These national sports analysts are Tony Romo-esque without the price tag

CBS reportedly is paying the former Cowboys quarterback $17.5 million a year, and he couldn’t do anything to save the Super Bowl broadcast. Which begs the question: Is an analyst worth that kind of money?

SHARE These national sports analysts are Tony Romo-esque without the price tag
Tony Romo has called two Super Bowls in his four years with CBS, and he wasn’t able to showcase his abilities in either.

Tony Romo has called two Super Bowls in his four years with CBS, and he wasn’t able to showcase his abilities in either.

Michael Ainsworth/AP

While listening to Tony Romo on CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LV on Sunday, I couldn’t get this thought out of my head:

The network reportedly is paying the former Cowboys quarterback $17.5 million a year, the most by far for a sports analyst, and he couldn’t do anything to save that game.

We covered Romo’s good fortune last week, but CBS hasn’t had much in its two Super Bowls with Romo in the booth. According to Sports Media Watch, since 2010, when the Super Bowl broke 100 million viewers for the first time, the game has drawn fewer viewers twice, SB LIII (Patriots 13, Rams 3) and LV (Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 9) — both on CBS. Those games also were the lowest rated in that span.

This isn’t to say Romo is to blame or CBS does a lousy job. Far from it. Romo had a fine broadcast Sunday, and CBS largely put on a good show from pregame to postgame. But there’s only so much a network can do to enhance a broadcast when the game isn’t competitive.

Which begs the question: Is an analyst worth that kind of money when the analyst’s performance might depend on the game?

No one should begrudge Romo for the contract. The market determines worth. And as we said last week, events transpired to maximize Romo’s.

ESPN would have pursued him had he become available when his contract expired, CBS couldn’t bear to lose the brightest star in the football broadcasting galaxy and the pandemic hadn’t gripped the world yet. Plus, Romo’s rawness, sharp analysis and childlike enthusiasm endeared him to an audience accustomed to buttoned-up broadcasters.

There was a time when some broadcasters resented former players for infringing on their territory. While the announcers were training in their trade, the players were competing in theirs, and many couldn’t communicate as eloquently or steer a broadcast as deftly as the announcer. Famed broadcaster Howard Cosell denounced what he dubbed the “jockocracy” of sports broadcasting.

A good game broadcast doesn’t require an ex-jock, but that perspective certainly helps. And networks don’t need to spend $17.5 million for it. Here’s a list of athletes-turned-analysts on the national stage who provide Romo-like candor, charm and expertise without the price tag:

Jay Bilas

The former Duke player and coach is analytical and outspoken on ESPN college basketball broadcasts. Whether it’s the hypocrisy of the NCAA or the awfulness of officiating, Bilas will let you know what he thinks, but he doesn’t come off as blustery. As a practicing attorney, he’s thoughtful and reasonable, and viewers come away more knowledgeable. Bilas also can break down a game and scout players as well as anyone.

Kirk Herbstreit

The former Ohio State quarterback can speak authoritatively about any college football team in the country, and he often does on ESPN’s “College GameDay” and in the broadcast booth. He even dipped his toe into NFL waters this past season, calling the Giants-Steelers “Monday Night Football” game with Chris Fowler to strong reviews. Herbie also won his fifth Emmy Award last year, making him the most honored ESPN commentator in history.

Eddie Olczyk

Former goalie John Davidson used to be the gold standard on hockey telecasts in the States. He was the lead analyst for Fox, ABC/ESPN and NBC. When Davidson left to become the Blues’ president, Eddie O. picked up the mantle and has been even better. The former Blackhawk (and Maple Leaf, Jet, Ranger, King and Penguin) is quick on the draw with analysis, provides understandable explanations, has a sharp eye and is a great storyteller. He also can lean on his experiences as a coach.

Kenny Smith

He doesn’t call games, but his work on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” is fantastic. “The Jet,” who played for six teams in 10 seasons (mostly with the Rockets from 1990-96), is way bigger now than when he played. He breaks down plays on the show’s movie-theater-sized screen, even putting himself in the play with some movie magic. And on a show that often transcends basketball, he’s thoughtful and outspoken. Some nights, the show is more entertaining than the games it follows.

Aqib Talib

He’s down on Fox’s NFL depth chart, but the former cornerback showed a lot of promise in the couple of games he called this past season. Like Romo, Talib has had little training, but also like Romo, he’s able to pull off not adhering to broadcasting norms. He brings a unique voice to the broadcast that’s playful yet analytical. Plus, he has a different perspective as a cornerback, a position that’s underrepresented among NFL analysts.

Tom Verducci

What do you mean he never played baseball professionally? He was in Blue Jays spring training for five days in 2005. Sure, he was only there to write about the experience for Sports Illustrated, but that’s experience, isn’t it? I jest. But think about it: Who’s the national face for MLB analysis? John Smoltz? He can come off as a curmudgeon. Alex Rodriguez? Not in this lifetime. Verducci has covered baseball like few others and is excellent when he’s on the air for Fox or MLB Network.

The Latest
The driver, an 89-year-old woman, was among those who were hurt.
The woman, 22, was in a fight in the 5300 block of South Carpenter Street when she was stabbed in the chest and arms, police said.
The sergeant was attempting to arrest a male in the 3300 block of North Clark Street about 8:35 p.m. when he was punched in the head by a 21-year-old woman.
NHL
Behind a goal and an assist from Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the third time in franchise history and first in more than two decades by beating the Lightning 2-1 in Game 6.