Tony Romo went into Super Bowl LIII planning not to do as much prognosticating as he famously did during the AFC Championship Game. But it happened anyway. Sort of.
It came in the first quarter of Sunday night’s Patriots-Rams game. CBS posted a graphic reporting that kickers for the Falcons and visitors had gone 31-for-31 on field-goal attempts at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season.
Play-by-play man Jim Nantz dutifully reported that fact. Uh-oh. As the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski lined up for a 46-yard attempt, Romo said, “Did you do it to him again?”
Said Nantz, “Don’t blame the announcer.” Then Gostkowski kicked. Wide left.
“I can’t believe it,” Romo said. “It’s almost just automatic when you go 31-for-31 and tell the world.”
Said Nantz, “Was that one of your predictions?
Romo said it was not, adding, “I’m not predicting.”
OK, so it was not really a prediction. But the larger point was made.
Romo has emerged as a star analyst because of his mix of knowledge, plain-English communication skills, enthusiasm and likability, and he and Nantz helped keep an otherwise lackluster 13-3 Patriots victory interesting.
An old quote from the late Curt Gowdy, who 50 years earlier called the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III, came to mind when listening to Romo.
“I tried to pretend that I was sitting in the stands with a buddy watching the game, poking him in the ribs when something exciting happened,” Gowdy said. “I never took myself too seriously.”
Bingo. Romo set the tone from the start, shortly after 6 p.m., when Nantz said, “Welcome to the Super Bowl, Tony Romo.”
Romo responded, “I’ve been waiting to hear ‘Welcome to the Super Bowl’ my whole life.”
(He never sniffed a Super Bowl during his years as the Cowboys’ quarterback.)
When his microphone later briefly malfunctioned, he came back with “I was saying such good stuff on that play earlier, too. It was fantastic!”
As usual, he mostly was on top of X’s and O’s, explaining how the Rams’ defense was confusing Tom Brady early by disguising whether it was in man-to-man or zone, and noting that Bill Belichick was confusing the Rams’ young Jared Goff by coming at him from unpredictable directions.
Early on, he noted Julian Edelman’s remarkable ability to gain separation from Rams defenders and strongly suggested they start double-teaming him.
Romo should have noted how off Brady’s throws seemed to be in the first half. That was left to studio analyst Boomer Esiason, who bluntly criticized Brady’s play at halftime.
After the relatively uneventful first 30 minutes, Romo jokingly told Nantz, “The biggest thing was you called the missed field goal.”
Sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson reported during the pregame and early in the game that a Rams source had told her the plan called for running back Todd Gurley to get the ball early and often.
The opposite happened. Wolfson came on in the second quarter and speculated that Gurley’s sore knee might be acting up. She said in the fourth quarter that coach Sean McVay had told her Gurley was fine physically.
(Wolfson herself showed toughness by surviving a chaotic scrum after the game before eventually getting to interview the victorious Brady.)
Romo and Nantz did not sugarcoat the offenses’ struggles. Romo called it “hard to watch” in the third quarter. Later, he and Nantz jokingly got excited about a 65-yard punt, which set a Super Bowl record.
But with the score tied at 3 early in the fourth, Romo got everyone refocused on the stakes: “Blah, blah, blah. ‘No one’s scoring touchdowns. No one’s moving the ball.’ Guess what? It’s a tie game in the Super Bowl.”
Soon an excited Romo was noting that the Patriots set up the game’s only touchdown by using variations of the same play call for three consecutive snaps.
It was not a classic game by any means. But it helped that Romo and friends were good company.