Archive for Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Commentary: George Mason rallying cry: Packer

Outspoken CBS college basketball analyst draws negative reaction - but he doesn’t care

March 29, 2006


— George Mason fans have been yelling "Bill-eee Pack-er! Bill-eee Pack-er!" with great glee after each of their NCAA Tournament wins. They have latched onto Packer as the embodiment of the powers that be in college basketball. When they stick it to "The Man," they like to think The Man looks just like a bald-headed, hard-headed Wake Forest grad who used to be the voice of Putt-Putt golf.

Does Packer care?

Not really.

"I don't know whether to take something like that as a compliment or a dig," he said by phone Monday from his Charlotte home. "So I just take it to be a comical thing. I laugh about it."

Packer, the color analyst for CBS at this weekend's Final Four in Indianapolis, hasn't seen George Mason play live all season. Nor Louisiana State. Nor UCLA. Of the Final Four teams, he has broadcast only Florida in person.

"This NCAA Tournament has begun with the best two weeks I've ever seen," Packer said. "There's so much uncertainty. So many close games. And it has produced a Final Four a whole lot different than the one I anticipated."

No matter. It's a sure thing Packer will do a fine job on the Final Four games this weekend alongside Jim Nantz - the 32nd straight Final Four that Packer has worked as a TV analyst.

No other college basketball analyst has the instincts for the game that Packer does. Along with John Madden on the NFL and John McEnroe on tennis, Packer is one of my three favorite sports analysts working today. Why? You learn something when you listen.

A sizable portion of America would disagree with that statement. Like Packer, much of my regular-season college basketball coverage is confined to the ACC. At every ACC campus, someone I run into rips Packer.

Mostly it's along the lines of ... "I know," Packer said, before I finish the question. "It's 'Why are you so against us?' I get that all the time. But to me, there must be some balance there if everyone is saying that."

Packer, 66, is caustic. Curmudgeonly. He doesn't hobnob with coaches and doesn't know their wives' names. He cares only about the game and its swirling patterns he often recognizes a half-second before everyone else.

And even his interest in the games has its limits.

"I'm not a sports fan," Packer said. "And I have no rooting interest for anybody."

So why has Packer become the man George Mason fans love to hate? Because, on the March 12 CBS show that announced the 65-team tournament field, Packer questioned strongly why mid-major conferences such as the Missouri Valley and the Colonial Athletic Association (which includes George Mason) got at-large bids that could have gone to schools from power conferences.

Nantz - Packer's play-by-play partner on the top CBS announcing team - struck much the same tone. Consequently, the two have been recently viewed as apologists for the big-time conferences.

If George Mason pulls its fifth upset in a row, the chant "Bill-eee, Pack-er! Bill-eee Packer!" will resound in Indianapolis.

And Packer will chuckle.


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