McManus had made the decision to bring in Tony Romo to replace Phil Simms to work with Jim Nantz as his No. 1 broadcast team, and the former Cowboys quarterback was making his debut. There had been rehearsals, but nothing on live television, as Romo’s wife had given birth to their third son during the preseason.
“Ten minutes in I got a text from Dick Ebersol, who is one of my mentors, and someone who I respect as much as anyone in the industry. He just wrote me a very simple text, ‘Terrific move with Tony Romo. He’s going to be great for you,’ ” McManus said.
“Dick is one of the best evaluators of talent that there’s ever been in sports television. To get that from him so quickly confirmed what I thought all along, that Tony had great potential.”
Then something really shocking happened. At a time when most announcers are gleefully picked apart for sport on social media, Romo — divisive in his time as a player — received mostly high marks from fans at home.
“I knew Tony was going to be good, I didn’t know he was going to develop quite as fast as he has,” McManus said of the 37-year-old, who will call the Patriots-Titans divisional-round game Saturday night.
“I didn’t think the chemistry with Jim would be quite as instantaneous as it’s been. A lot of times it takes quite a few seasons to achieve. They are really, really close friends and they love talking about football. It’s an easy listen and they are not trying to one-up each other. … I hope this is a generational move for CBS Sports.”
Where Romo has impressed most is his ability to predict play-calling. He prides himself on his knowledge of the game and has taken that into pregame production meetings with star players and coaches to learn more about what they are planning.
“If you know football well enough, you remember that certain coaches are trying to give you false information because they don’t want anything to get out,” Romo told Sports Illustrated in a recent interview. “It is a secretive thing. I am very protective of game plans, but people never tell you [their game plans] anyway.
“You almost have to figure it out … 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. We are both football junkies. It makes it really enjoyable to meet and talk football and schematics. I know the rest of our CBS staff might be bored for an hour, but it is fascinating for me. This is why you have to be prepared, so you can talk to those guys that way.”
Romo has not been perfect, though. In the Patriots-Steelers showdown, Romo missed why the referees were looking at the game-deciding touchdown even as replays showed Pittsburgh’s tight end Jesse James losing control of the ball as he went to the ground. Romo’s enthusiasm for the sport may have gotten the better of him in his playoff debut, as he referred to the Jaguars-Bills wild-card stinker an “unbelievable game” last week.
McManus’ interview with The Post took place before either of those games, but he did note “there are ways Romo can get better.”
“It’s a lot of little things,” McManus said. “It’s continuing to focus on not just the what, but the why, continuing to project forward what is the best strategy for a team to come from behind. He’s not deficient in any of those areas, he just can get better.”