Billy Packer’s broadcasting career has come to an end, unless he gets the itch and sends a text message to various networks. The internet has exploded with celebration as if sport’s longest tenured tyrant has finally been toppled. Packer has never been one of my favorites. His declaration that the Kansas-North Carolina Final Four game was over in the first half, had me contemplating the logistics of a cross-country pilgrimage to punch him myself.
Packer’s not perfect, and he’s never claimed to be. He can be abrasive, harsh and has been known to beat a dead horse. After 34 consecutive Final Four broadcasts, one title Packer deserves is Hall of Famer. Anyone that has watched games Packer has broadcast has learned from the man. His knowledge of the game and its history are beyond reproach. His delivery was not flashy, not always eloquent, but it was always fair.
More than once Packer’s been accused of being insensitive. Both his comment to Charlie Rose and to the Duke co-eds got him in hot water, but perhaps most egregious, was his remark about Allen Iverson. People would be remised, however, to forget that one of the people that jumped to his defense was Iverson’s coach, John Thompson. Packer’s 2006 “crusade” against mid-majors has also been a point of contention, but his logic did not seem so flawed, until two mid-majors made it to the sweet sixteen and George Mason made it to the Final Four. In each case, Packer admitted his mistakes, a rarity in today’s day and age.
This year, Dick Vitale will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Vitale, another polarizing figure in the broadcast booth, is the flash to Packer’s substance. He’s a one man hype machine, but as for broadcasting, Packer’s résumé stands taller. Vitale may be a great ambassador for the sport, but he did it promoting himself along the way. Packer was a man of many opinions, but he let the game be the star. In all fairness, Packer’s induction should have preceded Vitale’s.
College basketball is losing its voice. The curmudgeon we all grew to hate has been a larger part of the Final Four than any of the active coaches which are already enshrined. As Jim Nantz said in the Miami Herald, “Fans don't realize they owe Billy a thank-you.” Thank you, your old surly bastard, and in the words of my father,”Billy, will you please just shut the F up?”