Phil Simms thought Dan Reeves was calling him into his office to sign some footballs sitting on his desk.
It was June of 1994 and Simms was coming off an excellent 11-5 playoff season. But he was also recovering from offseason surgery to his throwing shoulder and making $2.5 million and he was 38 years old and he and the Giants had differing opinions whether he would be ready for training camp.
He was getting ready to work out in the weight room at Giants Stadium when Reeves approached him in the locker room and asked him to stop by. One year earlier in Reeves’ first season as Giants coach, he had a choice of two Super Bowl QBs: He picked Simms and allowed Jeff Hostetler to leave as a free agent.
Simms knew just 30 seconds into a 45-minute conversation that Reeves was cutting him. He was one of the first major casualties of the salary cap era. The move was endorsed by GM George Young, strongly opposed by owner Wellington Mara and it turned out to be a huge mistake. The Giants started a short-lived era of youngsters Dave Brown and Kent Graham at quarterback.
Twenty-three years later, it happened to Simms again this week when CBS became infatuated with Tony Romo and gave him Simms’ No. 1 job as its game analyst. Simms still has multiple years remaining on his contract and CBS may try to demote him to lesser games or just have him do “Inside the NFL” on CBS-owned Showtime or just settle his contract.
So, getting booted out of his starting job is nothing new to Simms.
Does CBS know if Romo will be a flop like Brown or Graham or whether he will become an immediate star like John Madden or Cris Collinsworth? It is betting on him being Collinsworth and praying he’s not Graham. He will be 37 on April 21. Simms is 62. Romo will appeal to a younger audience who never saw Simms play.
What the network does know is it just gave a rookie the spot that Simms held since CBS won the bidding for the AFC package in 1998, and the rookie has never been in front of a camera other than doing locker room interviews.
I think this is a big mistake that will reveal itself when CBS has its first big game, when as many eyes will be on Romo as the quarterbacks on the field.
When the red light comes on in the booth for the first time, it’s like Lawrence Taylor coming around the edge at a rookie quarterback. You better have a plan to survive. Simms learned the business as a studio analyst at ESPN before NBC and then CBS hired him as its No. 1 analyst. Romo goes from the field right into the No. 1 booth. That’s a lot of pressure.
“He understands that this is a really hard job,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. “This is not something where you just walk into the booth, turn the microphone on and start talking. You’ve got to do your research, you’ve got to look at hours and hours of game film, you’ve got to talk to coaches, you’ve got to talk current players. The best analysts are often the ones that work the hardest.”
This would be easier to understand if CBS was replacing Simms with Peyton Manning, who is a natural in front of the camera and is funny, anecdotal and smart. He’s Peyton Manning. So far, he has shown no desire to do games. If he changes his mind, the networks will be lining up.
I’ve spoken to Romo on many occasions since Bill Parcells made him the Cowboys starter midway through the 2006 season. Really nice guy, speaks well, but he’s not Manning. I never thought he had that kind of outgoing personality that would work for a three-hour game.
The CBS bosses met him for the first time at the NFL’s Friday night Super Bowl party two years ago in Phoenix before the Patriots-Seahawks game. McManus asked Romo what he thought of the game, he gave a 10-minute answer and McManus decided a star was born and he was destined to be a No. 1 analyst. He will work with Jim Nantz, who can make anybody look good, but CBS never had Romo do a practice game with Nantz off the television to find out if he was any good at this.
Simms could provide the insight of what it’s like to be on a championship team, what it’s like to play in the conference title game and the pressure of playing in the Super Bowl. Romo was an excellent player with a total of two playoff victories. His best insight will come from his experience, so he should be very good talking about the frustration of debilitating injuries and season-killing fourth quarterback interceptions.
It’s not fair to come to definitive conclusions following Romo’s one-hour CBS conference call Tuesday, but I was not impressed. He was long-winded, monotone, not particularly insightful and not entertaining.
But he’s a Cowboys quarterback and that means a lot to the network folks. Don Meredith was the original Monday Night Football star. Roger Staubach did games for CBS for awhile and now Troy Aikman is the No. 1 analyst for Fox.
Romo was being courted by Fox to replace John Lynch on its No. 2 team. NBC wanted him also but probably to be part of the studio show. There was no way they would put him in the booth with Al Michaels and Collinsworth. CBS won out by offering him Simms’ job. The players with leverage want to be around the game, not in the studio.
Romo for Simms proves the television business is just as screwy as the football business.
Simms had his detractors among fans if you pay attention to Twitter. But nobody prepared harder or had more knowledge about the game. He was dedicated to his job. He missed the high school and college football careers of his quarterback sons Chris and Matt because when they were playing on high school Friday nights in New Jersey he was watching practice and meeting with players and coaches of the home team playing in the Sunday game he was doing and on Saturday he was meeting with the visiting teams and players.
If he was doing a game in New England, a few times he would sneak home for a game and go right back up to Foxborough. If he was doing a game at the Meadowlands, well, that was convenient. He rarely got to see Chris play at Texas or Matt play at Tennessee. He was compensated well and enjoyed his job. He had a good run.
But if Romo turns out to be Brown or Graham, it’s not going to take long to find out.