Jim Nantz of CBS Sports stopped by the show this morning to talk about his new book, Always By My Side: A Father's Grace and a Sports Journey Unlike Any Other.
Before he sat down to talk with Matt about the book (WATCH VIDEO), he chatted with me about his catchphrase, his political aspirations, and, of course, a tradition unlike any other.
DF: First of all, your catchphrase, "Hello, friends"...where does that come from?
Jim Nantz: It kind of just evolved naturally. I said it one time at a golf tournament on a Saturday show during the scene set. As soon as it left my lips, I thought, "That's the kind of connection I want to have with the audience."
I want them to think that they're sharing an afternoon with a friend. So I said it the next day, on the Sunday coverage. No one said anything to me about it. So I went up with it the next week, both Saturday and Sunday. And now it's starting to become a trend, and now I'm starting to get a little feedback about it. People saying, "You keep using, 'Hello, friends.'"
I thought it was a reflection of how I want the audience to feel. I want them to feel like it was a friend guiding them through the afternoon.
Ultimately, though, it was the greatest tribute I could make to my father on the air. And that's because my father had nothing but friends. Everyone he ever met in his life became his friend. He had no enemies.
DF: How long ago did "Hello, friends" begin?
JN: I would say it's had a lifespan of a good eight, nine years.
DF: Are you surprised at--
JN: What's surprising is how many people now are aware of it. I've even had people tell me that there are pools out there where they start a stopwatch when the broadcast begins and people time me -- that I'll say it two minutes and 30 seconds in, or four minutes and 44 seconds in...whoever is closest to the time wins.
So I try to mix up my pitches a little bit to keep 'em in suspense sometimes. I may do it over the scene set or when we're on camera the first time. So I try to spread that love to different places.
DF: Fair to say that the Masters is your favorite event to call?
JN: It's hard to say that it's more special to me than calling the Super Bowl or the Final Four, because they're all great American classical sporting events that have a huge place in our sports culture.
I will say this, that as a young boy, growing up, watching sporting events with my father by my side, I always felt that that was the one tournament that touched me the most. It was the one, above all, that was the impetus to create this childhood dream that I declared to my father, that one day I want to broadcast the Masters.
There's a lot of power in that for me, when you realize that you're truly living out your childhood dream. "Favorite" event makes it sound like I like something less. I would say it's the one that is most deeply part of my soul.
DF: With that in mind, how special is it for you that you've, for a lot of people, become synonymous with the tournament?
JN: Well, that's a tremendous honor to have, to have that association with that tournament, because that tournament stands for so many things that are right. Not the least of which are tradition and etiquette.
I will say that that is the one part of my professional life that I get reminded of the most. During the NFL season, when I'm visiting with the players and coaches, in preparation for the game, it takes a little while for everyone to settle in. I'm there to ask the players questions, but I end up getting asked the questions at first -- "What's it like at Augusta? How many rounds have you played there? Can you get me a ticket?"
I'm reminded of it all the time. There's "Hello, friends," but there's also that "Tradition unlike any other" line. And when I say that in the presence of a golf fan, they get a little goofy. Like they've just gotten a customized version of it directed at them.
DF: Is there a particular sports property that CBS doesn't have that you'd like to do?
JN: There's only one event that I'd like to broadcast that I haven't gotten to broadcast. And that's the Open Championship. There really are other grand events out there, like the World Series, and baseball in general. But I'm not qualified. I've always stuck with things that I've felt I have a modicum of expertise in.
When it comes to baseball, I appreciate the game, and I follow it closely, especially my Astros. But I don't feel qualified to be able to call baseball. I don't think I could speak the language to the exactness that you need. Just like golf having its own lexicon. But when I look at the whole landscape of sports television, there really is only one event that I'd like to do, and that's the Open Championship.
DF: Did you follow the discussions that came out of the recent "Costas Now" show on sports media--
JN: I read about it.
DF: Where do you fall on the subject of blogs and their role in how sports are discussed and covered?
JN: I have to admit, I'm so far out of the loop on the blogosphere, I really don't partake in that. I know that it's got a huge following. On the few occasions that I have gone or been introduced to it and checked out what's been written, maybe about my world, it's usually so vile and vicious that I shut it down after a minute or two.
There's no stopping it. The scary thing is how much credibility someone lends to that. How much credibility do we give to people out there who aren't trained in journalism and then try and masquerade as someone who can pass along information as factual.
Upon reading about it, I was glad there was a firestorm about it. I really appreciated Buzz Bissinger -- I read he was a little ashamed of his level of anger -- but I completely understood where he was coming from.
DF: Are there any young broadcasters out there that you particularly appreciate?
JN: There are a lot, and I'm not going to start naming names, because I'll leave someone out. I'm really looking for young broadcasters who have their egos in check. We're conditioned now as a society...this whole pop culture idea where everything we do is all about me -- and that even permeates from sports being contested on the field. Everyone is drawing attention to themselves.
And I am so totally opposite from that. I really try to honor the game or the event that I'm broadcasting. Feeling it's about the story, not the teller. The young broadcasters I admire are the ones who are trying to do a professional job of crafting a story, of paying homage to their industry and not making it all about them by saying all sorts of profound and sometimes disingenuous things, sacrificing their own authenticity to sell a colorful quote or to sell some sort of outlandish statement that really, in their heart, don't believe it. But they'll do it to sell themselves and get recognized.
But there are, thankfully, young broadcasters who get it, who are trained at telling a story. There are certainly more opportunities in this business than the landscape presented to me, 26 years ago, at CBS.
DF: You were on Rush Limbaugh's radio show last week, and towards the end of the interview, there was an allusion to your potential interest in getting involved in politics. What kind of political aspirations do you have?
JN: I don't want to mislead anyone right now, because I have the greatest job in the world. I get reminded of that by strangers in airports all the time. Usually the opening line to me from complete strangers is, "You have the greatest job in the world." So it's going to take an awful lot for me to trade that in.
The only tug I feel is that I really admire the people who do serve, who try to make things better for all people. I do wish at times that I could do more. We try our best with all the philanthropic things we're connected with. But great leadership -- and I've been exposed to great leadership -- is something I admire.
I'm not prepared to declare my candidacy quite yet.
DF: But it's something on your mind--
JN: Is it something I would rule out? It's not something I'd rule out. Something on my mind? Deep in the back of my mind for later on. And I'm not talking about running for president of the United States. I'm just talking about something at the local level, sampling it, and seeing if this is something where I can make a difference.
DF: Last two things. What's the best part about being Jim Nantz and what's the worst part?
JN: Well, I hate to harp on the negative, because I'm living the childhood dream, so to say anything bad means that I might be taking some of it for granted. I feel very blessed to have everything I have.
So I'll say the hardest part -- not worst part, but hardest part -- is just the packing. Always trying to figure out what I have to wear and what I have to bring with me for the different climates. And part of that, of course, is the time that you're away. You're always on the road, so you don't feel as grounded with the home base as much as you would like.
The best part is...I hatched this idea when I was 11 years old, that I wanted to be one of these voices. Just like the voices of my youth. To tell stories that would hopefully inspire people and reach them and make them think and help educate them and present them with information that would widen their mind about people, places, things and cultures.
I've been at it long enough and get enough mail back from kids that tell me that I did something on the air that was meaningful to them. And those letters are just like the one I authored when I was a little kid.
That was one of my goals. I wanted to reach people in a way that the McKays, Enbergs, Summeralls, Whitakers, Gowdys and Schenkels reached me. I just hoped that one day, there would be some kid watching at home who would say, "Wow, gosh, that gave me such a different perspective on things and a better appreciation for the world."
I'm not saying I've found any great cures for any terrible diseases or brought world peace. But I think I've reached a few kids along the way. That's why politics is in the back of my mind, because I'd like to reach more.