As you thirst for more information on this, the day between the Final Four and the national championship game, ponder this -- a fact that was brought to my attention by ESPN.com's Bill Simmons:
Billy Packer has announced every Final Four since 1975.
Just let that wash over you for a second.
That, without a doubt, has to be the most astounding run in sports television. I once read somewhere that all college basketball fans fit into one of two categories: They either are Dick Vitale fans or Packer fans. Their styles contrast to such a great degree that it's virtually impossible to like both. If you like one, you almost by definition have to dislike the other.
I'll admit that I used to be among the throngs who couldn't stand Packer, opting instead for the high-energy antics of Dickie V. When I was in that 18 to 25 demographic, Vitale's catchphrases and volume added to the fun of the college basketball viewing experience.
Then something funny happened: I started watching a lot of basketball. That means watching a lot of games on ESPN, and hearing a lot of games called by Vitale. And I got sick of him. Really, really sick of him.
If you're a casual fan, it probably isn't real noticable to you, but Vitale repeats himself sooooo much. I used to think he knew a lot about college basketball, and it's true he knows a lot about the game. But it's like he learns one little nugget about a player or coach, then repeats it endlessly throughout the season. It becomes extremely tedious.
He also has a tendency to focus only on elite teams -- especially those teams that appear on ESPN. Does he even watch the Pac-10? (I suppose you could make that case for anyone at ESPN, but still ...)
And don't even get me started with the self-promotion -- It's not delivery! It's DiGiorno! Or is it Hooters? Or maybe it's Scott's lawn care products. I've lost track. I have a hard time not wondering if the "passion" he so fervently displays is genuine, or just an effort to promote the Vitale "brand."
This necessarily means I've since come around -- somewhat -- to Packer.
Yes, Packer is an unrepentant curmudgeon who is better than most at torquing people with insensitive comments. But that's what makes Packer pretty good at what he does. He's sincere in his observations, and makes no apologies for anything he says, which he can do because he's not obsessed with being buddies with all of the coaches, a la Vitale. He (appropriately) let's the game be the focus, as he makes clear here with his thinly veiled shot at Vitale:
"I love doing the preparation for the games – the game is the thing, it’s not me," Packer told the (Chicago) Northwest Herald. "I say what I see and based on my judgmnt and the research I’ve done, I have a pretty good record of standing behind what I’ve said. If somebody doesn’t like it, it doesn’t bother me at all. I have a right to my opinion and they have a right to theirs. I don’t ever do anything to create a scene, and if there is a scene, I don’t do anything to try and deflate it. It is what it is."Packer doesn't spend a lot of time pontificating, and he doesn't spend any time talking about his personal "all-Diaper Dandy" team. He simply calls what he sees on the floor -- a refreshing change.
So now that you've gotten over the shock of never having watched a Final Four without Packer, just remember this.
It could be worse.
It could be Vitale.
Starving for more? Here are some good reads in the aftermath of the semifinals ...
- ESPN.com's "Around the Rim"
- "The Zebras' Whistles Ruin A Classic Matchup," by Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- "Shotmaking is the Missing Ingredient Under Howland," by Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times
- "10 Questions from the Semis," by Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com