Nantz Proves That Nice Guys Can Finish First

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By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2008; 2:41 PM

Jim Nantz, the signature silky smooth voice and smiling face of CBS Sports for most of the last two decades, is proof positive that nice guys can finish first, at least on the national bestseller list.

Nantz keeps climbing up toward the top of the charts with his first book, "Always on My Side." The book serves as part memoir and part poignant tribute to his father, also a Jim. The elder Nantz clearly is the guiding light of his son's seemingly charmed rise to the top of his profession, at least until the agony of Alzheimer's changed the equation in both of their lives and for their entire family.

But don't beat feet to Borders or Barnes and Noble for that last minute Father's Day gift expecting to read Nantz's insider, tell-all take on his 20-plus years in the cut-throat world of network sports television. It can be an unforgiving, rough and tumble business where career-altering decisions often are made not on how talented you might be in front of the camera, but how many people are tuning in before the suits in the executive suites decide to tune you out.

But naming names and calling out the bad guys was never Nantz's intention when he and co-author Eli Spielman, a long time CBS marketing consultant and writer, sat down last year to write this breezy, easy-reading tome built loosely around Nantz's extraordinary broadcasting achievement in 2007.

Last year, he became the first lead network play-by-play man to call the action at the Super Bowl, The Final Four and The Masters in a single calendar year. He did it over a frenetic and unprecedented stretch of 63 days, starting with the Indianapolis Colts' Super Bowl victory and ending with Zach Johnson's triumph in the Masters, sandwiched around Florida's second straight national basketball title.

"I'm not going to Scott McClellan anyone," Nantz said in a telephone interview the other day. "My dad never had a bad thing to say about anyone, and that's not my style. No way was I going to go off and slam people. This was not about that. This is a book about goodness. If you're looking for another story about an egotistical, megalomaniac athlete, this is not for you.

"Do I someday want to come back and write a tell-all? No. It's not that I don't have an opinion. It's just not worth it to me. No one will ever catch me doing that. I didn't write this to make money. I did it to tell my father's story, and I feel like I've given him an identity. He was someone with old fashioned values who believed you show respect and dignity to people in all stations of life. I want people to be inspired. It was my father's last gift to me. He inspired me to write a story that might reach people, and touch people."

Mission accomplished on all of the above, and along the way, Nantz also describes his own rise from gangly teenage golfer talented enough to play on the same University of Houston team with Fred Couples to the peak of his chosen line of work. It's been a meteoric journey that began with his childhood fascination with the likes of Jim McKay, Ray Scott, Curt Gowdy and Pat Summerall, among others, to his hiring by CBS at the age of 26.

Over the 280 pages between the hard covers, names are dropped by Nantz at the same rate as snowflakes fall in a Green Bay January, including his surrogate father/son relationship in recent years with George H.W. Bush, who also penned the forward to the book.

"Jim knows what it means to be a true friend," the former president wrote. "He understands that loyalty is a two-way street┬┐Most of all┬┐Jim Nantz is a devoted father and son. Spend ten minutes around Jim and you will know that the deepest currents of who and what he is come from his own family."

Nantz does offer his share of telling anecdotes about a wide variety of familiar names in the wide world of sports.

He recalled addressing the 2006 George Mason basketball team the week of the Final Four and telling the team that in no way had he meant to disparage their selection to the tournament a month earlier. In the annual selection show, he and sidekick Billy Packer moaned on the air that too many mid-major teams had gotten into the field at the expense of worthy schools from major conferences, including Maryland.


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