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So Long, Sweet Simms

The internet’s favorite punching bag is getting the boot from CBS’s lead booth to clear the way for Tony Romo. Twitter denizens far and wide are rejoicing, but we might all miss Simms more than we realize.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

You may have strong feelings about Phil Simms.

Simms, who exhorted the Saints not to blitz in Super Bowl XLIV, immediately before a blitz secured New Orleans’ winning touchdown. Who once inspired 48,010 people to sign a petition begging CBS to kick him off Broncos broadcasts. Who is now out of a lead job, dumped as Jim Nantz’s partner on CBS’s primary commentator team and replaced by Tony Romo, whose broadcasting experience can be boiled down to the occasional interview.

The CBS powers that be, it seems, had strong feelings about Phil Simms, too.

“Phil Simms,” Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch wrote last year, “often trends on Twitter during the Sundays he broadcasts games, and not for positive reasons.”

Like Romo, Simms was a quarterback who went straight into TV after his playing days concluded: He spent 14 seasons with the Giants, earning an MVP award for New York’s victory in Super Bowl XXI, before retiring. After a brief ESPN stint, he joined NBC in 1995 and then left for CBS three years later. He has now spent most of his professional life doing television, and his calls are characterized by a frenetic, excitable lilt that has a way of lighting up his frequent bloopers in neon, an earnestness that at times makes his aw-shucks demeanor seem less like relatableness than unawareness. The above battle with the tea bag comes from an Inside the NFL segment in 2012 — and courtesy of a man who has formally endorsed tea. It is the diametric opposite of the Kermit the Frog tea meme, an emblem of over-fastidiousness and the tortured awareness of someone who knows he is not going to get the benefit of the doubt.

Criticizing color commentators and their aphorisms isn’t exactly challenging work, but Simms, who attracted some 40,000 Twitter denizens to an account devoted to mocking his broadcasts line by line, seemed almost to go out of his way to open himself up to it. He frequently landed on the single most obvious NFL broadcaster’s crutch of all: the word “football.”

His gimmicks and Kentucky-farmboy aesthetic did not, in turn, earn him much love from the media. Here is how his impending departure from Nantz’s booth was announced: “Tony Romo will finally rescue us from Phil Simms and become top analyst at CBS”; “Tony Romo Could Save Us From Phil Simms”; “CBS viewers may not have Phil Simms to kick around any more”; “One compelling reason for Tony Romo to become an analyst? He can save fans from Phil Simms”; “Twitter celebrates with mean tweets as Tony Romo replaces Phil Simms at CBS.”

But Simms, who has done color commentary for eight Super Bowls, wasn’t always the bumbling know-nothing he was made out to be. He was a traditionalist, sure — see his rant about “stat guys” — but also someone willing to take stands his colleagues would not: Beginning in 2014, he avoided saying the word “Redskins” on broadcasts. He occasionally broke out of the balmy tide of clichés, too: “Can it get any worse?” Simms asked after Bengals cornerback Adam Jones shoved an official in Cincinnati’s chippy AFC wild-card game against Pittsburgh in the 2015 season. “It’s disgraceful on so many fronts.”

He may not be finished on TV: While he’s off the Nantz team, CBS hasn’t said if he’ll move to another post at the network. But his heavily criticized time in the spotlight may finally be over. For Simms, at least, there’s reason to believe he’ll move on just fine: “I think anybody who’s an athlete always wishes he could go back and handle a situation a little better,” he said in 2007 when asked if he had any regrets. “… I don’t dwell on it, though.”

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated which Super Bowl Phil Simms was calling when he advised the New Orleans Saints not to blitz; it was Super Bowl XLIV, not XLVII.