Sports are all about competition, whether it’s a Super Bowl, a World Series, the U.S. Open or any other major sporting events that fans can enjoy. While the athletes themselves compete for trophies and glory, those commentating on each event’s respective networks have their own battle to worry about.
Ratings help pay the bills in the sports media world, be it on television, radio or anything in between. So, each network competes every day to put out the best content they can, and lines get drawn in the sand as each companies’ stars become “rivals” in a unique battle.
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However, at times in 2019 and at the start of 2020, those feelings were different. Sure, the ratings war continues, and the competition rages on. But, those “soldiers” battling it out on the microphone have switched gears, embracing each other in different ways over the last seven months.
The first wall was broken back in June 2019 during FOX’s broadcast of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. While Joe Buck led the network’s coverage on the links throughout the weekend, a familiar face in the golf world showed itself alongside FOX’s cornerstone for a few moments: CBS’s Jim Nantz.
“When we were at Pebble Beach for the US Open, my boss, Eric Shanks (Chief Executive Officer and Executive Producer of FOX Sports) and Larry Jones (Executive Vice President, Business at FOX Sports) saw Nantz at a party,” Buck said on a recent episode of the SVPod. “They came to me, and they’re like, ‘What do you think about Nantz coming on? Would you mind if Nantz came on and called some of the golf’ and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding? That’d be awesome, that’d be amazing. That would be fantastic.'”
“They had to pass it through CBS and whatever, he came on and he was typical, great Jim Nantz.”
The move stood out for numerous reasons, considering the immense amount of talent sitting side-by-side at the desk during the U.S. Open, the stage on which the moment happened and the coverage that followed from sports media reporters like Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina. But the biggest piece of the equation was clear: a barrier had been broken down in the sports media world.
Fast forward seven months, and another one of those walls would come crashing down on a different network: CBS.
Nantz and Buck’s worlds collided once more, with each broadcasting the AFC Championship and NFC Championship games, respectively, on January 19.
As Nantz wrapped up a stellar broadcast of the Chiefs’ win over the Titans on CBS, and finished up the network’s NFL game coverage for the year, the attention shifted towards Buck and FOX for the battle between the 49ers and Packers. But, before Nantz signed off for he and Tony Romo, he used his platform to create a touching moment for Buck and his family.
Nantz made mention of Buck’s father, Jack Buck, who was on the call for Super Bowl IV between the Chiefs and Packers, and brought up the potential for a rematch 50 years later, called by Jack Buck’s own son.
“When the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV, the game was called by Jack Buck,” Nantz said during the broadcast. “And how cool is it that his son, Joe, will be calling the Chiefs’ appearance 50 years later in this 100th season of the NFL?”
Ironically enough, the fact was something Joe Buck himself didn’t even remember.
“He knew more information about my own father than I did,” Buck said on the SVPod. “Then he said it, which was such a classy move, and my mom and sister were at home and they cried watching it. And so I reached out to Jim and said, ‘Not only are you a great guy for doing it, you made my mom and sister cry in the best possible way thinking of their late husband or their late father.”
“It just was great, it meant the world and it was educational on top of it.”
With that, the second wall was broken. Two more remained. So, why not knock another one down just two days after the incredible gesture from Nantz towards Buck. In this case, however, the third wall was broken on a completely different network: ESPN.
ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt returned to podcasting for the first time in a little over four months in January 2020 with the SVPod, filling a void left by the end of the “SVP & Russillo” podcast following Ryen Russillo’s departure from ESPN in August 2019.
Fittingly, Van Pelt’s return to podcasting platforms came in the midst of the NFL playoffs, with his second episode coming right after Conference Championship weekend. And who was one of his guests for that packed episode? FOX’s own Joe Buck.
The two shared insight about their mutual history calling the action at numerous golf tournaments, with Buck discussing FOX’s work with the U.S. Open and Van Pelt talking about his time with the Golf Channel before he began his tenure at ESPN.
They traded lighthearted jabs, highlighted by Van Pelt bringing up Buck’s star power at the start of the interview and mentioning “some other jokers” who now have the U.S. Open on their air.
But, the two showcased their symmetry as they talked about their respective losses of their fathers, and connected through golf, broadcasting on major stages, and their respect for a common thread in this story: Jim Nantz.
“Once you’ve done it enough times, you’re gonna get the benefit of the doubt and you realize I don’t need to overdo this, let’s just pick our spots and accent the action instead of trying to carry it,” Buck said as he discussed the technique of letting big moments breathe during Super Bowls, World Series games and golf tournaments.
“That was the genius of Nantz this year at Augusta,” Van Pelt replied. “I’ve been lucky to be there for however many years. I was there for Tiger’s first [Masters win], and I was there this year, and I’ve never heard it sound like that in my life. Ever, ever ever. The brilliance of Jim Nantz in that moment, I don’t know how long he and Nick Faldo didn’t speak, but it was several minutes. And as he said afterwards, there’s not one thing I could add to that.”
The two discussed Nantz’ mention of Buck at the end of the AFC Championship broadcast, and the beauty of the CBS commentator’s work when it comes to the game of golf.
“Jim Nantz is as classy a man as there is in this business,” Van Pelt said to Buck. “Always thoughtful and always says what’s right and does what’s right.”
As a result, just moments after that third wall was broken, a fourth was crushed in the best way possible.
“I feel like a lot of these walls are finally coming down between networks,” Buck said on the podcast. “I don’t know if they ever were there. I think they were kind of there and perceived.”
Buck. Nantz. Van Pelt. All in one conversation, with no drama or beef to be seen anywhere. Just mutual respect, admiration and appreciation for the craft. All four walls broken down, and a promising future on the horizon between some of the biggest names sports media has ever seen.