FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Jim Nantz always imagined he'd end up calling Pebble Beach home someday. The lead voice of CBS Sports sees the magic in many things.
It's part of what makes him seem much younger than his 53 years, part of what enables him to connect with so many viewers — and maybe what drives some more cynical ones away.
But even for Nantz there is magical, and then there's beyond magical.
Getting to call a Houston Texans-New England Patriots playoff game is still magical for Nantz. Pebble Beach . . . that's beyond magical.
"I really love it there," Nantz tells CultureMap.
When Nantz found himself starting over in some ways, marrying a sports executive in her early thirties after a rather public divorce, there really was no doubt where he'd call home.
"She's driven to get things done," Nantz says of his wife Courtney.
It was not just about getting married on the seventh green of arguably the world's most recognizable golf course. It always centered on making Pebble Beach home — no matter how inconvenient the air travel might get. Not that the small ceremony itself wasn't a thrill.
"They were nice enough to let me do that," Nantz says, like he's just some appreciative guy off the street rather than one of the most influential sports voices in the world.
That's Nantz. He makes it seem like he feels ultra lucky and blessed to be part of so many big events, that he's almost some giddy interloper who has someone been handed the keys to the magic kingdom.
A few hours before the Patriots-Texans game on Sunday finds Nantz squeezing in an interview with a Boston radio station, holding court in the big CBS booth on the 100 level ("What's up Bird!" Nantz shouts when fellow announcer Ian Eagle, who is doing national radio for the playoffs, wanders into the booth) and munching on some type of sandwich wrap between long, polished sentences.
Nantz and I have had fairly long conversations — especially by sports journalism standards — in two booths this season (at Denver early in the year and in New England over the weekend). And he's never come across as harried or put-upon for a single moment. Not even as a definitely stressed producer impatiently waits for him to finish with the guy from Houston.
Instead, Nantz goes on, peppering his talk with words like "super", "great" and "fantastic" — acting as excited as a 12-year-old boy to be there.
"What's up Bird!" Nantz shouts when fellow announcer Ian Eagle wanders into the booth.
He is really living his dream — only now Pebble Beach is part of it too.
He's already brought the University of Houston, another one of his loves, into Pebble. A few months ago, Nantz hosted an all-star golf event to raise money for the University of Houston golf team, the program he gives credit for helping shape his future, even if he laughs, "I was the worst player in the history of the program."
Nantz did not just bring in PGA Tour players and ex-Cougars like Steve Elkington and hold a golf tournament. He and his wife Courtney Richards invited everyone into their new Pebble Beach home, the one that looks right out on the course.
"It was the biggest single fundraiser in the history of the UH golf program," Nantz says with obvious pride. "Coach Jon Dismuke is really taking the program on a return to its glorious past."
Nantz still sees Houston as his anchor and he loves to be able to tie things to his adopted hometown.
When he introduces me to his longtime director, it's "Say hello to Chris, he's from Houston." The emphasis is all Houston.
When a local Houston TV station interviews him from Foxborough, he asks if he can say hi to his mom Doris — who'll be watching back in Houston of course — at the end of the sports spot.
"I've watched athletes and coaches do that for years," Nantz says of the Hi Moms. "But that's the first time I ever did it.
"And they ran it!"
Pebble is the site of the imaginary, emotional round Nantz played in his mind with his dad on his father's death bed.
Nantz laughs. He got a kick out of this too.
He came to Houston last week, making a stop on his way East for a Nantz National Alzheimer Center event at Methodist Hospital. This center that fights the disease that ravaged Nantz's beloved deceased father is where Nantz truly hopes his family's legacy will be made.
"We're moving in the right direction with great speed," Nantz says, noting how quickly things have come in the two years since the center's opening.
The Nantz Alzheimer Center is recruiting what Nantz calls "an all-star from the National Institute of Health." He is certain Houston is going to evolve into the base where the national fight against Alzheimer's is waged.
Nantz gives his wife Courtney — a former executive at IMG, the high-powered sports management agency — credit for helping to push the vision along. In this moment, you get a sense of why their relationship works too.
"She's driven to get things done," Nantz says.
The Texans Connection
Nantz will be calling the AFC Championship Game this weekend and the Super Bowl in New Orleans after that. It is nothing but more big stages ahead.
But Nantz has already looked at the Texans schedule for next season. He's not hoping to finally use the season tickets he pays for every year himself. There's still no chance of that.
Instead, he is seeking out games involving his hometown team that he might get to call — matchups like the Texans at the San Francisco 49ers and the Patriots at Reliant.
When Nantz introduces me to his longtime director, it's "Say hello to Chris, he's from Houston." The emphasis is all Houston.
Nantz has still only called four Texans games in his entire career and three of those came this season (including the playoff loss to New England). For contrast, he's called 61 Patriots games. Sunday night will make 62.
While in Houston, Nantz attended a dinner where Texans owner Bob McNair introduced him. That clearly meant something to him too.
"I have so much respect for Bob McNair and how he's built this franchise the right way," Nantz says.
Nantz is convinced McNair will be collecting the Lombardi Trophy one day soon and that he will be the one handing it over on the Super Bowl stage.
"That's going to happen," Nantz says. "I firmly believe that."
Then Nantz will return to Pebble Beach and bask in the memory.
Pebble is the site of the imaginary, emotional round Nantz played in his mind with his dad on his father's death bed. He can describe every shot they hit on that day to you. It's hard to overstate the importance of Pebble in his life.
That's home now — with his heart in Houston.