Jim Nantz broadcasts the last shining moments of the NCAA tournament with a mournful tone

Two years ago, when Jim Nantz decided it would be his last time calling the Final Four — a bye in his hometown of Houston — he knew it would be an emotional experience.

But the legendary CBS play-by-play announcer couldn’t have predicted the outpouring of emotion that would accompany this goodbye. He expected waves of nostalgia, but not the sadness of the past few months.

He lost his mother in October, followed in January by longtime friend Billy Packer, who stood by Nantz for 18 years as a CBS basketball analyst.

And then, three days before the start of the NCAA tournament, statistician Pat McGrath died unexpectedly in his San Francisco hotel room. He was in town to work an NBA game, just another routine stop before joining Nantz in March Madness.

The two worked side by side for 30 years. As with Nantz, McGrath was determined that this would also be his last tournament. He would have turned 73 on St. Patrick’s Day, four days after his death.

“We did the Big Ten weekend, and he flew to San Francisco on Sunday night,” Nantz said. “We know he got up the next morning to go get some breakfast because there was a ticket to re-enter his room around noon.

“Pat’s ritual was to prepare notes all night and then sleep during the day. He liked to take a nap before the match, so that he could go in refreshed. That evening he laid down for a nap and never woke up.’

Nantz, 63, began calling home games for CBS in 1986 and served as Final Four studio host for five years before replacing Brent Musburger as the play-by-play announcer in 1991. Monday night will mark Nantz’s 354th NCAA tournament game.

“That’s a lot of survival and moving forward moments,” he said. “Great drama”.

Announcers (from left) Jim Nantz, Grant Hill and Bill Raftery are part of CBS’ current NCAA basketball tournament contingent.

(Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

Nantz, now a team of Bill Raftery and Grant Hill, will sign his basketball coverage in the city where it all started. While a student at the University of Houston, he began as an announcer for the school’s basketball team and as the host of coach Guy Lewis’ television show.

This isn’t the end of the road in Nantz broadcasting, just calling college basketball games. He wants to spend more time with his family. He and his wife, Courtney, have a 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, and going from NFL games to March Madness to the Masters is a relentless — if glorious — grind. He and CBS Sports President Sean McManus decided two years ago that this would be his last tournament as the primary broadcaster.

Millions of Americans know Nantz, whose voice is synonymous with some of the biggest events in sports, including the Super Bowl, the Masters and the Final Four. McGrath, though virtually unknown to the outside world, was a fixture at sports broadcasts, football, baseball and basketball games during his half-century career. According to him, he worked with 120 different advertisers, including Jack and Joe Buck, Dick Enberg, Bryant Gumbel, Marv Albert, etc.

“He had the best seat in the house that nobody knew,” Nantz said, noting that McGrath was always smartly dressed at games in a coat and tie and carried an old-school leather briefcase, weathered over decades of life. the road

McGrath, a Chicago native with a brilliant math mind, sat to Nantz’s immediate right and communicated through a headset to broadcast someone collecting statistics in the graphics and production truck.

“Guys like Pat are computers,” Nantz said. “The data is coming in—rebounds, shots, turnovers, assists, points scored—and I’m looking at how a team moves the ball around the court and who does it. But they are tracking trends. Their minds never turn off.’

McGrath wrote his observations and calculations on a steady stream of cards and handed them to Nanzi.

“He had really good writing even in a hurry,” Nantz said. “Everything was legible. Things are happening so fast, I don’t have time for a guy to give you a calligraphy. It must be drawn and sent to me.

“Pat had that sixth sense and he was quick. He was a genius.”

Ethan Cooperson, who was coached by McGrath, will put up numbers for the Nantes in the tournament, just as he does during the NFL season. Meanwhile, Marty McGrath—Pat’s brother—will attend the Final Four with his wife and daughter as a guest of Nantz.

Sorting through his brother’s memorabilia, Marty found a birthday card from Pat in Nantz and his voice caught with emotion as he read the inscription: “‘You’re one of the best guys I’ll ever know. I love you, brother.’ And they were. They were brothers.” .

It was the same with Nantz and Packer. When he chose this as his final tournament, Nantz planned for Packer to be there for his sendoff.

“I had this dream where Billy was going to be there and I was going to be able to give him a hug coming off the court,” he said.

CBS announcer Jim Nantz begins the broadcast of an NCAA college basketball game.

CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz will broadcast his final Final Four as the NCAA basketball tournament winds down.

(Erin Hooley/Associated Press)

“There is nothing but gratitude in my heart for the relationships I’ve had in this 37-year journey.”

– Jim Nantz, about sports broadcasting

The plan was to someday call his old friend and colleague to invite him.

“I never had a chance to make that call,” Nantz said. “Since November I knew that the possibility of traveling was decreasing day by day. He had a setback of sorts. No one was sure what it was, but it fell in his garage. His family wasn’t sure if it was related to the stroke. But the last three months were hard.”

Packer, hospitalized for the last three weeks of his life, died of kidney failure on January 26. The day before, Nantz had a final conversation with him.

“Her three children — Mark, Liz and Brandt — were in the room, and I asked if I could have a word with her,” Nantz said. “They called and put me on speakerphone. We talked for 12 minutes – I looked -. I have to regale him with some of our stories and tales away from the court. Dinners and conversations. His voice was sour, but I told him I loved him. The last thing I have to say to him”.

Nantz also hoped his mother, Doris, would be there for his last basketball game. He died of cardiac arrest on October 3rd, exactly six months before Monday’s final, and would have been 92. He was an avid Houston Cougars fan.

“He was immobile but healthy,” she said. “He couldn’t walk very well. That would be the last time I would take my mother to a game.’

Despite the sadness and loss he has experienced in recent months, Nantz is happy with the end of this part of his career.

“This is a joyous occasion,” he said. “I’m as nostalgic as anyone on the planet. It’s in my DNA, and I got that from my mother. But I don’t want the word nostalgic to imply that I’m maudlin. My nostalgia is born of gratitude.

“I’m in the heart of Texas, but in my heart for the relationships I’ve had in this 37-year journey, for the support and love I’ve had from my family and friends, there’s nothing but gratitude. And I’m here to celebrate.”

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