Nantz won’t soon forget JJ’s roast or his ace at PACC
The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on March 23, 1989.
These are the days of wine and roses for Jim Nantz, a fact CBS’ 30-year-old prodigy acknowledges with both enthusiasm and a humbleness that belies the ego one expects from a network star.
Nantz is in the middle week of anchoring CBS’ NCAA basketball coverage. Shortly after a champion is crowned in Seattle, he’ll head to Augusta, Ga., to man the most prestigious TV role in golf — hosting CBS’ coverage of the Masters from Butler cabin near the 18th hole.
What’s more, he’s even getting paid.
“I don’t see how it could get much better,” Nantz says. “This is the best stretch of the year for me. About the only thing that excites me more than the NCAA tournament is the Masters. This is what I dreamed and fantasized about doing as a kid. It’s still hard to believe it’s happened so fast.”
Nantz’s career is of more than passing interest in these parts because of his sterling performance as emcee at last year’s Jimmy Johnson National Championship Roast. He not only made many friends during a brief visit, he’s mentioned Port Arthur favorably from his network platform.
It’s the kind of advertising money can’t buy.
Unfortunately, a CBS assignment will prevent the University of Houston graduate from returning to emcee the upcoming Bum Phillips Roast. He’ll be here in spirit, however, and will be represented at the dinner by a group of scholar-athletes yet to be determined.
Nantz, you see, recently received an award from an organization called “Sez Who?” for one of his lines during the Johnson Roast. Sez Who? editor Rich Bysina annually picks out the top ten humorous sports quotes of the year and rewards the winners with a $100 check to go to the charity of his choice.
Much to Nantz’s surprise a couple of weeks ago, he found a check in the mail, along with an explanation from Bysina. The selected quote — “The only time Jimmy didn’t run up the score was 27 years ago when he took the SAT” — has been widely circulated since it was first uttered.
It’s appeared in publications like Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and USA Today.
“I’d never heard of Sez Who?, Nantz said. “But it was obvious from looking over the other quotes in the top 10 that the guy had put a lot of work into it. Some of the other winners were David Letterman, Jack Kemp and Frank Layden. That’s pretty good company.”
Nantz knew right away what he would do with the check.
“It came about because of the Jimmy Johnson Roast, so I want to give it to your charity — The Port Arthur Historical Society,” he said.
“I don’t think I had a day in 1988 to top the one in Port Arthur,” Nantz added. “From start to finish, it was fantastic. I’m prejudiced because I was the emcee, but I’ve never been around a better roast than that one. I’ll always remember the fellowship and the friendliness of the people involved.”
A couple of days later Nantz called back to say he was also sending a personal check for $100. He and his wife wanted the money used to purchase roast tickets for the top male and female scholar athletes in Port Arthur.
“I hope these donations in some small way give a deserving male and female athlete a very special night,” Nantz wrote in a letter accompanying the checks. “I’m grateful to the Port Arthur community for the way it supported last year’s memorable night.
“I’m also impressed how the people have not forgotten their own. There is a lot of pride in Port Arthur.”
A bit of irony surrounds Nantz’s feelings for Port Arthur. It involves the fact his good friend, the roast chairman and author of this column, waited too long to check into hole-in-one insurance so that a car could be given away to anyone making an ace in the golf tournament preceding the roast.
Naturally, Nantz sank his first ever hole-in-one on the 8th hole at Port Arthur Country Club. The roast chairman, playing on the same team, experienced both elation and despair as Nantz’s 7-iron shot disappeared from sight.
“I could have used the car,” he said, without rubbing it in. “But to tell you the truth, I got a lot of mileage from the hole in one. The word got around pretty quick. Somebody was always mentioning it when I was doing a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Nantz will be back on the air Thursday night when CBS resumes its coverage of the Road to the Final Four. You’ll see him before, during the half and following KFDM’s telecasts of the Oklahoma-Virginia and North Carolina-Michigan games.
If Nantz looks more relaxed than last weekend, it’s for good reason. With the field trimmed to 16 teams, and only four games each night, the demands as studio host are mild compared to last weekend’s wild scramble that put him constantly under the gun as CBS shifted in and out of various telecasts.
“The best way I can describe what it was like last weekend is to tell you what Brent Musberger told me before my first year of the NCAA opening weekend,” Nantz said. “Brent told me, ‘Good luck. Of all the sports assignments I’ve had, this is the most difficult.’ I have to agree.”
Nantz isn’t complaining. Not hardly. Not when he’s living out a childhood fantasy. And, trite as it might sound, a fantasy that couldn’t have been fulfilled for a nicer guy.
Port Arthur News sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.