Phil Simms’ boss did not mince words on Tuesday in responding to social media users who regularly criticized CBS’ lead NFL analyst last season.
“I think a lot of the social media is very misguided, unfair, not accurate,” Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman, said at the network’s annual NFL media lunch in Manhattan.
Sports analysts, especially ones on national television, often find themselves subjected to sharp criticism from passionate fans, but the treatment of Simms – and at times his play-by-play partner, Jim Nantz – went beyond the norm in 2015.
Both McManus and Simms insisted they would not be affected by it.
“I think he had his best year in a number of years,” McManus said. “I would hope that people would listen with an objective ear and not be subject to what people say just on social media, which is, generally speaking, very vitriolic.”
Said Simms, “You know, I don’t know what to say. It’s funny. I listen [back] to every game, so I didn’t see any problems. You always have to look where it comes from . . . Every year it’s a fan base that hates you.
“Because I am opinionated and I do state what I think — it’s not even what I think, it’s what I know — and that does not coincide with the fan base sometimes, that really becomes a problem.
“I’ve had the Pittsburgh fan base hating me, the Green Bay fan base, the Denver fan base, the Dallas fan base one year because, you know, I’m pro-Giant, even though I’ve never done a Dallas-Giant game, but whatever.”
Simms was criticized beyond just social media for a lackluster performance on Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, but CBS’ coverage of Super Bowl 50 received mostly favorable reviews and won an Emmy Award.
It was during dog days of the regular season when some wondered whether the grind of working every Thursday night in addition to most Sundays had caught up with Simms and Nantz.
Simms, 61, acknowledged that travel logistics made the two seasons of Thursday/Sunday double duty a challenge, but he rejected the notion it affected the CBS team’s on-air performance.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said of such talk, adding, “I think my energy’s freakin’ good. It’s like I said to somebody: ‘You ever watch me on [‘Inside the NFL’ on] Showtime? Do I look like I’m ever short of words or quick thoughts?’”
This year the Thursday schedule is split, with CBS producing the first half of the season and NBC the second. So even though the Nantz/Simms team will call six games in 18 days to start the season — including the first two Jets games — late autumn will be logistically easier now.
McManus said he thought the full-season Thursday schedule “did in some ways wear them down, but I don’t think it really affected their performance. And if you look at the job they did during the playoffs and specifically the Super Bowl, which won an Emmy Award, they did a terrific job.
“It’s really difficult to do two games in one week. You’ve got to memorize four No. 66s as a baseline starting point. You have to memorize four rosters and all the background and all the stories, so it’s very taxing. I think the fact they’re not doing as many games on the NFL Network will be easier on them and it will be a little easier to handle for them.”
Nantz lives in California, making his travel logistics more difficult than those of Simms, who lives in New Jersey. Still, he is reluctant to discuss such challenges publicly.
“I don’t want a schoolteacher or a police officer or anybody out there to think I’m complaining about covering the NFL,” he said. “I am grateful. This is not manual labor. So whatever the complexities are, I try to keep it to myself.”
So does Simms, who has gotten the game preparation down to a science. He already has shared his strategies with his NBC counterpart, Cris Collinsworth. Nantz plans to do the same with NBC play-by-play man Al Michaels.
“[Collinsworth] asked me about it and said, ‘How do you get it done?’” Simms said. “I told him I start working on it as soon as my Sunday game is over, I get some thoughts, I work on my Sunday game the following week and a little bit on Monday, just a little to get an overview.
“It doesn’t take long, especially with technology today. That’s what saves me — the technology. Everything is at my fingertips. I have all the games. I’ve got everything there. So I said to him: ‘You’ll see that you can get it done and you won’t feel rushed even on Sundays after a Thursday night game.’”
Michaels initially was reluctant to add the Thursday games to his play-by-play portfolio, and it was widely assumed NBC would use Mike Tirico for that job after hiring him away from ESPN. But the NFL insisted on Michaels.
Brian Rolapp, president of the NFL Network, said Tuesday that when CBS made its pitch to the NFL for the Thursday games two years ago, they offered to provide their lead announcing team. The league demanded the same from NBC.
“That was one of the things we contracted for and we felt it was very important,” Rolapp said. “CBS picks their lead team. We don’t tell them who to hire. We just want their lead team for Thursday night in order to make it a bigger night.
“NBC had the same deal, so NBC promised contractually that they would have their lead team. They could pick that lead team, but if it’s their lead team on Sunday night, it’s their lead team on Thursday night, and that, I believe, is what they’re doing.”