

Unfortunately, the few people complaining about Romo are those who would seem most likely to support him -- in one case a longtime sports broadcasting legend.

Romo has made the biggest impact for his ability to “predict” what’s going to happen on the field.

It’s not so much a parlor game as a familiarity that leads to correct down-and-distance suggestions. His accuracy has, at times, seemed uncanny and that’s because he was in game-plan meetings every week last season. He’s familiar with the league, and it’s great that he can flash a connection and some expertise that others do not have. That’s what viewers want from the folks working on TV.

His accuracy might also relate from something for which he’s not getting credit, his work ethic. Broadcast teams prepare for games every week by watching video and by asking questions during pregame interviews with coaches and players. So, maybe Romo is gleaning what he needs from those sessions, too.

No matter the reason, what the former Cowboys quarterback is doing seems fresh and informative. It merits praise.

Instead, though, sports broadcasting legend Brent Musburger recently took a shot at Romo’s approach. He said as Romo develops and gets farther and farther from the locker room, the predict-the-play ability will wane because he’ll lose his connection with the league. That’s probably true but that does not mean Romo should not play to his initial strength.

Romo’s knowledge of personnel groupings and tendencies gives him intellectual muscle he should flex. It’s not hype or a trick.

And, in fairness, Musburger was a hype master. He never met a standout college football player during a game that he did not hesitate to champion for the Heisman Trophy. And he certainly never failed to give a wink-wink acknowledgement of betting lines during a game to make sure folks knew he knew.

For him to criticize anyone’s work as hype is the pot calling the kettle black.

Also, Musburger intimated Romo should be more deferential to his play-by-play partner, Jim Nantz. My sense is Nantz can stand up for himself if he wants. Plus, Nantz’s reverential, stale approach could use a shakeup. Adding Romo and bouncing Phil Simms to the studio was an acknowledgement of that by the folks at CBS.

Romo does need to drop the jargon, terms like PI (pass interference) and RPO (run pass option), and hopefully that will come. Still, he does an excellent job explaining what quarterbacks do, and quarterbacks are the stars of the NFL so that’s another a good thing.