Archive for Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Commentary: Packer lost touch with the game

July 16, 2008


Growing up in the northern outskirts of ACC country, I saw and heard Billy Packer when he was at his absolute best. He played the game, coached the game, knew the game and could explain the game. If you loved college basketball back then, you loved listening to Packer. Doing those regional ACC games, he told you stuff you did not know in a way that made you understand it, appreciate it and savor it.

Somewhere along the way, Packer forgot all that he once was and morphed into a condescending, patronizing, big-conference shill who was so out of touch by the end, nearly every broadcast was more about something that happened 40 years ago than what was happening on the court in front of him.

It crystallized for me on an Amtrak ride to New York on March 7, 1994, with a Penn team on its way to play Columbia, one more victory from closing out the second of what would become three consecutive unbeaten Ivy seasons. I sat down next to senior captain Barry Pierce, as articulate off the court as he was tough on it.

Somehow, we got around to announcers. Pierce told me how much he liked Dick Vitale, because he thought him genuine. He also told me how he disliked Packer because he thought Packer anything but genuine, using words like, well, patronizing and condescending.

I hadn't really thought about it, probably because I chose to remember Packer as he was. But I thought about what Barry said. And I knew he was right.

When CBS announced Monday that the in-touch Clark Kellogg would take over for Packer as its lead analyst for college hoops, the obvious question was: What took so long?

John Chaney used to rail about Packer, saying that he was "intellectually dishonest" and that he always "had an agenda."

Nobody around here will soon forget Packer's comments right after Saint Joseph's was awarded a No. 1 in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. If he had just said he thought other teams were more deserving, nobody really could have quarreled. It was, after all, only his opinion.

But he cited a long list of power conference teams, saying that the Hawks did not "fit in" and that they played "inferior" competition. What many St. Joe's fans did not know was that he said essentially the same thing about Indiana State and Larry Bird in 1979 as that team was going unbeaten all the way to the national championship game.

Packer's problem was that he knew nothing about Indiana State and St. Joe's. He just knew they did not play in a power conference.

Packer also noted in 2004 that he was on a Wake Forest team that beat St. Joe's in the 1962 NCAA Tournament, as if that somehow meant something in relation to a group of St. Joe's players born 20 years later.

Two years later, after the selections were in, Packer railed against all the at-large teams from midmajors, citing statistics that went back decades and had no relevance to the 2005-06 season, when, by the way, Bradley and Wichita State reached the Sweet 16 and George Mason reached the Final Four.

Sure, the big boys always win in the end. Everybody knows that, but it does not mean, as Packer often seemed to suggest, that nobody outside the BCS cartel deserves a seat at the table.


cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Spot-on and gutsy analysis. Thanks to the J-W for running it.

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