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Q&A: Gus Johnson

Announcer talks tourney, Internet fame, Knicks, more

Posted: Wednesday March 26, 2008 5:12PM; Updated: Thursday March 27, 2008 12:26PM
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Gus Johnson
Gus Johnson
Courtesy of CBS Sports
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By Jimmy Traina, SI.com

With the NCAA tournament kicking off its second weekend of action, SI.com's Jimmy Traina spoke with CBS play-by-play man, Gus Johnson, who'll call Friday's Wisconsin-Davidson and Kansas-Villanova games.

SI.com: So are you enjoying your time as a cult Internet hero?

Johnson: I'm not a big computer guy. I barely know how to turn that thing on. But I've noticed over the last couple of years that my popularity has grown. There's a lot of people out there, I guess, who love watching the tournament, and there are a lot of platforms now for people who blog and do podcasts, so I have noticed that my popularity has increased, and it's a pretty cool thing.

SI.com: Deadspin.com has been running Media Approval Ratings. You have a 90.5 percent positive approval rating.

Johnson: Wow. Really? Wow. That's pretty cool. That's good right?

SI.com: That's better than good.

Johnson: That's cool. I'm happy that I'm having an impact on people. That's wonderful.

SI.com: You seem to be a perfect fit for the tournament.

Johnson: I think people like the fact that I'm not afraid to let go. Some people dislike that, too. I can be loud and I let go when I'm happy about what I'm watching. But I think fans like the energy and passion I bring to sports.

SI.com: Do you ever watch your clips on YouTube?

Johnson. Yeah, I've taken a brief look at them. I've seen what some of the comments were. I never really watch the games after I do them. I was amazed at how many people watched those clips. One of those clips had more than 100,000 views. I thought that was kind of cool. This whole new media is very interesting to me.

SI.com: Another famous clip that was a big YouTube hit was your call at the end of last year's Xavier-Ohio State game when you went into a cackle. Tell me about that one. (Ed Note: The user removed the video sometime over the past couple of days, but some of the clips from that game can be found here.)

Johnson: The game was just getting good to me. It was the culmination of everything. College basketball, CBS Sports, it was what March Madness is all about, the unpredictable. It was about how crazy the tourney can be at times. And I think that's why I've gotten good response from fans. I kind of let go with that craziness that is the NCAAs.

SI.com: Do you ever think you've gone over the top with a call?

Johnson. I do. That UCLA-Gonzaga call is one. Especially when I scream "BATISTA WITH THE CATCH." It's way too much to me.

SI.com: I'd love to see you teamed with Bill Raftery for the tournament. Have you guys worked together?

Johnson: Yeah. We've worked together in the past and I take that as a huge compliment. I love coach Raftery. He's got great energy and a great enthusiasm for the game. He knows the teams, he's not afraid to let it go. I love working with him.

SI.com: Is there an analyst you haven't worked with that you'd like to work with?

Johnson: I'd love to work with Dick Vitale. I grew up listening to Vitale. I'm from Detroit. When he was a coach there, he was doing all that stuff he does now when he was interviewed on TV. He was talking about PTPers and Diaper Dandies back then. I have pictures of myself with him when I was a kid. He hosted our Boys Club banquet. So I've always liked Vitale, and I'd love to one day do a game with him. That would be full circle for me.

SI.com: The tournament's first weekend was good, but it didn't seem to cause a ton of buzz. Where do you see things going into the second weekend?

Johnson: We have some great stories. The story of Davidson and Stephen Curry, for example. With Kansas, we have a team and a coach in Bill Self that are looking to finally come through in a big game, in a big situation. Wisconsin is a Big Ten team playing in Michigan. They're going to have a lot of support at their game. They can drive down a lot of fans.

SI.com: You didn't do regional games last year. That assignment went to James Brown. What caused you to be back on the games this year?

Johnson: My bosses just felt that me being on the regionals was a good fit. And they just said, "Hey we're going to let you do that again."

SI.com: How did that make you feel?

Johnson: I was so happy. I realized what I lost, and that makes you more appreciative toward what you have. Sitting out that second week last year gave me some perspective, and it gave me an appreciation for the opportunity. I'm ecstatic to be back and to have an chance to go out there and call the games, and hopefully we'll have really good games.

SI.com: Who did you have going to the Final Four in your brackets?

Johnson: UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and Stanford.

SI.com: Not bad. They're all still alive.

Johnson: Yeah, I'm in a pool with buddies I play ball with at the gym, but I'm still trailing big time, though. I need to rally with my Final Four. I have UCLA and UNC in the title game with UCLA winning. I was nervous last week, I'll tell you that.

SI.com: You also call NFL action for CBS. Which would you rather call: A Final Four or an AFC title game?

Johnson: Not even close. Final Four.

SI.com: What about a Super Bowl or a Final Four?

Johnson: Not even close. Final Four. I'm a basketball guy. I'd love to call the Final Four one day. That would be the ultimate for me. I'm not really interested in calling the Super Bowl.

SI.com: You also do Knicks games. This must have been a rough season to go to work every-day.

Johnson: I just have a totally different perspective on it. I work at the World's Most Famous arena for one of the most storied franchises in the history of pro basketball in the greatest city in the world.

SI.com: If you can put that much of a positive spin on working for the Knicks, I say, God bless you.

Johnson: I've got to. I've got to. Obviously, they aren't where they need to be. Things haven't turned out the way they should turn out. But I have to make sure I keep it positive. It's a great job. I'm privileged to work with this organization. The fans listening to the games love the Knicks. Our fans are the best fans in basketball. So I'm going to try my best. New Yorkers are tough, but I'm always going to try my best to be positive and appreciate the good things, because I don't think it's going to be like this forever.

SI.com: But a fan also feels insulted when an announcer tries to sugarcoat something that's obviously a complete debacle.

Johnson: They know what's going on. I don't think they see me as a sugarcoater. I'm critical of the team. I don't try to be hurtful, but I'm a fan of the organization, regardless of the players that are here, the coaches that are here and the management that's here. I'm a fan of the tradition, the franchise. So I'm going to do my best at all times to bring out the positive, but it has been a horrible year.

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