College Hoops: Packer’s brashness will be missed
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News & Observer
Go ahead. Laugh when you read this, but college basketball fans will miss Billy Packer.
They’ll miss him for the same reason that the late Al McGuire once explained why Packer basically had two categories of fans ó those who don’t like him and those who really don’t like him.
“The poor guy,” McGuire said, “is so serious about basketball that he can’t have any fun with it. He’s like a Catholic nun with her rosary and all these Baptists down here are about the Lord’s Prayer. It’s all life or death. There’s no in-between with Billy. If it’s on his mind, it jumps out of his mouth. But, bless his heart, his mind is just as fast as his mouth.”
College basketball, for years, has been Billy Packer’s religion and the month of March his High Holy Days. That’s why he’s probably not finished with the sport. He’ll likely still be around, whether as an announcer or not.
Yeah, sure, the decades-long association with CBS came to an end Monday. Exactly why, we don’t really know, and CBS is too timid to explain its motive. Odds are, it was all about ratings and market share. Either that, or Packer finally ticked off someone in New York in the same manner that he became famous for doing to folks sitting in front of their television sets in Outback, Kansas, or Down East, North Carolina.
If you get to know Packer, it doesn’t take very long to figure out that his brash personality isn’t about having a CBS logo on his clothes or his face on television. It really makes no difference to him whether he’s discussing Kentucky vs. UCLA or the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game of the ACC Tournament, he’s going to work each angle, examine and possibly criticize each strategy ó and with the same diligence to his assignment.
Not only that, the delivery will be seasoned with the same lack of deference to the more popular school. He’s been at courtside, spewing forth, purely out of interest in the game and in his bank account.
“I’m too ugly to be in this (TV) racket for my face,” Packer said last season. “All I have to offer is what I have to say. I’ve never been a professional broadcaster, per se, and I’ve never had any interest in being one.”
In those long-ago days when Packer, McGuire, Dick Enberg and NBC helped to turn the NCAA Tournament into a national happening, Packer’s observations did as much as anything to create interest. He did it the hard way, too. From the start, when he was basically drafted into an analyst role during the early days of the ACC regional telecasts, Packer refused to fill the role of a cheerleader and public defender of erring coaches.
“If you don’t call ’em like you see ’em, what’s the sense of opening your mouth?” he said shortly after the Duke-North Carolina game in 2007.
Near the end of that game, Duke’s Gerald Henderson was ejected after fouling UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough. The result was a bloody mess that strained emotions on both sides of the rivalry. Without much hesitation, Packer defended Henderson, stating that the injury to Hansbrough appeared to have been unintentional even though the replays seemed to indicate otherwise.
Whether he was right or wrong on that call, Packer not only had the nerve to make one but also to make it fast.
That’s the sort of thing a television analyst should do. In sports, no one is perfect. Everyone ó players, coaches, officials, fans, media ó makes mistakes. But someone once said more mistakes are the result of indecision than poor decisions.
Packer rarely tripped on the side of indecision. That’s what made him special. But correctly, it made him different. It’s what college basketball fans aren’t likely to see and hear in the future.