FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J.- Every action has an equal, but opposite reaction. Tony Romo, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, retires from football and, all of a sudden, Phil Simms, veteran broadcaster, finds himself without a job. Beginning this upcoming football season, Romo will trade his helmet for a broadcast headset. Simms will swap his headset for a seat in front of the cameras at the NFL Today’s desk, alongside James Brown, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, and new addition Nate Burleson. “It’s going to be interesting. I hope it’s going to be fun” he told me.
Simms, “Mr. Frequent Flier”, said he would not miss the 70 flights per year he was taking with his former job. “I don’t have to travel…as much this year. So, I’m pretty excited about that….You don’t realize how much you travel until you sit back and think about it when the season is over….I think what excites me is the fact that I’ll get a chance to really cover the whole league and pay attention to all the teams instead of just the small group of teams in the big games that we covered.”
Of those games, Simms and I talked of his fondest calls from the play-by-play broadcast booth. “I don’t know if I could just point to one moment. I’ve seen so many great ones. Plays at the end of the game by the Patriots to win games. Peyton Manning coming from a big deficit in the AFC Championship game to beat the Patriots to go to his first Super Bowl after so many years and so much negativity [surrounding the fact that he ‘can’t win the Big Game’]”. Saying that it was difficult to pinpoint individual moments, it’s easy to observe that Simms is an enthusiastic football viewer. Because of this reason, he told me: “It’s hard to pick out special games because,…it doesn’t matter to me if the score is 35-34 or 35-0, it’s still exciting to sit there and talk about all the players in the game”
To his next adventure, taking with him memories about the most exciting events he has called, Simms never even thought he’d be a broadcaster. “In fact, all my friends are shocked I’m in TV [because] I wasn’t the most talkative kid growing up, but I was talkative when I played”. How did a career in broadcasting come about? Without a smooth transition and without a communications degree. “I don’t know if I ever thought I’d really make a career out of it. I was released from the Giants kind of suddenly [and] unexpectedly…. I wasn’t sure what to do and I didn’t want to move away from my family to keep playing. So, I was…offered an opportunity to work in TV and I said ‘I’ll try it’…. Here we are, I don’t know how many years later, 20-something and I’m still doing it so I’m happy about that”.
Actually, as a player, Simms always imagined himself being a coach at his most recently completed level of football. “That was my goal: to play as long as I could, [and], when I [was] done, I was going to coach”. As a veteran quarterback, he decided that he definitely wanted to take his expertise to the professional level once his playing career was over “because you didn’t have to worry about anything but just coaching your guys: I didn’t have to recruit, didn’t have to worry if they were going to class [and] all those things.” When I asked if he would still want to fulfill that life goal, he replied: “Well, not now. Of course I’m too old to start that tree….I’d need to start at the bottom almost and…I don’t want to do that. It’s too hard. The hours to be in that position, to start over, would be too tough on me…Coaching? That’s never going to happen.”
As for now, Simms is already embracing his role on the NFL Today – leaving the door open for a career in radio when that finishes. Simms denied recent rumors that he would become a regular host on New York’s WFAN: “I’ve read and kind of seen some things, but that’s not in my radar right now.” For now. “I will admit: one day, I do want to do radio. I’m not sure when that will be…. I find it intriguing because there’s more time to talk and you can really broaden your thoughts out there. When the camera comes on or the mic is turned on…even if you’re tired, you can’t wait to start talking again….Radio is definitely something I will do before I’m done broadcasting.”
What is the biggest difference between when you played and what football is now?
“Everything. Just, the athlete continues to evolve, get better and better. The coaching is more on-the-edge, in other words: coaches are more willing to take more chances, be more creative. You know, we know about the money, but I just think that now, the quarterback is empowered probably five times, maybe ten times more than he was in my era. They didn’t build franchises just around the quarterback, in my era. Maybe [with] Joe Montana, they thought about it a little more, but now, you have a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL, their number one goal as a team is just to make sure he does well. And, of course, if your quarterback does well, usually that’s really good for the team so it’s a good thought.”