Although the top games on CBS and FOX draw major audiences during the regular season, the numbers grow — and the attention spikes — in the playoffs. So does the scrutiny of the people calling the games for those networks.
This year, Greg Olsen of Fox is up. And Tony Romo of CBS is down. The former Cowboys quarterback, who burst onto the scene in 2017 as a breath of fresh air, has quickly assumed the aroma of rotting rock bass, based on the instant assessments made during every game on social media by fans and pundits alike.
Romo has taken repeated body blows in the aftermath of Sunday’s AFC Championship. Andrew Marchand of the New York Post said on his podcast with John Ourand of Sports Business Journal that CBS has been aware of Romo’s slippage.
Specifically, Marchand said that CBS attempted an “intervention” with Romo during the 2022 offseason, but that things “did not get better.”
“There’s kind of a fine line between unconventional and undisciplined,” Marchand said on the podcast.
It’s unclear what has happened with Romo, who was given a curve-shattering, 10-year, $180 million contract by CBS in 2020. Is he not working as hard to prepare? Is he less familiar with the players and coaches, now that he has been out of the league for six full seasons? Is he less curious than he should be about the details and nuances of the game he’s about to call?
Or have the tastes of the general public changed? Has Romo’s routine simply gotten stale?
Via Jenna Lemoncelli of the New York Post, Romo recently addressed the status of his broadcasting career as part of a promotional campaign. And while he didn’t mention any intervention or other issues, he acknowledged that he remains a work in progress.
“I think you’re always evolving,” Romo told the Post. “I mean, some changes are good, some you’re like, ‘Ah, I shouldn’t do that. But I always trial-and-error a bunch, and sometimes it works.”
Sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the problem. Calling a game in front of 30 million (during the regular season) and more than 40 or 50 million (in the postseason) may not be the ideal time to experiment.
“I mean, the ability to adapt and learn, if you never try to change at all — I just think like the best players in the world aren’t afraid of failure,” Romo said. “You’re going to fail all the time, but at the same time, you succeed because of that, as long as you think about it and try to understand how to improve and then go about the process to make that happen, which is work ethic and commitment. But you got to have a plan for it before.”
There’s a subtle inconsistency lurking in that explanation. The greater a person’s commitment to work ethic and planning, the less likely the person will be to take chances with the fruits of that labor. The greater the commitment to work ethic and planning, the more often comments that seem spontaneous or risky will work.
Who knows how hard Romo really is preparing? Maybe he likes the rush of flying by the seat of his pants. Of improvising. Of the thrill of the inherent roll of the dice that comes from real-time trial and error.
Or maybe he’s just gotten complacent, now that he has gotten paid.
“I just think it’s enjoyable to try and be the best you can be, and the only way to do that is sometimes to trial and error, and staying inside the umbrella of what you think that the viewer wants to help them enjoy the show,” Romo said. “You don’t always get it right, but I do think more often than not, just the people that come up to you all the time. I mean, it’s quadruple from my first two-to-three years, of how many people come up to me on the street and want to talk about it and how they loved it and stuff. So it’s really rewarding for that.”
That said, the real truth usually falls somewhere between the endless vitriol from keyboard warriors and the face-to-face fawning by strangers who smile and say without specificity, “I enjoy your work.”
Romo added that his work isn’t stressful, and that he’s always trying to improve.
“I just love showing the emotion of that, the fans and just letting them know how big this is to these players, to these coaches,” Romo said. “It’s life changing for a lot of people. . . . I just think it’s really enjoyable to kind of share some of that emotion with people. I’m was trying to improve and get to a level that people enjoy sometimes once in a while.”
Frankly, I’ve done a 180 on Romo. When he was the fair-haired boy of broadcasting, I didn’t get it. Now that people seem to be getting sick of his shtick, I’m used to it. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. His unbridled enthusiasm and stray sound effects and non-sequiturs are like an old friend whose flaws are more endearing than irritating.
Still, maybe Romo needs to ask himself whether he’s gotten too comfortable, whether he’s truly putting in the work the way he should. Whether he can improve. Whether he even wants to. If he has sufficiently thick skin, he can ride out the balance of his deal doing things his way, cash every check, and then see what’s next for him.
He won the race more than two years ago. He alone can decide whether he wants to keep running as fast as he can.