Phil Simms’s firsthand familiarity with Tom Brady’s career is greater than that of any other analyst working in the national broadcast media.
From 1998 until 2016, Simms was the analyst on CBS’s top NFL broadcast pairing, first with Greg Gumbel and then with Jim Nantz. In his career, which included a year at ESPN and three more at NBC before moving to CBS, Simms has called 116 Patriots games.
Bumped from the booth by Tony Romo before the ’18 season, Simms moved to CBS’s “NFL Today” studio team, and he will be part of the seven-hour pregame show Sunday for Super Bowl LIV.
As the Giants quarterback during their late ’80s/early ’90s heyday when Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells, Simms has the longstanding relationship that helps him mine more intel from the Patriots than most analysts ever manage.
During a Zoom call, Simms shared a couple of interesting stories I’d never heard, one about his own quarterbacking days and one regarding Brady’s early impressions on the Patriots.
Simms revealed that he nearly came out of a one-year hiatus in 1995 to play quarterback for Belichick’s Browns.
“When I got cut by the Giants, after a really good year [in 1993], going to the playoffs, winning a playoff game, being an All-Pro quarterback [he was Pro Bowl, not All-Pro], it caught me off-guard,” he said.
“My thought process, really for my whole life, was that I was going to coach [when I was done playing]. I kind of regret that at times. I wish I had tried it. My wife sometimes says to me, ‘You should have coached.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, and I’ve been fired three times by now and I’d be even more bitter than I am.’ ”
After the Giants cut him, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go into coaching then or try to play again. So he took the opportunity to spend the ’94 season as an analyst at ESPN.
“Had a lot of fun there, liked it a lot,” he said. “But when it was over, I still thought about playing, and then venturing into coaching. That [opportunity to play again] was actually with the Cleveland Browns, with Bill Belichick. It didn’t work out, so I said that was it. That’s when I said I’d stick with this TV thing.”
Simms’s relationship with Belichick led to the coach providing him with personnel insight when he took over as Patriots coach in 2000. Particularly about a scrawny sixth-round pick who was making a big impression as a Drew Bledsoe understudy.
“When I was up there his rookie year, when he didn’t play, all I kept hearing about was, ‘Tom Brady, Tom Brady,’ ” said Simms. “What the coaches saw in him — and they saw it — was that he was a born leader on the football field. What he did after practice — back then you could do this — he would hold a practice on a separate field [with players who weren’t playing much].”
Simms is a believer that even if Bledsoe hadn’t gotten hurt, Brady eventually would have beaten him out, even though Bledsoe was entrenched as the closest thing the Patriots had ever had to a franchise quarterback at that time.
“I know deep down they really were thinking, ‘Hey, this guy is going to be our starting quarterback really soon, sooner than people think,’ ’’ said Simms. “But no one could have imagined he’d still be playing 20 years later, of course.”
CBS’s broadcast will look much the same as previous Super Bowls, but with more complicated logistics because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nantz is calling his sixth Super Bowl, alongside Romo, who is in the booth for his second. This will be the 21st Super Bowl broadcast by CBS, the most by any network.
James Brown hosts the pregame show for the sixth time for CBS and 10th overall, having had the same role at Fox for a quartet of Super Bowls.
CBS’s coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with “That Other Pregame Show,” followed by NFL Films’s “The Road to the Super Bowl” and, at 1 p.m., “Tony Goes To The Super Bowl,” which will feature Romo interviews with Brady and Patrick Mahomes. The official CBS pregame show begins at 2 p.m.
“I’ve never been as proud of a pregame show as I am of the one you’re going to see on Sunday,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “We have some features that I think are really going to resonate with people.”
Those include: a profile of Kenny Washington, the NFL’s first Black player in the modern era (post World War II) and, like Jackie Robinson, a UCLA legend; a segment on women in the NFL, including Sarah Thomas, who will become the first to officiate a Super Bowl; and a reminiscence on the 30th anniversary of Whitney Houston’s legendary rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV.
An interview with President Joe Biden will air in the 4 p.m. hour.
Harold Bryant, who will produce the broadcast, said CBS’s contingent in Tampa is 15 percent smaller than it would be for a normal Super Bowl, with many people, such as those who produce graphics, working remotely.
The on-air talent arrived on-site later than they normally would, with the pregame crew arriving Friday to prepare for a full rehearsal Saturday. Meetings with players and coaches were conducted virtually, and plenty of time was left for COVID-19 testing and receiving results.
“We’ve had to adjust,” said McManus, “but we’ve been very creative and proactive in using Zoom to talk to an Andy Reid or Tom Brady or whoever we need.”
WEEI had a good thing going with its weekend “Hart and Cattles” show, featuring Andy Hart and Nick Cattles. But Saturday was the final program for the pairing, at least for now, as the station tries out other voices. Hart will still be a regular on the air and on the station’s website, but the status of Cattles — who traffics in smart takes rather than hot ones — is up in the air … NBC Sports Boston will have a live postgame show Sunday night at 11 after the Super Bowl, featuring Tom E. Curran, Michael Holley, Michael Felger, and Phil Perry. It’s not a Patriots Sunday, but it’s going to feel like one for Brady fans … It would be extremely surprising if both Gary Tanguay and Andy Gresh aren’t part of a WEEI weekday program in one way or another by the early summer. Extremely surprising.