CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz is a Who Dat at heart
By Mark Lorando, The Times-Picayune
February 03, 2010, 11:36PM

nantz.jpg.jpgCBS sportscaster Jim Nantz: 'We're Saints people.'MIAMI -- Jim Nantz knows how you feel.

No, really: He knows EXACTLY how you feel.

“We’re Saints people,” says Nantz, CBS Sports’ play-by-play announcer for Super Bowl XLIV.

“I don’t want anybody from Indianapolis to freak out and think I’m going to sound like I’m a Saints fan (during the telecast),” Nantz said after a press conference here to preview the CBS broadcast of Sunday’s big game. “I have to play it neutral, and I will, and I always do. But my mother and sister will be in the stands in their Who Dat T-shirts.”

Nantz was born in Charlotte, N.C., and his CBS bio says he grew up in Colts Neck, N.J. But he says among the most impressionable years of his life were 1966 to ’69, when the Nantzes lived on Green Acres Court in Metairie.

“The last time we did the golf tournament,” he said, “I drove out there and parked the car out front and walked around. I was going to go knock on the door, but I lost my nerve.”

Young Jim played pee-wee football and basketball at Girard Playground, and hopped the fence in his backyard to walk to school at James Madison Elementary (now Harold Keller Elementary) every day.

In September 1967, Nantz recalled, “my dad was all excited about taking me to my first football game. It was Saints-Rams, and we were way up high just to the right of the press box.

“We were there for the opening kick. The John Gilliam return gets a lot of play, and a lot of chatter. But I was 8 years old, and I was there, and it was my first football game ever.”

There are few bonds more enduring than the love of a boy and his childhood sports heroes. A lot of Nantz’s were Saints players: “I can pull out a lot of the old names, you’d be surprised – Danny Abramowicz, Dave Parks, Ernie Wheelwright, Dave Whitsell, Charlie Durkee, Gary Cuozzo, Billy Kilmer, Steve Stonebreaker, Bo Burris ....”

The bond strengthens when the child shared that love of a team with his father, as Nantz did, adding another layer of meaning to Sunday’s game.

“Since the last time I’ve called a Super Bowl, my Dad has passed away,” Nantz said. “And he always loved the Saints, because it represented a time in our lives as a family that was very special.”

The family relocated, Nantz followed a golf scholarship to the University of Houston, graduated with a degree in TV/radio in 1981 and just four years later was working at the network as a college football studio host and golf commentator.

In the 25 years since, Nantz has become one of the most respected sportscasters in the business, having called the action at some of the biggest sporting events on the planet, including the Masters, the Final Four, the Winter Olympics and four Super Bowls. So he’s in a position to rate the Saints and Colts as a Super Bowl matchup.

Nantz’s take: A player as revered as Payton Manning, against an underdog team and city like New Orleans, is an irresistible story line.

“You’re going to see someone who is arguably the greatest player of his time, and is in every argument about the greatest players in the history of the game, possibly going to win for the second time and put on a show,” Nantz said. “Or, you’re going to have this unlikely, incredible, improbable, rebuilding-from-the-ashes New Orleans Saints, carrying a community on its back and lifting the hopes and spirits and showing people what’s possible, the kind of feel-good moment that maybe would be a better feel-good moment than there’s ever been in the 44-year history of the Super Bowl.”

That’s the game’s story line. But there’s also a personal story line that even Nantz finds a little incredulous.

“The first time I ever attended a football game was the birth of the New Orleans Saints,” he said, “and to say that you were actually there and can flash back in your mind to No. 42 running the opening kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown, and now you get to be there the first time they play in a Super Bowl?

“My father would be very excited about this. I know I am.”