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CALLING THE SHOTS

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The biggest breakout star of this NFL season? Not Kamara or DeShaun. It's TONY ROMO, who has made the move from the pocket to the booth look easy and quickly become the best broadcaster in football

CBS GAMBLED heavily last April by naming former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as its lead NFL game analyst. With zero broadcasting experience, he would be learning on the fly while doing CBS's most significant NFL game every week. I argued then to start Romo off on the No. 2 team. But I was wrong: His work has exceeded expectations all season. Romo's knowledge of the league—specifically formations and fronts of teams and how an offense attacks a defense—has made him an instant hit and an invaluable resource for viewers. His natural enthusiasm and love for football shine through.

Nearly through his first season in the booth, Romo talked about his preparation, working his first Cowboys game and the best drive he's called all year.

SI: Have the first 13 weeks of the NFL season validated that the decision to enter broadcasting was the right one for you?

ROMO: That's right. My initial thought was that I would coach when I was done. I wanted to stay within the game and learn everything about it. [But] coaching takes you away from your family, and I have three young boys—5, 3 and 13 weeks old. So for me this job allows me to hopefully be a decent dad and still be in the game of football.

SI: When you are watching a play during a broadcast, where are you looking specifically?

ROMO: It depends on formation, tendency, the coaching staff and the system. If you are in a Rod Marinelli, Monte Kiffin or Lovie Smith system—these guys are all from the same [coaching] tree—[that alone] will dictate where I am looking a lot.

SI: So much of the preparation for being an analyst happens long before you arrive at the site of the game. What is your preparation?

ROMO: I really enjoy the interaction with the coaches because I enjoy asking them questions. And not just, "Well, tell me how have you guys been doing lately?" I want it to be deeper, like, "This team plays in a 'Bear' front or 'Diamond' front versus your 11. What can you do to run the football, because there are a lot of challenges against that?" You will find out real fast if a coach knows what he is talking about. I just like talking football. You get into a meeting with Bill Belichick, it is really fascinating. I am asking him about the flex defense or things about Tom Landry's system. I know the rest of our CBS staff might be bored for an hour, but it is fascinating for me.

SI: The first Cowboys game you called, in Week 9, was obviously an emotional day, given that the team honored you in a ceremony and your family was there. How do you anticipate your work will be on future Dallas games?

ROMO: The first Cowboys game was difficult for many reasons. The emotional aspect alone and to feel the warmth of the crowd made it feel like what [I] did [there] was worth it, if that makes sense. You feel humbled, proud that your kids are there. But doing the game was difficult. If you listened to the second game, I let it go a little more.

SI: Is there a moment this year when you watched a replay of the game and thought, This is the broadcaster I want to be?

ROMO: The final drive in the game between the Raiders and the Chiefs on Oct. 19. If you go back and watch, I was talking before the snap about what [Raiders quarterback] Derek Carr should do. At a certain point I circled [on the Telestrator] the two Chiefs safeties and said if they both go back, he should throw it to the middle of the field, probably to the tight end. Well, people don't know what a team effort the show really is. As I am talking, my director Mike Arnold is listening to what I am saying. He pans out so that I can circle the safeties before the snap. The viewers see the two safeties go back, and Carr throws the ball to the tight end. [Broadcast partner Jim Nantz] says, "He throws it right where you said!" So it all looks simple, but it took five or six people at least to make that happen. The reality of it is, that was a brilliant sequence because of teamwork.