Photo illustration from GolfDigest.com
Today marks Jim Nantz’s 25th anniversary with CBS Sports — Sept. 14, 1985, in the studio with Pat Haden for the Prudential College Football Report, as Brent Musburger, looking live at the Notre Dame-Michigan game, introduced the 26-year-old to the audience.
Between then and today, Nantz has won two Emmys for play-by-play and five National Sportscaster of the Year awards.
CBS had Nantz list his top 25 memories at CBS (with three of the top four happening this year):
1. April 12, 1992: Fred Couples, Nantz’s former college roommate at the University of Houston, wins the Masters, and Nantz interviews him for the green jacket ceremony — just as they had rehearsed in their dorm room back in 1979. “It’s a perfect fit!… Fred Couples… Masters champion,” Nantz said that day in Butler Cabin. Reflecting back, Nantz says: “I cannot imagine ever witnessing a moment that will touch me more deeply than this perfect fulfillment of a glorious dream that was shared by intimate friends for so many years.”
2. February 7, 2010: The New Orleans Saints, with the hopes of a city that was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina that nearly destroyed their city five years before, defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. Before an estimated average audience of 106.5 million viewers, the game became the most-watched program in television history.
3. April 5, 2010: Playing just seven minutes from their campus in Indianapolis, life was imitating art from the movie Hoosiers as the Cinderella Butler Bulldogs went up against the mighty Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball National Championship. Trailing 61-59 with seconds remaining, Butler’s Gordon Hayward heaved a half-court shot that missed by inches of giving Butler the title. Duke’s win is the fourth for Mike Krzyzewski as coach of the Blue Devils.
4. April 11, 2010: With his wife, Amy, who had been diagnosed with cancer 11 months earlier, watching nervously from the gallery on the 18th green, Phil Mickelson birdies the 72nd hole to wrap up a three-shot win for his second Masters championship with a “Win for the family.”
5. April 13, 1986: 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus wins his historic sixth green jacket with a final round 65 (including a back nine 30) to become the oldest man to win the Masters — and increase his record of major victories to 18. Nicklaus’ birdie on 16 elicited Nantz’s famous summation: “The Bear has come out of hibernation!” About calling his first Masters at age 26, Nantz comments: “As much as I’d like to think that I had always been preparing myself for that moment, I must confess that I was so nervous my teeth were chattering involuntarily. I was worried that the noise emanating from my clicking molars would be picked up by my open microphone.”
6. January 21, 2007: Peyton Manning and the Colts register the greatest comeback in NFL championship game history by overcoming a 21-3 halftime deficit in the final minute against their playoff nemesis, the New England Patriots. The 38-34 victory put Indianapolis into Super Bowl XLI against Chicago.
7. April 1, 1991: Mike Krzyzewski wins his first NCAA championship as Duke, having defeated unbeaten UNLV in the national semifinals, overcomes Kansas in the title game highlighted by a memorable Grant Hill dunk shot.
8. The 1992, 1994, 1998 Winter Olympic Games: Hosting on weekends (Albertville, France; Lillehammer, Norway) and prime-time (Nagano, Japan) with a myriad of storylines from the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan showdown to Dan Jansen’s redemption to Alberto Tomba’s triumphs and the glorious pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies.
9. April 13, 1997: Tiger Woods, 21 years and 104 days old, wins the Masters, his first major championship, by 12 strokes over Tom Kite. Woods’ four-day total of -18 (270) was a record low score at Augusta. He’s the first man of African or Asian descent — and the youngest — to win the Masters. Nantz’s summation call at 18: “A win for the ages!”
10. February 4, 2007: The Colts defeat the Bears in Super Bowl XVI. Chicago’s Devin Hester becomes the first player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Nantz recalls: “Two things raced through my mind as Hester wove his way down the field. One of my broadcasting heroes, Jack Whitaker, had counseled me earlier in the week: ‘Just be prepared for the opening kickoff, Jimmy.’ Then, I flashed back to the first NFL play I ever witnessed – my dad and I were standing in a smoky aisle in old Tulane Stadium in 1967, when John Gilliam ran back the opening kickoff of the first game in New Orleans Saints’ franchise history. So there was a sense of ‘perfect symmetry’ to my first Super Bowl play-by-play call.”
11. April 11, 2004: Phil Mickelson claims his first-ever major championship and Masters green jacket by firing a final-round 69 to get the best of a compelling back-nine shootout with Ernie Els. As Mickelson birdied the final hole for his breakthrough victory, Nantz captured the end of Lefty’s frustration with the call: “Is it his time? Yes, at long last!”
12. February 1, 2004: Jim Nantz hosted “The Super Bowl Today,” leading up to Super Bowl XXXVIII in his adopted hometown of Houston. He also created and hosted the first-ever Super Bowl opening ceremony: “A Houston Salute” on the Monday night before. Nantz remembers: “Immediately after we signed off I raced to visit my dad, an Alzheimer’s disease patient, who was in a nursing home 10 minutes from the stadium. His room was completely dark except for the flickering image of the TV from which my voice had been emanating all day – but I will never know if he was able to recognize that it was his son.”
13. April 7, 2008: Kansas comes back from nine points down with 2:12 left in regulation to tie the game when Mario Chalmers hit a rainbow three with 2.1 seconds remaining. The Jayhawks went on to beat Memphis in overtime to win the NCAA Basketball Championship. It was Nantz’s last game with long-time partner, Billy Packer (at whose insistence that was not publicly revealed at the time in order not to “overshadow the players or the game”).
14. December 19, 1992: Marshall University soccer player Willy Merrick is pressed into emergency placekicking duty when his brother, David, the Thundering Herd’s regular kicker is suspended on the eve of the Division I-AA national championship game for violating team rules. In his first college football game, Merrick kicks a dramatic 22-yard FG to beat Youngstown State for the title – 22 years after a plane crash killed the 1970 Marshall football team.
15. August 16, 2009: Y.E. Yang of South Korea outduels Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine to become the first Asian-born golfer to win a men’s major title. It was also the first time that Woods failed to win a major that he had led after 54 holes.
16. April 5, 1993: Dean Smith wins his final NCAA championship as Michigan’s Chris Webber called a timeout in the closing seconds – after the Wolverines had exhausted all of their available timeouts. This gaffe resulted in a technical foul.
17. April 14, 1996: Nick Faldo wins his third Masters as Greg Norman inexplicably squanders a six-shot lead in the final round.
18. August 19, 1991: 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie John Daly, the ninth alternate, not only made it into the PGA Championship at the last minute, he stunned the golf world with mammoth drives that tamed the long and difficult Crooked Stick (Indiana) course leading to an improbable major victory.
19. September 6, 1998: Following an absence of 1,687 days, Jim Nantz, hosting “The NFL Today,” welcomes the NFL back to CBS with a tribute to the many legends who had been a part of NFL’s CBS coverage dating back to 1956.
20 . June 2, 2002: Ken Venturi exits the stage at the Kemper Open after 35 years with CBS. A tearful day of goodbyes to the longest-running lead analyst in network history ends with a tribute set to “My Way,” sung by Venturi’s close friend, Frank Sinatra. Nantz told his broadcast partner of 17 years: “You won’t be in that chair any longer, but as long as I’m here, you’ll be my side.”
21. October 27, 1990: Notre Dame defeats Miami, 29-20, to conclude the most heated rivalry of the decade. Rocket Ismail had a 94-yard kickoff return for a Fighting Irish touchdown.
22. April 9, 1995: An emotional Ben Crenshaw, nearing the end of his competitive days, wins his second Masters just days after his long-time teacher and mentor Harvey Penick is laid to rest.
23. December 9, 1989: Navy defeats Army on Frank Schenk’s field goal with 11 seconds remaining. “It was a classic college football game,” Nantz says. “But more than that was the remarkable ‘purity of sport’ among these athletes who weren’t going on to the NFL; they were going into harm’s way to defend their country.” After the game-winning kick, a Midshipman’s hat, tossed in jubilation, flew into the CBS broadcast booth at the Meadowlands. “Midshipman Mackowitz, if you’re out there, I now have your hat,” Nantz said on the air.
24. August 17, 1997: Davis Love III captures the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot. As he lined up his final putt, a spectacular rainbow appeared. Director Steve Milton had cameraman Davey Finch shoot it so that the cup became the “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow.
25. The debut: Nantz recalls: “My pulse was racing in high gear; I had never encountered such a flash of tongue-tying anxiety before — not even during Mr. Applegate’s public-speaking class back in high school.”