A Hall of A Guy?
CBS' Packer provokes haters; studs and duds
Posted: Monday March 24, 2008 1:28PM; Updated: Wednesday March 26, 2008 4:17PM
You like him. You hate him. And if you are one of the nearly 5,400 people who signed this petition, you want him off the air immediately.
There is no gray area with CBS analyst Billy Packer. Never has been. He does not engender warmth. He will not dress up as Elvis (see, Vitale, Richard) for your pleasure. He speaks his mind, damn the consequences.
This is Packer's 34th consecutive Final Four, a mind-boggling run in the fickle world of sports broadcasting. Why has he lasted so long?
"One of the things that CBS has embraced through Tony Petitti [CBS Sports executive vice president] and Sean McManus [the head of CBS Sports and News] is that it really is about the game and not about us and our personalities," said Packer, 68.
At a recent press luncheon in New York, Jim Nantz, Packer's current CBS partner, asked a group of media members why Packer has never received a nomination to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a special contributor.
"Can you imagine anybody calling 34 consecutive World Series or 34 consecutive Super Bowls?" said Nantz. "He is the voice of college basketball. He has done more to popularize the sport, promote the game, defend the game, and take care of the game than anyone. It's never about self-promotion, never about any popularity contest.
"I've sat back every year and I've watched Dick Vitale make the finals of the Hall of Fame voting," Nantz added. "I want to say right up front: I love Dick Vitale. I hope he gets in. But I'm curious as to why no one has ever raised a flag and said, Why isn't Billy Packer on the list of finalists? Why isn't he already in the Hall of Fame? Again, this has nothing to do with Dick. He deserves it. But Billy needs to be there, too."
Well, for starters, you can argue that neither man belongs there as a special contributor. Broadcasters have their own award at the Hall, the Curt Gowdy Award, which Nantz, Packer and Vitale have all been awarded (So has SI's Jack McCallum). But Vitale is one of six nominees for the actual Hall this year. It is his fourth time as a finalist. Packer has never been on the short list.
In his politicking for Packer, Nantz says membership in the Hall should not be a popularity contest. Alas, it's wishful thinking. So often networking and a steady stream of chatty surrogates is exactly the reason special contributors get enshrined in sports Halls of Fame. To that end, Vitale has spent his career engendering himself to all parties, from coaches to fans to mascots. Personally, I've always liked Packer better as a broadcaster. I also think he's an arrogant grump. If only we could marry Vitale's love of people with Packer's professionalism. Then we'd have ESPN's Doris Burke.
PERSON OF THE WEEK
Tim Brando, CBS Sports: In a stroke of scheduling fortune, Brando and his partner, Mike Gminski, called all four upsets in the Tampa region, including Western Kentucky's buzzer-beating win over Drake. "The running joke in the industry is Tim Brando is this year's Gus Johnson," said Brando, who has called the tournament for CBS since 1985. Brando said only the 1998 NCAA Midwest regional finals, where he was partnered with the late Al McGuire, topped last weekend.
"Stanford came from six points down with less than a minute to go to win [over Rhode Island]," Brando said. "From a broadcasting moment at CBS, that was sort of my one shining moment up until this past weekend."
The broadcaster was well aware that the nation's sporting eyes were transfixed on him and his partner in Tampa. "Actually, you can't help but know because you are hearing from your producers who are being told from New York that we're going to "Lay out for a join. Lay out for a join," said Brando. "Whenever we hear that in our ears, we know that they are collapsing audiences from other games into us. You're also equally aware when you are being told when audiences are being taken away. That's a sinking feeling, too."