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NFT: RIP Billy Packer

Chris in Philly : 1/26/2023 11:32 pm
The voice of March madness for me. 82 years old.
AcidTest : 1/26/2023 11:49 pm : link
Synonymous with college basketball and as you note March Madness. RIP. God bless. Prayers to his family and friends.
Producer : 1/27/2023 12:48 am : link
uconngiant : 1/27/2023 1:07 am : link
He and Vitale are college hoops

Rick in Dallas : 1/27/2023 4:53 am : link
One of the great basketball analysts of all times
SFGFNCGiantsFan : 1/27/2023 5:27 am : link
Damn. RIP. And the voice of 'March Madness' for me too.
Essex : 1/27/2023 6:52 am : link
A fearless announcer, always said what he thought. One of the best in any sport.
Hilary : 1/27/2023 7:13 am : link
Made a great living doing something he loved.
RIP Billy  
Jints in Carolina : 1/27/2023 8:40 am : link
He was the voice of March Madness for me growing up.
A great College Hoops analyst  
Stu11 : 1/27/2023 8:45 am : link
as I got into officiating I realized too he was superb at knowing and explaining the rules of the game, especially the principle of verticality on defense. He was an icon. RIP.
Passing of an era for many us  
ColHowPepper : 1/27/2023 9:14 am : link
Not only was he a great analyst, but he exuded quality and fairness in his takes and as a human being.
So sorry to hear this. RIP Billy.  
arniefez : 1/27/2023 10:24 am : link
Back in the days when I use to travel almost non stop he and I were on the same delayed flight headed from Newark to Charlotte. I think this was in 1989. I had a friend who worked at CBS Sports and he had mentioned a few times that Packer was difficult to work with. But since he was just hanging out by the gate with the rest of us, sitting in the waiting area by himself, I figured what the hell and I went up to him and introduced myself and told him what a fan I was of his and his work with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire.

I expected a quick brush off but he couldn't have been nicer. Turns out the plane had a cracked windshield and since it was an evening flight there weren't any planes to swap it out with and after about 90 minutes of conversation about the 69-73 Knicks (he asked me where I went to school and who I rooted for. I told him I was much more of an NBA fan when I was younger) and no updates from Continental the flight was cancelled.

I thanked him for his company and the conversation and was about to go home and rebook for the next morning when he said I think there are seats on the Raleigh flight that leaves in an hour. If you want to, I'll split the cost of a limo to drive you to your hotel and then I'll have them take me home (about a 2 1/2 hour drive). It turned into a very memorable night I've never forgotten with lots of stories from his time at NBC and CBS.

When I got home from trip and ran into my CBS Sports friend Jay I told him the story. He told me I must have caught him on a good day and that the part about splitting the limo made sense since Packer had a reputation for not picking up checks. Jay was a wiseass and knowing him, he was probably the problem between the two of them.

If you're of a certain age and were lucky enough to be a college basketball fan when McGuire, Enberg and Billy Packer worked together for NBC you know that they were every bit the equal of Summerall and Madden on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest national broadcast announcing teams of all time. They're all gone now RIP to all of them. I hope somewhere they're calling this years Final Four.

When CBS acquired the rights from NBC in 1982, it put an end to the best television trio in basketball history. Enberg remained at NBC, calling the NFL, tennis and regular season college basketball with McGuire alone. The boldly opinionated Packer left for CBS where in time he would tally a total of 34 Final Four broadcasts. But March Madness’ best show on television was over.

Enberg, McGuire and Packer were enormously popular together. Think of the first matchup of Bird and Magic, the 1979 NCAA title game, it was the three of them who called it. Times were different. ESPN was just starting out and there weren’t as many games televised.

They were three men whose personalities were so distinctly opposite that the broadcasts were invariably filled with stimulating and entertaining debates on a variety of unpredictable subjects. McGuire was the son of a New York saloon owner, Enberg a Midwesterner and son of a Finnish immigrant and Packer, an idiosyncratic and unfearful son a basketball coach in Upstate New York. Enberg said, “Al will say white and Billy will say black.” They teamed from 1978-81 and in four short years they galvanized the country.

Historically, at least as it comes to television, it was the Enberg, Packer and McGuire trio, the advent of ESPN and Dick Vitale that propelled college basketball to great new heights.

When McGuire paired with play-by-play man Dick Enberg and former Wake Forest coach Billy Packer for NBC in 1978, the way people consumed the game on TV changed. McGuire’s unique descriptions of the ebb and flow on the court were the perfect accoutrement to Enberg’s enthusiastic calls and Packer’s tactical insight.

“Al knew his limitations with television and the challenges,” Enberg said. “He knew that Billy knew more of the Xs and Os than he did. He also knew that Billy didn’t know how to run a game like he did. He knew that I took care of the nuts and bolts.

“We really did look at basketball in different ways,” Packer said. “People actually thought we didn’t like each other. But they thought it was neat to watch a game with us. Then people thought we prearranged the arguments. It was spontaneous.

“Al was the most street-smart person I ever met in my life. Yet, from a sophistication standpoint, he was something else. The more you got to know him, the more brilliant he became in terms of things he would say.”

Packer remembered a discussion the two had about the keys to building a successful program. It became one-sided in a hurry.

“Only one thing’s important when you’re a coach,” McGuire preached. “Seat 347.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Packer asked.

McGuire pointed to the worst seat in the arena in the far end zone, top row.

“When I came out to start a game I knew I was successful when I looked up at seat 347,” McGuire said. “If someone was sitting in it we were doing good things.”

Packer nodded his head. McGuire proved his point.

“Genius,” Packer said.

The working relationship and on-camera chemistry didn’t come instantly.

McGuire initially wasn’t even on the court with Enberg and Packer. Instead he was tucked away in a locker room, watching the game on a monitor with a button to push if he wanted to comment. They cut to him at halftime. It was an awkward setup.

“No one at NBC knew that when he was in that locker room he couldn’t have given a (expletive) about the game,” Packer said. “He probably never even watched it. We’re doing that first game and he’s in the locker room and you can’t see him or hear him and he didn’t even hardly come in.

“The second game, the same thing was going to take place so Dick said we have to get him more involved. I said, I think we should get him right out here with us. It was Dick, then me, then Al to my right.

“After one game Dick said let’s make a change. How about if we put him in the middle? That’s what we did. We went through the season and everything worked out. We got plaudits for it. All the executives at NBC wanted to take credit for creating the three men in the booth. They had nothing to do with it.”

Standard-setting viewing that made college basketball more popular than ever ensued. The trio’s broadcast of the 1979 national championship game between Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores set long-standing ratings records for a title game.

McGuire said it put college basketball on afterburner. As the game became a rout, Enberg deftly asked his partners who they would draft first in the NBA, Magic or Bird. McGuire blurted out, “I wouldn’t take either one of them. I would take Greg Kelser.”

Packer said, “Where are they going to play? Bird is a center and he’s slow and can’t jump. Magic will never get by trying to dribble that way in the NBA.”

Completely wrong. Yet completely captivating to an audience that could have tuned out of a blowout.

McGuire was a live TV high-wire act. He enjoyed needling Packer about his bald head. He coined terms such as “aircraft carrier” for a hefty post player and “white knuckler” for a close game. He didn’t talk about how to break a zone press. That was Packer’s job. McGuire measured the game’s pace, tempo and flow like a symphony conductor. And, boy, could he philosophize.

The three-man crew worked together just four years with NBC. Packer remembers being summoned to New York by producer Don Ohlmeyer. McGuire made a preemptive strike.

“When we lost the (NCAA Tournament) contract at NBC they called us in for a meeting,” Packer said. “They take us in a room and there are about 15 telephones. Don starts to talk and Al gets up and he takes all the phones off the hook and sits down. Don is still talking. The phones all start beeping. Don looks over and says, ‘Al, what the hell are you doing?’ Al says. ‘I know how these meetings go. You really don’t want to talk to us anyway so one of those phones was going to ring and you were going to pick it up and say this meeting is over. I made sure none of those phones would ring. Now what do you have to say?’ "

Goodnight Irene as McGuire would say.

College basketball’s broadcasting Beatles broke up. Packer went to CBS with the tournament in 1982. McGuire and Enberg worked together for another 14 years. The troika reunited for a game on CBS in 2000.
Good story arnie!  
Chris in Philly : 1/27/2023 10:45 am : link
College Basketball  
Mark from Jersey : 1/27/2023 10:52 am : link
was my life when I was younger. I was always shooting hoops.

His voice will always be engrained in my head. That Seton Hall/Michigan final probably got the ball started for me. Loved watching that late 80's/early 90's UNLV team.

It was also a big reason why I went to UMass. I really wanted to go to a school with a bigtime hoops program. Lots of memorable games I attend watching the likes of Marcus Camby and Lou Roe.

RIP Billy.
Billy Packer  
Costy16 : 1/27/2023 12:37 pm : link
Was the voice of many Duke vs North Carolina matchups in the 1990's and 2000's.

His son Mark Packer, lives in Charlotte and had an extremely popular show on XM Channel 84 last year called Off Campus, that XM for some reason inexplicably removed Packer as a host of and put Bobby Carpenter and Jacob Hester.
Grew up listening to him call ACC games.  
DCGMan : 1/27/2023 1:48 pm : link
some great memories on here -  
Del Shofner : 1/27/2023 2:00 pm : link
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