I have never understood the popularity of CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz. I find him to be rather bland and inoffensive, and I’ve always kind of felt that he holds the viewer in a kind of contempt. Sure, he’s not a pompous jerk like Joe Buck. But he doesn’t have the wit or cynicism of Bob Costas. Nantz isn’t good. He isn’t bad. He’s just a guy who’s gotten lucky by being in the right place at the right time.
Nantz comes before us with a memoir, Always By My Side: A Father’s Grace and a Sports Journey Unlike Any Other. The memoir exists to serve two purposes: It is a brief of his broadcasting career, and it is a loving tome to his father, who’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. For purposes of a framing device, the book is set in 2007 as Nantz embarks on a mythical epic journey – mythical because I’ve yet to find anyone who feels this feat was monumental – of becoming the first broadcaster to do play-by-play of the Super Bowl, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the Masters. A journey he makes with thoughts of his father always at the front of his mind.
Nantz’s career is a total accident, though I’m sure he would say it was fate. A golf pro with connections to the University of Houston sees Nantz on the golf course. The pro knows the UH golf coach, and the coach invites Nantz to be part of the team. Nantz is lucky enough to room with future pro golfer Fred Couples, and though Nantz is a mediocre golfer, he gets to go everywhere Couples goes. One day at a televised golf tournament up in The Woodlands, Nantz luckily meets the head of NBC Sports who makes him a runner. Then Nantz goes up to the Metroplex for a tournament, and through connections, ends up working for NBC that weekend while relaying reports to KTRH and KPRC. Then Nantz, by luck, ends up working for KHOU, and from KHOU he ends up in Salt Lake City as a sports anchor in that city’s number one station, and as such, he also ends up doing analysis for the Utah Jazz and play-by-play for the Brigham Young football team. And somehow or another, CBS gets an audition tape and they like him and they hire him to host their college football studio show. Then he goes to working the various and sundry events televised by CBS Sports, and he just happens to be in the right place when CBS fires Brent Musburger. Then CBS gets back the NFL and as the so-called senior guy, he picks the studio show, and is then moved up to play-by-play several years later.
Reading the details of his career advancement reminds me of the Ann Richards joke about George H.W. Bush – a good friend of Nantz – that Bush was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.
His opinion of his viewers is best expressed by a story. He sees Tiger Woods in the locker room before Woods starts a round. Woods ignores him. Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus tells Nantz that Woods is just like that before he starts a round. Nantz decides to play a joke on Woods: For the entire broadcast that day, he will not once mention Woods’s name. Never mind that Woods is leading the contest. Never mind that viewers may come in and out of the broadcast. Never mind that they might not see every graphic, or listen to every word his analyst says. Never mind that the only time some viewers will pay any attention is when Nantz speaks. Getting his revenge on Tiger Woods is more important than his actual job of relaying factual information to his viewers.
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Then there’s the Janet Jackson Super Bowl in Houston. Nantz feels no need to actually watch the game, instead choosing to hang in the palatial suite the taxpayers built for Bob McNair. He misses the whole Janet Jackson thing – and makes no attempt to use any of his important connections (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush) to help out his employer. Then Nantz grabs a limo and has the police whisk him away as soon as the game ends. Never mind the fans trying to deal with traffic. Nantz is important – he has dined with Rush Limbaugh after all.
The book partly fails because I end up knowing nothing about Nantz’s father. The one memory of Nantz with his father that I remember is the two of them attending the very first New Orleans Saints football game. So while it’s nice that Nantz’s memories with his father are supposed to drive this book, I really have no sense of what he’s like. I know lots of stuff about Billy Packer. And Ken Venturi. And George H.W. Bush. And Jim McKay. And Phil Simms. And Fred Couples. But his dad? Not so much
Ultimately, the book fails in how it deals with the subject of Alzheimer’s and how to deal with a loved one who suffers from it. Jim Nantz is constantly traveling, so it’s his mom dealing with his dad. And his sister. And his wife. Nantz just pops by for the occasional drive-by. Nantz knows his father is well-cared for, and that the best professionals are working on the matter. His solutions are those that most families can’t make, because most families don’t have the economic means to make his solutions.
Always By My Side is like a Nantz broadcast: It’s bland, inoffensive and you come away from it knowing nothing you don’t already know. There are no revelations about broadcasting or about Alzheimer’s in this book. The book is boring and nonessential. – John Royal