HOUSTON — To this day whenever I run into Jim Nantz, the greeting starts with a smile, then a laugh and then we hug each another.
I'm so proud of him and he has always appreciated my constant support of him through the years. I first met Jim when he was a student at the University of Houston and he was also working part time at KTRH Radio. Jimmy was also hosting the Guy V. Lewis TV show on KUHT-TV Public TV (coincidentally where our KHOU 11 Newsroom has been housed since Hurricane Harvey) and he also did Public Address work for U.H. basketball games.
Jim was always looking to do more and he asked Dan Patrick and I on a regular basis if we had anything for him at KHOU 11. Then when we needed someone to do some fill-in work when I took time off, we hired Jim for $25 per show. The only problem with this arrangement from Jim's point of view was that if an early newscast was wiped out because a football game or golf tournament ran long, he wouldn't be paid his $25 for that newscast.
To this day, he still will remind me of that. I was in charge of the sports department interns for many years at KHOU 11 and I'm proud of all the young people that came through that office and have gone on to accomplish great things in their lives. Jim though was different. He was never an "actual" intern. He went straight from his role as being a college student to occasionally anchoring sports as a weekend fill-in anchor. He was a part time employee from day one and he loved it.
At first, it was just an occasional anchor stint once every few months, but after a while when I would take vacation or travel for work, Jimmy became a trusted fill-in. I showed him, along with others, how to put a sportscast together, all the nuts and bolts stuff, that he needed to do to make a strong presentation. But from the start, he had a feel for what he needed to do.
His experience doing the Guy V. Lewis TV Show had really helped him get comfortable on camera. Even at a young age. Jim had that great voice. It sounded just like his late father's. Jim had come to U.H. to play golf and two of his well-known teammates were Freddie Couples and Blaine McCallister. They were also suite-mates in the U.H. dormitory.
Legendary golf coach Dave Williams told me that when he observed Jim struggling to compete against the other standout golfers in his nationally-ranked program, he called Jim into his office one day and said, "Jim, you are a great person and you're going to do something great in this world…but you're not going to do it as a golfer."
In 1982 I had been at KHOU 11 only a couple of years when I got a job offer at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, Utah. I really liked what KSL offered but I really didn't want to leave Houston. I loved the city. I was married with two young children and was tired of moving.
As we were negotiating a potential deal to get me to Salt Lake City, I told KSL I wouldn't leave my job in Houston unless KSL could offer me some play-by-play opportunities. The station couldn't totally guarantee that wish, but I did talk the news director into offering me the color commentary job with the Utah Jazz. At that time, KSL televised the Jazz games.
I wound up turning down the offer, but the news director there asked me if I knew any other young TV sportscasters who would be good for the job. I knew a lot of guys working in the business,but I immediately thought of Jim first.
He had worked so hard stringing tape at KTRH at sports events and worked hard for us getting $25 per newscast that I was confident that he not only had the potential talent for the job, but he had the drive and desire to succeed.
It's funny. At first, he didn't even know if he should go to Utah for the interview, but I pushed him hard to go. I told him that I always believe it's important to go for job interviews if you're asked, even if you don't think you want the job. You just never know what could work out.
Well, sure enough, he went for the interview. They offered him the number 2 sports job at KSL and it included the color commentator job with the Jazz.
In 1983, Phi Slama Jama was dominating the NCAA Basketball scene and the University of Houston Cougars headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for their second straight Final Four appearance. In 1982 the Cougars lost to Michael Jordan and North Carolina teammates in the National NCAA Semi-Final game at New Orleans but in 1983 they were even better.
Jim was working in Salt Lake City but he really wanted to see his Coogs play for the national title. He knew all the guys including Clyde Drexler (whom he gave the nickname Clyde the Glide as PA announcer) and Hakeem Olajuwon. etc and he didn't want to miss them winning the NCAA Championship.
He called me and asked if I thought I could get him into the game. I said sure and I told him where to meet me. He got a ride to The Pit on the team bus, but he had no ticket or media pass to enter the arena ... so I let him in a back door. Really. Times have changed a little right? I took him around and showed him where Brent Musburger, Gary Bender and the rest were preparing for the night's broadcast. I could tell he was blown away with the impressive setup that CBS Sports had to do the broadcast. Amazingly Jim was involved with the Final Four broadcasts just a couple of years later.
After he interviewed for the CBS Sports job, he told me something amazing happened. He was asked to voice over some football highlights cold. No script, no notes. He said to his amazement. highlights of a University of Houston football game popped up on the screen and he felt at ease.
That's been the case with Jim ever since he got the CBS job. He always seems at ease, even in the most tense game situations.
He's never been a guy who yells a lot. He gets excited for sure, but he always keeps his composure.
I ran into him in Charlotte, NC, a couple of years ago when he told me, "We're doing a broadcast to no one!"
He was there at a Texans/Panthers preseason game broadcasting a rehearsal game with his new color man, Tony Romo. I had met Tony before when he played for the Cowboys but I was just another media guy looking for an interview at training camp and he had no reason to remember me and Jim re-introduced us. Jim told me at the time in front of Tony that, "Tony is a natural. He's going to be great at this."
Boy was he right. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will be calling their first Super Bowl together Sunday. I can't wait to tune in to the broadcast and this time if the game runs long, Jim won't have to be worried about losing his $25 talent fee if the local sportscast gets cut. Haha!. Good Luck Jim!! I love you, buddy, and I'll always be in your corner!