Four years ago almost to the day, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus ran into Tony Romo at a Super Bowl party. The quick and informal conversation was enormously influential for CBS. Romo was in his 12th season, and had two more years in the NFL before he would retire.
That was the moment McManus knew he wanted to hire Romo.
“It was really the first time I ever met him, which was two nights before the Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl,” McManus said Tuesday in Atlanta ahead of Super Bowl LIII. “He was at the Friday night party and he was with [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones. [CBS Sports President] David [Berson] and I had a conversation with Tony, and I said, ‘What do you see for the game?’ And he began to break down the game: ‘How can the Seattle defense stop Tom Brady? What can the Patriots defense do?’
“And in about seven or eight minutes, he had broken down the game in an incredibly enthusiastic and interesting way. And I turned to David after the conversation and said, ‘I think that guy’s going to be an analyst for us one day.’ I didn’t anticipate him being the No. 1 and lead analyst right away, but I knew at that point and had a really good feeling that he was going to be a really good NFL analyst.”
A few years later, CBS would hire Romo and promote him to their No. 1 analyst role, replacing Phil Simms. It was the first time a player had been slotted into the role with no prior experience. Of course, you know the rest: Romo shined.
“We took a real chance, but it was a calculated risk,” McManus said. “We just had the feeling and the instinct that Tony was up to it. We didn’t know how good he was — we thought he would be good. And he exceeded our expectations.”
Romo has grown famous for his ability to predict plays before they happen, with the AFC championship being the latest display of his foresight. With a knowledge of NFL defenses, Romo can identify a weakness and anticipate what a quarterback like Tom Brady might call at the line of scrimmage to exploit that shortcoming. While that’s what has drawn so much attention to Romo, McManus wished it wasn’t such a big focal point during the analyst’s rise.
“People focus on the predictions, but over and above that, he’s an outstanding analyst and he breaks down offenses, breaks down defenses, sees the entire field,” McManus said. “So I understand why people focus as much as they do on the predictions, but that’s only part of his talents.”