Jim Nantz has seen his share of magic moments and fallouts during a career spanning 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 hometown of Houston, but with the University of Houston as one of the top seeds, Nantz could call his alma mater playing for a national title.
The Cougars basketball program was a launching pad for Nantz to 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 I especially wanted Houston to be my last dance for me and get off the college basketball scene properly,” Nantz said. “It was really through the basketball program – being the student public address announcer and while still a student he was later assigned to host the Guy Lewis TV show, that was my entry into television. I was just a kid living in the dorms. “Having the opportunity to call my last basketball game with Houston playing for a championship would be amazing.”
Nantes called a regular season game between Houston and Memphis on March 5th. It will also have the Cougars’ first-round game Thursday against Northern Kentucky. The top-seeded Nantz crew of Bill Raftery and Grant Hill will be in Birmingham, Alabama, for the first two rounds on Thursday and Saturday, as top seeds Houston and Alabama have games there.
Even though Nantz still has a deep affinity for the Cougars, you couldn’t tell by how he called the games the past two years. Nantz called Houston’s Final Four two years ago and has made at least one regular-season game the last two years.
“You couldn’t tell if you were listening to that broadcast that he had a vested interest,” Raftery said of the recent game in Houston, where Jamal Shead made the game-winning basket as time expired. “The love he has off the field doesn’t show during the game. It’s all about the 10 kids playing. I think that’s how it’s been since it started and it’s going to continue until it ends in Houston.”
Nantz and CBS Sports president Sean McManus agreed two years ago that this would be Nantz’s last tournament as the top announcer. Nantz began calling early-round games for CBS in 1986 and was the studio host of the Final Four for five years before taking over play-by-play duties from Brent Musburger in 1991.
When Nantz signs on April 3, he will have called 354 NCAA Tournament games, including 64 national semifinals and 32 championship contests.
Nantz decided to retire from the tournament to spend more time with family. His 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter are on 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. It plans to call the NFL at least through 2033, which is the final year of CBS’ current contract with the league.
As for Nantz’s final mission, 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 in the tournament.
“I loved it and it was so much fun. Something had to go, though. You’re never going to leave 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 a future Final Four, but as a fan. He experienced some of that last month when he went to the Super Bowl. Since Fox had the broadcast, it was the first time Nantz had been to a Super Bowl where he wasn’t working.
“One of the great moments of my life was sitting in the stands and experiencing the excitement my kids had watching the game, it brought me so much joy,” he said, “I’m really looking forward to getting that family through next. year.”
Nantz called 18 Final Fours with Billy Packer, who died earlier this year. Since 2015 he has been at 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 Nantz’s first in 1991. He said he plans to try and enjoy this ride as much as he did when he was a senior at Duke in 1994.
“This month is always special. It’s bittersweet because he’s our friend, our leader, our mortar, the guy that I feel holds this whole thing together,” Hill said. “He’s 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 reach the national championship game, Nantz said it would rank 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.
However, despite what happens over the next three weeks, Nantz isn’t going to let history get to him. He wants the focus to be on the tournament and the special moments that happen.
“Each of them has its own special preparation process when you qualify or win a championship. We’re going to have fun,” Nantz said. “All I can say is that we will not be mean. We’re going to have a great time.”
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