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25 Super Bowl Media Musings From Las Vegas

Tony Romo, Rich Little, Radio Row, and why the NFL should host every Super Bowl in Vegas

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Last week in Las Vegas, SiriusXM’s Chris “Mad Dog” Russo told me that two people were facing the most pressure in the Super Bowl. One was San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. The other was … Tony Romo. It was an announcer legacy game!

Here are 25 observations about the Kansas City Chiefs’ 25-22 Super Bowl win over the 49ers, with notes on the announcers, the broadcast, and the five days I spent among the media hordes in Vegas:

The Game

1. That was a classic Romo game. Classic in the sense that Romo was both his best and worst self. This is why Romo is such an interesting announcer and such an aggravating one.

2. Romo came out mellow. Maybe he read a couple of TV columns. Maybe he powered down because there weren’t any points scored in the first quarter. Romo is a very different announcer when he’s not calling a shoot-out. Offense is what interests him.

The problem is that, Sunday, Romo’s focus on offense prevented him from telling the story of the game. If Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy were trading touchdowns, well, Here we go, Jim! But if two defenses are playing well, as they were for big stretches of Sunday’s game, you have to have the curiosity to explain why that’s happening, too.

When the Chiefs defense forced the Niners offense into three straight three-and-outs to start the second half, Romo barely touched on it. His note was: The Niners should run more. Romo was happy to note how the Chiefs were picking on the Niners’ backup linebackers after Dre Greenlaw’s injury, though. It felt like he was seeing half the field.

3. But look at how he sees half the field! In the second quarter, when Mahomes threw a ball behind receiver Justin Watson, Romo looked at a replay and showed how defensive tackle Arik Armstead’s rush made Mahomes change his arm angle slightly.

4. Romo was loose, too. In one of the biggest TV games of his life, Romo was humming Adele as CBS went to break.

Or listen to Romo on Harrison Butker’s game-tying kick at the end of the fourth quarter: “No way it ends like this, does it?” The sentiment was dead-on. What other announcer throws out a line like that? Who else even thinks that? There are times—some times—when Romo is exactly the announcer you want.

5. I liked Romo’s deadpan “what a play” as Purdy threw his big pass to Christian McCaffrey in overtime. And Romo’s “oooooh!” when Isiah Pacheco got stopped on third-and-short in OT and it looked like the 49ers might win the game.

But here’s Romo after the Chiefs’ winning TD:

This was the Andy Reid special we talked about he was saving all day. He’s gonna fake a motion to go across and at that moment he turns and goes back—[Mecole] Hardman, who they didn’t have, right? And they go get Hardman and bring him back. And the game-winning drive of Mahomes’s career he’s been waiting for. He’s won Super Bowls, but he’s never had it. And in overtime. He is the best. He is the standard. The Michael Jordan wins it again.

A good editor would have cut the lede and started with “the game-winning drive.”

6. I liked the note of pleasant surprise in Jim Nantz’s voice when San Francisco kicker Jake Moody drilled a 53-yarder late in the fourth. Nantz had a crisp, professional announcer moment when he was able to quickly squeeze in the information that Moody’s second-quarter kick would set a Super Bowl record. I even liked Nantz’s just-on-the-edge-of-corny “jackpot” line when the Chiefs won in OT. I thought this was Nantz’s best game of the postseason.

7. It feels like nearly every CBS replay sequence begins with a floating SkyCam shot behind the quarterback, as if that’s mandated in the network’s contract with the NFL.

8. Shot of the game: Travis Kelce’s attempt to pancake Andy Reid on the sideline. Unfortunately, CBS led into it with an unrelated replay that had Kelce open on a pass, and Romo had to explain why Kelce was actually angry.

9. Speaking of Kelce, the lack of early offense nicely solved the “How much should we show Taylor?” debate, if that was a real debate and not a psyop.

10. The CBS touchdown graphic with the fireworks looked like something from a more innocent age, like the Indy and Marion halftime show.

11. The CBS ad that had the pregame crew wearing sunglasses and posing on the Las Vegas Strip got, well, a lot of attention inside the industry.

12. James Brown on the pregame show: “Super Bowl LVIII is charged with the electric promise of a legendary rematch. Allegiant Stadium stands as a beacon of modern spectacle—ready, folks, to witness the San Francisco 49ers’ drive for redemption against the Kansas City Chiefs’ quest for a dynasty.”

Then JB threw it to Phil Simms.

13. Simms may be the first announcer I’ve ever seen botch their delivery of a pregame prediction. He gave a whole spiel about picking the Chiefs and then said he meant to pick the Niners.

14. One top TV crew loves Bill Vinovich, Sunday’s head referee, because of how quickly he makes calls. In overtime, Vinovich seemed like he announced the holding call on 49ers tight end Brayden Willis before Willis let his man go. Vinovich has a certain postseason infamy, but his games do move along.

15. Patrick Mahomes to Nate Burleson before the game: “You turn into that villain, you turn into that team that everybody doesn’t want to win. … You know it’s just you and your teammates versus everybody.”

Does anyone think of Mahomes as a villain? Does Burleson?

16. Kyle Brandt’s Casino tribute was really fun. The Martin Scorsese tracking shots have still got it!

Notes From Vegas

17. I’m not a “Vegas guy,” as I demonstrated last week, when I spent five days there and forgot to gamble. (Or, in the terms understood by today’s sportswriters, forgot to make a video of myself crossing a casino floor.) But I’d make the case—tentatively but genuinely—that the NFL should play every Super Bowl there.

Las Vegas just absorbs the big game like no host city I’ve ever been to. It wasn’t until Friday or Saturday that you could even tell there was a Super Bowl happening nearby. Rooms at the Luxor, where the media stayed, were priced at $30-something a night (plus the resort fee, naturally) for most of the week.

The NFL doles out Super Bowls and drafts as gifts to owners. What if the league just called it a day?

18. On the other hand: Let’s say a football writer covering the Super Bowl worries they’re part of a commercial, rather than journalistic, apparatus. And let’s say that writer finds their Vegas hotel is decorated like a giant Dorito. That’s a good argument for mixing in Phoenix.

19. Some sportswriters came to Vegas wanting to see U2. Some wanted to see Bruno Mars. I wanted to see Rich Little, an 85-year-old comedian and impressionist whom I half remembered from TV in my childhood.

Little was playing a small room at the Tropicana hotel, which is set to be demolished to make room to build a stadium for the vagabond Oakland A’s. It was the kind of room where a man in a suit takes you to your table, but then you get up, walk back across the room, and order a drink (I chose a Diet Pepsi, which seemed right for the occasion) from a bar in the back. The show runs Sunday through Wednesday.

There were maybe 30 or 40 of us in the room. I think I was the youngest by 10 or 20 years. I opted for the “golden circle” tickets and got a seat right next to the stage. I watched Little whirl through impressions of Jimmy Stewart, Milton Berle, and Jimmy Durante. Bruno Mars ain’t doing Jimmy Durante! At one point, Little assumed the voice of the late insult comedian Don Rickles and began insulting me! Where was my date, etc., etc.?

I hung around the stage door and got a picture with Little afterward. Years from now, I may not remember much about Super Bowl week, but I’ll never forget that.

20. This week, I spent a lot of time on Radio Row. I love Radio Row. That’s where you find radio and podcast hosts begging celebrities to come on their shows in exchange for product plugs. (“Tell us what you’re doing with Funyuns.”)

The particular day that a celebrity’s PR minder chooses to send them to the row becomes an unofficial measure of their fame. Since Radio Row reaches its zenith on Thursday, a Thursday guy is more important than a Wednesday guy. And so forth on down to the lowly Monday guy. A Friday guy is less important than a Thursday guy but more important than a Wednesday guy.

Here’s a snapshot of this year’s guests:

Monday guy: Ventriloquist Terry Fator
Tuesday guy: Bubba Watson
Wednesday guy: Dan Marino
Thursday guy: The Rock
Friday guy: Chris Berman

21. Carrot Top, the prop comic, was spotted on the row on two different days. My pal Peter Bukowski, who hosts the Locked on Packers podcast, came up with a rule. Just like the airlines ask families to board the plane with the family member holding the lowest group number, a Radio Row celebrity is classified by the least glamorous day on which they appear. Carrot Top was a Tuesday guy.

22. Radio Row was bigger than I’ve ever seen it. Part of this may be because the Super Bowl sports-drink-plugging-industrial-complex finally reached its pre-COVID heights. Part of this may be Las Vegas. “More Thursday and Friday guys are coming early because they want to be in Vegas,” said John Mamola, a program director at Tampa’s WDAE.

23. While directing me to the entrance to Radio Row, one attendant told me I needed to pass through security so I could go from the “dirty” to the “clean” zone. This is the first time these terms have been used—at least as a compliment—in the history of sports radio.

24. I heard a rumor on the row. Since sports radio is not exactly bringing in the kids these days, the league might change the name to “Creators Row.” This would match the soullessness of the college football national championship’s “Audio Avenue,” which sounds like a big-box store that competed with Sound Warehouse.

This is another opportunity to invoke the Bukowski rule. When in doubt, the NFL should revert to the more archaic form of technology. The place where creators hang out should always be known as Radio Row.

25. My favorite story from the whole week: I was lurking around the row when Joe Favorito, a longtime PR man, came running up to me. “What happens when you lose a Senate election?” said Favorito. “You become a Wednesday guy!”

Favorito was talking in an excited voice. It was like he’d just witnessed the second coming, or booked a client on The Pat McAfee Show. Favorito took a breath. Then he told me he’d spotted Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor and Oprah Winfrey guest who lost a Pennsylvania Senate race to John Fetterman a little over a year ago. Dr. Oz was walking Radio Row. “He was in front of the Jabbawockeez!” said Favorito.

That was a curiosity. So I took a clockwise lap around the room to find Dr. Oz. I could not. Favorito, now performing services beyond that of a normal PR man, appeared out of nowhere and told me, “There he is!”

And there he was. At least, there I thought he was. I don’t have the same skill at picking out Dr. Oz as I do picking out sports radio legends like JT the Brick. It could have been Mike Florio with a sporty new ’do.

I found a woman in the vicinity of the alleged Dr. Oz. I asked if he was the genuine daytime TV article. Yes, the woman said kindly, it was Dr. Oz.

And what was Dr. Oz doing on Radio Row? Talking about the NFL’s safety initiatives, it turned out. The woman and I chatted for another minute before I asked who she was. She said she was Oz’s wife, Lisa. At that point, I excused myself to share my scoop with the world.

There’s a moral to this story that applies to both politics and Radio Row. If you lose an election on Tuesday, you’re a Wednesday guy.