Why America has fallen in love with Tony Romo, the NFL commentator with a knack for predicting plays

CBS football analyst Tony Romo - FR171389 AP
CBS football analyst Tony Romo – FR171389 AP

Overtime in chilly Kansas City, game tied at 31-31. The Patriots possess one of the great mis-match players in the NFL in tight end Rob Gronkowski, bound for the Hall of Fame but whose opportunities so far in the AFC Championship game have been minimal.

“That’s why I keep saying, Gronk has to get out wide, and you’ve got to throw it to him out there.”

Tom Brady has already converted two fairly improbable throws on third-and-long to wide receiver Julian Edelman. Well, improbable unless you are Tom Brady. Gronk on both occasions acts as a decoy.

More resistance from the Chiefs and here Brady and the Patriots are again, facing third-and-10. Fail to convert and they will have to settle for a field goal, giving the Chiefs and their phenom, the MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the chance to go to the Super Bowl.

Brady might be the greatest quarterback of all time, but completing a third long-range conversion is pushing his luck.

“Here we go. Gronk is out wide. Watch the top of your screen. Watch this safety [circled quickly in yellow]. If he comes down, Brady’s throwing out there.”

The safety, Daniel Sorensen, does just that. Gronkowski moves inside the covering defender, motors through a small window like an HGV careering down an alleyway, and picks up the first down. Three plays later and the Patriots score, booking their ticket to Atlanta. Kansas City the following week fired their defensive co-ordinator Bob Sutton.

Now, Sutton’s dismissal cannot be pinned solely on the prescient observations of Tony Romo, the CBS commentator who will be on the mic for Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. Except Romo knew what was about to happen, as per the above quotes, and Sutton and the Chiefs’ defence were unable to stop it.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on the move - Credit: USA TODAY
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on the move Credit: USA TODAY

The Chiefs’ defence finished 31st in yards allowed per game this year, which is impressive for all the wrong reasons given they made it to overtime of the AFC Championship game.

But Romo has something. Undrafted out of college before spending 13 years as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, Romo has flourished during his time in the booth at a time when other newcomers, including his former team-mate Jason Witten, have noticeably struggled.

Coming to the end of his second broadcasting season alongside Jim Nantz – better know to UK viewers as the host of the presentation that takes place after every Masters, in that creepy butler cabin straight out of ‘Twin Peaks’ – Romo’s knack for reading defenses and predicting what’s about to happen next on each play has captivated America and rest of the NFL-watching world.

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Naturally, Romo is not getting every play right, but his conversion rate is remarkable. Better in fact than his own pass completion percentage as a player.

The Wall Street Journalcalculated that 68 per cent of his 72 predicted plays this season were correct. Romo in his career completed 65.3 per cent of his passes.

As a result he has been elevated to near the top of the podium when it comes to the sport’s best colour commentators, relegating Fox’s Troy Aikman into third and applying pressure to the gold standard in NBC’s Cris Collinsworth. John Madden, whose name today is more commonly recognised for being part of the sport’s official video game, is the deity. 

How is Romo predicting so many plays before they happen? Studying, essentially. A trait carried over from spending more than a decade in the league analysing defences. Romo now sees the same tells and pre-snap movements he saw as a player, except now from high up above the field. Each game resembles a film review session.

Any top quarterback could do it, arguably. Except Romo is able to process the play and then articulate what he sees within a five to ten second window before the ball is snapped, doing so with an infectious enthusiasm.

And he could still be playing. A back injury in the 2016 preseason pushed Romo towards retirement after he lost his job as the Cowboys quarterback to Dak Prescott, but Brady has just made his ninth Super Bowl at the age of 41. Drew Brees, of the New Orleans Saints, recently turned 40 and will be back next year after reaching the NFC Championship game.

Romo passes against Washington in 2014 - Credit: usa today
Romo passes against Washington in 2014 Credit: usa today

Romo is now 38 and his back is healthy again, yet he downplayed those suggestions before the start of this season, quite understandably. Why risk being pummeled by defensive linemen weighing nearly 300 pounds when Romo can stay up in the booth and continue his role as America’s favourite voice in their living room.

On Sunday he will get to perform all his party tricks on the biggest stage of them all covering Super Bowl LIII, with the whole world watching.

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