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One minute to airtime, and Joe Buck is singing. The Fox Sports NFL production team has been debating how to pronounce the last name of Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, and Buck is snapping his fingers and crooning, "You say She-AN-oh, I say She-ON-oh.... She-AN-Oh, She-ON-Oh.... Let's call the whole thing off!"
Buck does not usually sing George Gershwin songs before he goes on the air. He prefers Johnny Cash: I fell into a burning ring of fire.... Sometimes he turns to his Fox baseball partner, Tim McCarver, flashes a big smile and says, "One last thing: F--- you!" Before NFL preseason games he likes to tell his football color man, three-time Super Bowl--winning quarterback Troy Aikman, "Just remember: You have worked your whole life for this!"
"Thirty seconds!" a stage manager yells.
Twenty million people are about to hear Buck and Aikman call the Buccaneers' game against the Giants. As Fox's lead NFL and major league baseball announcer, Buck has one of the most familiar voices in America—it's the sound track to many of the biggest football games and the World Series. To a generation of sports fans he is the voice of fall. It's odd, then, that so many fans think he doesn't love the games. Truth is, he loves them as much as you do—just not in the same way, because.... Well, we will explain. Now it's go time, the stage manager is yelling, and here is Buck, with his first words of the broadcast, maybe his favorite words of any broadcast:
"We ... are ... live!"
HE GOT his job because of his dad. This is at once the most honest and most ridiculous thing you can say about Joe Buck. It is both a cheap shot and the defining truth of his professional life.
Jack Buck just wanted his son around. That's why he brought Joe to Cardinals' spring training in Florida before the boy turned one. Jack was the Cardinals' radio voice. Joe was the first child of his second marriage. Jack had six kids with his first wife, and he missed too much of their childhoods because he was working. He could not believe what he just didn't see. He told Joe's mom, Carole, that he wouldn't let that happen with Joe.
Almost from the beginning they seemed more like friends than father and son. Jack didn't even call his kid Joe. He called him "Buck." When Jack recorded radio shows in his home office, he told young Joe he could sit in as long as he was quiet. Joe would seat himself in an antique chair and wordlessly study his dad. He revered his father. When Joe greeted Jack at Busch Stadium after games, he offered to hold his coat or his drink so everybody would know he was Jack Buck's boy.
But the real fun came when he joined his dad on the road. He sat in the booth during games. He rode on the team plane, hung out in the clubhouse. He knew that Stan Musial was a Cardinals legend, but he thought of Stan the Man as his father's pal.
Jack liked to stop in Las Vegas on the way home from the West Coast. A child of the Depression, he loved the thrill of Vegas and being able to afford the thrill of Vegas. He and Joe stayed at the Dunes, where everybody knew Jack. The old man loved the tables—blackjack, craps—and sent Joe off to play video games.