Jim Nantz has seen his share of magical moments and sendoffs during a career that has spanned nearly 40 years. He could get one of his own as he prepares to call his final NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Not only is the Final Four in Nantz’s adopted hometown of Houston, but with the University of Houston as one of the top seeds, Nantz could get to call his alma mater playing for a national title.
The Cougars basketball program was a launching point for Nantz in what has been a successful career at CBS as the network’s preeminent voice of the NFL, golf and March Madness.
“I wanted it to be a CBS year, but especially I wanted Houston to be my last dance for me and to exit college basketball stage right,” Nantz said. “It was truly through the basketball program — being the student public address announcer and while still a student later being entrusted to host the Guy Lewis television show, that was my entryway into television. I was just a kid living in the dorms. With a chance to possibly call my last basketball game with Houston playing for a championship, that would be amazing.”
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Nantz called a regular-season game between Houston and Memphis on March 5. He will also have Cougars’ first-round game on Thursday against Northern Kentucky. The top crew of Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill will be in Birmingham, Alabama, for the first two rounds on Thursday and Saturday since top seeds Houston and Alabama have games there.
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Even though Nantz still has a deep affinity for the Cougars, you couldn’t tell by how he has called the games the past couple of years. Nantz called Houston’s Final Four run two years ago and has done at least one regular season game the past two years.
“You could not tell, if you listened to that broadcast, that he had a vested interest whatsoever,” Raftery said of the recent Houston game, where Jamal Shead made the game-winning basket as time expired. “The love he has off the court doesn’t exhibit itself during the game. It is all about the 10 kids playing. I think it’s been that way since he started, and it will continue until he finishes in Houston.”
Nantz and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus agreed two years ago that this would be Nantz’s final tournament as the top announcer. Nantz started calling early-round games for CBS in 1986 and was the Final Four studio host for five years before taking over play-by-play duties from Brent Musburger in 1991.
When Nantz signs off on April 3, he will have called 354 NCAA Tournament games, including 64 national semifinals and 32 championship contests.
Nantz decided to step back from doing the tournament to devote more time to family. His 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter have spring break in March and, starting next year, he will have a six-week break between the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles and The Masters for what will likely end up being his longest time off.
With the NFL and golf, Nantz will still be on the road 38 out of 52 weekends. He plans on calling the NFL through at least 2033, which is the final year of CBS’ current contract with the league.
As for Nantz’s final assignment, he has long said he hopes it will be the final round of the 100th edition of The Masters on April 13, 2036. It could also be Nantz’s 51st year he has been involved with the tournament.
“I’ve loved it, and it has been so much fun. Something had to go, though. You’re never going to walk away from the NFL — it’s too big — and golf is deep in my heart,” Nantz said. “It’s been an amazing ride and a glorious part of my life.”
Nantz still plans to attend future Final Fours, but as a fan. He got to experience part of that last month when he went to the Super Bowl. Since Fox had the broadcast, it marked the first time Nantz was at a Super Bowl where he wasn't working.
“One of the great times of my life was sitting in the stands and getting to experience the excitement my children had watching the game, it brought me great joy,” he said, “I'm really looking forward to having that family time next year.”
Nantz called 18 Final Fours with Billy Packer, who died earlier this year. Since 2015, he has been with Raftery and Hill.
Raftery was Nantz’s analyst for his first NCAA Tournament game in 1986 when Duke faced Old Dominion in the second round in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hill led Duke to three Final Fours and two national titles, including the first one called by Nantz in 1991; he said he plans to try and enjoy this run as much as he did when he was a senior at Duke in 1994.
“This month, it’s always special. It’s bittersweet because he’s our friend, our leader, our mortar, the guy I feel keeps this whole thing together,” Hill said. “He has done it so eloquently, masterfully and respectfully for so long it’s crazy. It’s still surreal that it’s coming to an end.”
If Houston could make it to the national championship game, Nantz said it would rank up there as one of the top two moments of his career. His favorite remains the 1992 Masters when college roommate Fred Couples won the tournament.
Despite what happens over the next three weeks, though, Nantz is not about to let the story be about him. He wants the focus to be on the tournament and the special moments that occur.
“Every single one of these has its special preparation process when you advance or take a championship. We’re gonna have fun,” Nantz said. “All I can say is we’re not going to be maudlin. We’re gonna have a lot of fun.”
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25