The idea of Tony Romo has always been bigger than the reality of Tony Romo. Nothing changed at Super Bowl LIII.
Romo never won the NFL’s MVP but he was clearly the CBS’s MVA -- Most Valuable Announcer -- after two seasons of increasingly vivid, full-throated, eerily clairvoyant analysis. His remarkably accurate predictions during the AFC championship game two weeks ago alerted the media of his talent and primed the Super Bowl audience to enjoy it.
- It was far from Tom Brady’s best, but the G.O.A.T. helped the Patriots win their sixth Super Bowl
- In Bill Belichick’s greatest achievement, Patriots stuff Rams in Super Bowl LIII
- Super Bowl 2019: Rams' Nickell Robey-Coleman backs up criticism of Patriots' Tom Brady with big play; Kurt Warner on Nick Foles
Once again, in his biggest moment, Romo came up a little short.
Romo left a legacy of tantalizing potential but ultimate disappointment as the Cowboys' starting quarterback from 2006-15. He has since built a reputation of tantalizing potential. Ultimately, Sunday night, he disappointed. He offered some interesting insight, but little second sight.
Granted, he had little to work with in a 13-3 Patriots win in a game with a 57-point over. As a novice might do, he declared the Patriots winners with 1 minute, 12 seconds to play. He was almost as underwhelming as the Rams' genius coach, Sean McVay.
To be fair, the pressure for Romo must have been suffocating. By the time the Rams kicked off, viewers knew as much about the Romo-Jim Nantz combination as the Rams' Jared Goff-Robert Woods combo, or maybe even Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski: How Nantz and Al Michaels both predicted Romo’s success; how Romo and Nantz saw “A Star is Born” together; how Romo sings in the booth at the top of his lungs before they go on air -- often, songs from that show.
This season, “Romostradomus,” as Nantz calls him, correctly predicted the plays teams would run 68 percent of the 72 times he tried, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Romo’s first words of the evening underscored why, in general, he is so well-liked in this role. When Nantz introduced him during the kickoff show: “I’ve been waiting to hear ‘Welcome to the Super Bowl’ my whole life!"
Romo said that Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips told him he planned to disguise coverages, and, after Brady’s interception on the Patriots' first possession, Romo announced that Brady had, indeed, been duped -- and realized it too late:
“Brady, right at the end, knew he was making a poor decision. That ball came off his hand poorly because he knew it, right when he was letting it go.”
Spoken like a man familiar with that feeling.
When Stephen Gostkowski pulled his 46-yard field goal attempt wide in the first quarter, the first miss at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium this season, Romo teased Nantz, “It’s almost just automatic, when you go 31-for-31 and tell the world.”
Nantz replied, “Was that another one of your predictions?”
Romo exclaimed, “No!"
There weren’t many.
Early in the second quarter, Romo accurately predicted that Bill Belichick would disguise pressure on a third-down play, then described a coverage as a “Bill Belichick special,” in which The Hoodie played two safeties deep on third-and-2 late in the second quarter. It bewildered Goff, who was sacked. Romo used “Bill Belichick special” at least once more.
“This is hard to watch,” Romo said as the Rams punted for the eighth consecutive time.
He was talking about the game. He could have meant the broadcast.
At one point, Nantz, aware that Romo wasn’t performing his favorite trick, suggested, “Let’s save it for the second half.”
Late in the third quarter, Romo called for the Rams to “change their tendency,” to throw instead of run on first down. They did; a 15-yard pass to Brandin Cooks. Three plays later, on third down, Romo called for Goff to make a big throw. Done: 18 yards to Woods.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, Romo noticed that the Patriots ran a similar play three times in a row during their fourth-quarter touchdown drive. His best call: After the third play of that sequence, when Gronkowski caught a 29-yard pass and CBS’s cameras focused on Brady’s supermodel wife:
“And Gisele’s happy!”
But that was pretty much it. There were a few implications, a couple of instances when Romo recognized the play as it unfolded and several episodes when Romo ran off three of four possibilities.
Not exactly ESP.
His best moments involved explanations of how Belichick’s defensive line often defeated the Rams' distinct blocking schemes, and how Goff missed open receivers, which happened even more. Romo noticed that the Rams seldom approached the line of scrimmage until around the 15-second mark on the play clock, when Belichick can no longer communicate with his defense. He explained why the Rams declined two penalties with 2 minutes, 25 seconds to play, to increase the Rams' chances of stopping the Patriots' final drive.
All valuable insight. All delivered with confidence and passion.
But not all that special.
To his credit, Romo consistently downplays his style.
“I spent the better part of 20 years studying this game,” he told reporters this week. “It’s almost like I have the answers to the test.”
Romo fixated on Phillips for most of the evening, but then, he and Phillips shared the Star from 2007-10 and recorded some of the most exquisitely painful memories in recent Cowboys history.
Romo botched the hold of a go-ahead field goal late in his first playoff start, in 2007, which sent Bill Parcells into retirement and brought Phillips to Dallas. The next year, as the top seed in the NFC, he spent the bye week in Mexico with Jessica Simpson. At the end of the 2008 season, against the Eagles, he turned the ball over three times and missed the playoffs. Brett Favre, Vikings edition, took Romo out in the wild-card round in 2010, a game in which Romo turned the ball over three more times.
He wasn’t that bad calling the big game Sunday.
He wasn’t that good, either.
» READ MORE: What they’re saying about the halftime show