Amid the copious amount of flags being thrown in the direction of the Steelers and Bengals during Saturday night’s AFC Wild Card game, there was a scent of embarrassment in the air. There was the reoccurrence of the “Pac Man” in Cincinnati’s cornerback Adam Jones, Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict went from hero to goat in a span of minutes, and how could anyone ignore the fact that the Bengals, in heart piercing fashion, once again lost an opening round playoff game after a successful season.
But, the real embarrassment didn’t take place on the field or in the stands (although, a few overzealous Bengals fans were begging to be an integral part of the humiliation.) No, the true embarrassment took place in the CBS broadcast booth from Jim Nantz, a consummate professional and unabashed…fan of some athletes.
Of course, Nantz’s gushing over certain guys is no secret. An extra hard tackle to Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady has been known to cause Nantz’s heart to skip a beat as the trembling fear in his voice is comparable to a passenger cabin whose plane just did an immediate nosedive into the ocean. Oh, and Peyton Manning HGH rumors, Jim won’t even acknowledge the existence of those. In fact, he deemed it a “non-story”.
However, it wasn’t his usual rose-throwing to the faces of the league that was ridiculous on Saturday night, it was the subject, Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Nantz, in nature, is a hybrid of polished hype man and hokey uncle. His calls are sometimes ridiculed, but always remembered. That said, when a never-ending spraying of fulsome remarks are fired in the direction of someone with questionable moral character, it gets a little tough to take.
Roethlisberger’s past is littered with sexual assault allegations, oh, and settlements, but on a magical Saturday night, none of it mattered. It was almost like the field was empty and it was just Jim and Ben. Everything Big Ben touched turned to gold when it was delivered in a borderline Mayberry tone. Okay, maybe not everything.
When Roethlisberger left the game with a shoulder injury, a one solitary Bengals fan threw a beer in the direction of the quarterback. That behavior was completely uncalled for, but because of the actions of a few, Nantz leapt into “concerned and disappointed voice Nantz”, possibly my favorite Nantz, concerning the “debris” rocketing toward the Steelers’ quarterback. Debris is what is thrown on the field from by a fanbase that watches a last place baseball team every week 15 beers deep on “Ball Day”. That’s debris.
Nantz then said the Cincinnati crowd was cheering the Roethlisberger injury. Not sure how he could tell the difference, as there were plenty of Steelers fans in attendance that could have easily been cheering the fact that their quarterback was okay. But, like unconfirmed steroid accusations, Nantz knows. In the words of Poppy, “Let there be no debate.”
Despite that, the Ben lovefest did not end. At one point, Nantz even questioned a completely textbook tackle on Roethlisberger with “Phil, was that a legal tackle?”. Nantz’s partner, Phil Simms, who is usually talking about what he Jim talked about all week long and setting up CBS rules “expert” Mike Carey with the right answer, assured Jimbo that the tackle was within the legal parameters of the National Football League.
Still, the most Oscar-worthy and at the same time cringe-worthy moment of the night was when Roethlisberger returned to the game after the shoulder injury. Big Jim let out a bellow of “Look who’s coming in!” that was a mixture of a Willis Reed Game 7, a Jimmy Chitwood game winner, and the American flag being raised at Iwo Jima.
Yes, Nantz can unabashedly cheer for Roethlisberger, but he won’t root for Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Greg Hardy. Of course, he had more of a problem with Hardy’s unwillingness to admit and apologize for his off the field incidents, but it’s clear Nantz is no fan. Hardy and Roethlisberger are nothing alike, except they kind of are.
Both were accused of violence against women, in which the charges were subsequently dropped. Both paid off their accusers. Both were suspended by the NFL, and both appealed their suspension down to 4 games.
Greg Hardy AND Ben Roethlisberger are not good people, but I understand people like Jim Nantz have a job to do. Call the game and describe the actions of the players on the field. But, let’s be fair.
Saturday night was an embarrassment Jim Nantz needs to forget.