How Romo’s and Witten’s stars have diverged since Dallas

A star was born.

Oct. 8, 2007, Cowboys at Bills. One of those games in which bad football made for compelling football. Dallas, down 24-13 after three quarters, won, 25-24, with a long field goal at the final whistle.

The MVP of the game — for both teams — was Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, now with CBS. He threw three touchdown passes, one to tight end Jason Witten, now with ESPN, one to Patrick Crayton and another to George Wilson, a Bills defensive back.

In all, Romo was intercepted five times. Afterward, interviewed on the field, he was asked about that.

“Five?” he said in his raspy voice and with his Stan Laurel grin. “That’s all? Seemed like more.”

Thus, 10 years before he was hired by CBS to work with lead play-by-play man Jim Nantz, Romo was a strong candidate to pass the most important exam for game analysts — the “Would you like to be seated next to him at a game?” test.

Clearly, not many, even those long on the job, succeed or sustain such fan-favored status.

Only a few, some underappreciated by their broadcasting bosses, quickly come to mind. Jim Spanarkel, Trent Green, Clyde Frazier, Ron Darling, Jim Kaat, Jeff Van Gundy and anyone fortunate enough to be assigned to work beside Marv Albert.

And though I don’t know how many passes Romo threw to Witten, the latter should spend less time watching game film prior to ESPN’s Monday night telecasts and more time listening to how his ex-teammate, in just his second year, is so easy on his audience’s nerves.

Witten, a 1,200-catch receiver still not yet one season on the air, is evidently and painfully not receiving the firm, practical advice and coaching he so desperately needs from ESPN. For Witten, as Yogi said, it’s getting late early.


Romo succeeds because he’s a regular guy. He even makes extemporaneously funny sounds that fit the scene and serve as good, natural substitutes for describing what we just saw, anyway — a hard hit, a dropped pass brings a wincing ”Ooof!” He doesn’t take himself seriously, thus he’s disinclined to deliver long, unwanted tutorials after every play.

He arrives well-prepared yet sensible enough not to smother us with it as if dropped from a dump truck. He’s more disposed to suggesting what the next play might be rather than provide a full dissection of the previous play.

Romo mostly avoids these new football terms and idioms that replace plain-talk for no logical reason other than trying to sound slick. He doesn’t hammer and yammer away to reinforce his points.

He seems to know that we tuned in primarily to watch the game. Crazy, I know.

Thus, Romo, plainly put, is likable. And even if he goes on too long — it happens — there are no viewers’ groans and laments that he should zip it, already. At least I sense that’s the case.

And all of the above is what poor Witten — like Romo, thrown into a high-wire act with no net — does week after week, no relief in hearing range, no wise TV coaching in evidence.

For Romo, it’s the best of TV times. For Witten, the worst. Tale of two teammates.

Offense benefiting from yellow flag should be red flag

With new and old NFL rules coming, going, changing and being tweaked — “There was no foul on the play, that was a banana peel” — reader Bob Eineker suggests one that can be easily enforced and removes some ridiculousness from the game.

Eineker point to last Sunday night’s Rams-Bears. The Bears were up, 15-6, fourth-and-6 at midfield, 7:55 left in the fourth. In punt formation, the Bears strategically allowed the clock to run. When the play clock hit :02, Chicago was called for a false start.

After the penalty made it fourth-and-11, the game clock was restarted. This time Chicago didn’t snap the ball until one second was left on the play clock.

Bottom line: The Bears benefited from their penalty by being able to remove 1:04 from the game clock before the next play. The offending team was allowed to stall for more than a minute of game clock time prior to the next stop. Boo!

Easy solution: After any penalty on the offense from scrimmage, the game clock doesn’t begin until the snap while the play clock remains in play.

The season after Steve Cangialosi replaced Doc Emrick as the Devils’ TV play-by-play man, Cangialosi played it cautiously — not trying to say too much, playing it very straight. Understood. The following season, Cangialosi — his confidence and familiarity, especially with the audience, improved — flourished. He and Ken Daneyko became and remain a good give-and-take team.

Same two seasons ago season, after Brendan Burke replaced Howie Rose on Islanders telecasts. Burke felt his way in the dark, not quite ready to share his thoughts and style with Butch Goring. Now, they, too, have emerged as a credible team and a good listen.

That written, full disclosure: I work with Cangialosi’s brother, Vic, and Burke’s dad, Don. But they’re good broadcasters, anyway. So much for genetics.

Stephen A. goes back in time

So ESPN’s shout-it-from-the-pulpit and lead go-to guy for everything, Stephen A. Smith, again revealed himself as a rotten guesswork artist, this time for previewing Thursday’s Chargers-Chiefs game based on matchups that weren’t because they couldn’t.

He emphasized that he has paid extra close attention to a couple of players in particular: “I’m thinking about Hunter Henry and the way he has played this year. … He’s going up against Derrick Johnson.”

Fascinating. Henry, a tight end, has been out all season with an ACL he tore in May. Johnson, a linebacker, was released by the Chiefs in February.

Smith once ripped Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer for not attempting a late-game field goal on third down, explaining, “if they missed it, they could try again on fourth down.”

So this past Thursday he fabricated a bunch of nonsense and reported it to a national audience as fact. What’s ESPN to do? Well, at ESPN it has long been a matter of not what was done, but who did it.

Doesn’t matter how many games of each he calls, Fox’s Joe Buck still speaks football as baseball. He still speaks average points scored as NFL teams’ offense-only stat when, week after week, he can see it’s not.

Though Buck is not alone — hardly — he’s in a special position. Perhaps he’ll soon refer to runners on third base as in the red zone.

Next Sunday, Dec. 23, the Giants will play the Colts in Indy. Sixty years ago, Dec. 28, 1958, in Yankee Stadium, Baltimore Colts RB Alan Ameche scored in sudden-death OT to beat the Giants in the NFL championship game.

That game, televised here on CBS and nationally seen by 45 million viewers, has since been credited with establishing the NFL as a TV property now worth billions.

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