As grand marshal, NFL broadcaster Jim Nantz will parade his love for Thanksgiving down Woodward Avenue.
By Andy Reid
Featured photo courtesy CBS
Three words pop into legendary CBS sports broadcaster Jim Nantz’s head when when he thinks of Thanksgiving: family, feast and football. He’s not far off from most Americans, especially in Detroit, where the Lions have been an integral part of the holiday tradition since 1934.
This year, Nantz, 59, of Charlotte, North Carolina, will participate in even more of the city’s Thanksgiving Day festivities than his usual responsibilities in the broadcast booth during the Lions’ game against divisional foe Chicago. He has also been selected to serve as the grand marshal for America’s Thanksgiving Parade — a Detroit institution that has been a part of the city a decade longer than the annual football game.
“I am very honored,” Nantz says. “It is something I look very much forward to, and so does my family. We have had many Thanksgivings in Detroit, and this will certainly be one that will create a very warm family memory for us for a long time.”
Nantz has been a part of America’s collective Thanksgiving Day tradition for 35 years — long enough that he doesn’t remember the last time he spent the holiday away from the public eye. Instead, he and his family have created a tradition that includes millions of Americans across the country.
Before he took over NFL duties for CBS, he was an in-studio personality and hosted several of the station’s broadcasts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, live from New York City, in the 1990s.
“I have always worked on Thanksgiving, but I don’t really call it work,” he says. “I don’t think of it like that. I love what I do for a living. It is all a joy.
“And Thanksgiving, to me, is the best holiday of all. It is a celebration of many things; it is always centered around family. It is a chance to be thankful for the many blessings in your life, and that always starts with the family for me. … Parades are a part of the celebration. This one in Detroit happens to be one with tremendous history, and not only local pride, but national interest. It has really become a part of the holiday.”
Nantz has been lucky enough to incorporate his duties as an NFL commentator into his family’s holiday tradition. Each year he calls the Lions game, he wakes up early with his wife, Courtney, and three children, Caroline, Finley and Jameson. They attend the parade, and then Nantz splits off to Ford Field to report for duty. After the game, the family drives to the Cleveland area, where Courtney’s mother prepares a Thanksgiving meal. This year, many of Nantz’s in-laws are planning to come up from Cleveland to see his performance in the parade.
Every other year, Nantz works the game in Dallas. His mother and sister live near Houston and always come up to spend the holiday with Nantz and his family, eating a Thanksgiving brunch before the game and meeting at a restaurant after.
It’s also a chance to celebrate with his “football family.” The CBS crew will celebrate during the broadcast, highlighting several behind-the-scenes employees. The broadcast also includes special features with players, allowing them to give thanks and talk about the holiday in front of a national audience.
The Parade Company President and CEO Tony Michaels says picking this year’s grand marshal was particularly easy. Michael Patrick Shiels, a friend of Nantz who hosts the Michigan-based radio show “The Big Show,” connected Nantz with Michaels and they quickly agreed to work together on the parade. In recent years, Michaels has selected Keegan Michael-Key, Big Sean and Tim Allen, who all have local ties, as grand marshal.
And as grand marshal, Nantz will have a pretty easy job.
“He just has to have a good time,” Michaels says. “Just enjoy everything about Detroit, and enjoy this big event with hundreds of thousands of people on Woodward Avenue that is broadcast in 185 cities across America. This is a great, great moment of our city, and it is the coming together of Detroit, the biggest and most heartwarming event that we have.”
The trickiest part will be coordinating his arrival to Ford Field. Usually, to prepare for a broadcast, Nantz arrives at a stadium hours before kickoff. The game is at 12:30 p.m., and the end of the parade festivities butt up to the start of the game.
“Believe me, there are a few off-site people (at CBS) worried about that already,” Nantz says. “I am trying to quell any concerns. As the parade winds its way through the streets of Detroit, at some point, that car is going to have to step on the pedal a little bit and get to Ford Field. I’ll scurry up to the booth and change hats from grand marshal to broadcaster.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Nantz has worked countless marquee events, like the Masters Tournament and the Final Four. For him, this Thanksgiving in Detroit will stand out.
“I can’t wait to bring my little ones to the parade this year,” Nantz says. “To be able to share this with them is such a nice gesture by Tony and the crew, who pour a lot of time and energy into this parade, which shines a beautiful light on Detroit.
“I like the feel of what goes on in Detroit, with that early game and the parade that comes right up the street outside of the hotel we’re staying, it’s special. The chill in the air, the season feels right. It triggers the start of the Christmas season. There is a warm glow to it. I really feel it.”