Billy Packer – Patron Saint of Objectivity

It was the rarest of rarities (aside from Wolfpack championships) – a long profile in Sunday’s N&O that seemed tailor made for me. There are tons of great anecdotes (don’t miss the “shard grabbing” story) – read the whole thing. But the overriding theme reinforces what I like about Packer – his near slavish devotion to the pursuit of complete objectivity:

“What I’ve always loved is the competition of being able to go out there and say what I see and to be objective, but that in turn obviously annoys people, because 50 percent of them, that objectivity is not gonna be what they want to hear,” Packer says.

As bloggers, we here at SFN have heard that more than a time or two. And maybe it is specific to me – blogger, cynical NC State fan, engineering graduate – but I don’t want a stinking cheerleader or yes man analyzing the game. Just call it like you see it, and be fair. The truth is hard to take sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear it. And, when you do hear intelligent honesty you should be appreciative; like Jeff shared almost two years ago when he proclaimed that “Billy Packer kicks ass” for some comments highlighted in that link.

I can remember Packer’s call of NC State’s ACC Tournament loss to Miami just two weeks ago. Thousands of words have been typed and spoken in ponderance of the absolute suckdom of 2007-08 Wolfpack hoops, but Packer cut to the quick with a few tersely delivered observations. The body language on the court and bench was bad. Miami clearly wanted the win more than the Pack, despite needing it less. Although this is paraphrased, I’m putting it in quotes for emphasis:

The ball spends too much time in the hands of players that are no threat whatsoever. And then the other guys stand around watching the player with the ball. Pretty easy to defend against that.

Packer went on to note that, while “obviously you wouldn’t want to structure your program this way long-term” – perhaps the only way to get results out of the talent that State had would have been to run the offense through McCauley, a player “who really likes to pass and is good at it.”

Now tell me – who else had the insight and the stones to come out and say things like that this season? Nobody.

What other non-partisan would study and break down an irrelevant, flailing team like NC State at that level, in preparation for a Thursday afternoon preliminary round ACCT game? Again, nobody. Certainly not a guy who has enough juice to call the Final Four for as long as I can remember.

What other non-partisan would have the stones to proclaim this event as the worst call in NCAA Tournament history while in the heat of the moment? Finally, nobody.

And there are dumb asses who really want him off the air?

Now, I will get off my soapbox and close with a lighter anecdote – one that involves our beloved James T. Valvano. One that I had never heard before:

Contrary to his image of inflexibility, the natural contrarian allows that he’s had a few regrets. He can think of two occasions on which he favored one side, not that it was immediately obvious on the air, but in his own mind, where most Packer performances are ultimately judged.

The first came in 1975, when he worked his first championship game and John Wooden was coaching his last for UCLA. He felt himself pulling for Wooden.

The second came a dozen years later, when he was hoping that injury-depleted Wake Forest could cling to a late lead against a superior N.C. State team. The thought bothered him so much, he says, that several days after NCSU’s overtime victory he told Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano he had been rooting for Wake. Valvano’s response, according to Packer: “Don’t tell anybody at State, but so was I.”

About BJD95

1995 NC State graduate, sufferer of Les and MOC during my entire student tenure. An equal-opportunity objective critic and analyst of Wolfpack sports.

Media NCS Basketball

66 Responses to Billy Packer – Patron Saint of Objectivity

  1. jamieinkorea 03/25/2008 at 12:21 AM #

    I’ve always liked Billy Packer. My brother and sister went to Carolina, and I hear them often talk about how much they hate Packer because he “hates Carolina.”

    I am forced to remind them that not showing favoritism toward Carolina is not the same as “hating Carolina.” They just don’t get it. I guess when you’re so used to everyone, announcers and officials alike, giving Carolina preferential treatment you are taken aback by people who don’t.

    Announcers such as Dick Vitale have a thing or two to learn from someone like Packer. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Dick Vitale’s emotion and love for the game and players, but I despise the way he clearly pulls for a certain team. It makes watching a game called by him unpleasant to bear.

    Another thing I really like about Billy Packer is that he is one of the few announcers I know who is not afraid to call “bull$hit” when he sees it. If the referees make a bad call, he’ll be the first one to call B.S. regardless of who was on the losing end of the transaction. I’ve always enjoyed that. That is probably another reason why Carolina fans hate Packer; he doesn’t let their team get away with the same stuff other announcers would.

    Cheers to an excellent post and an excellent announcer.

  2. xphoenix87 03/25/2008 at 1:09 AM #

    Agreed, I’ve never had a problem with Packer. I generally don’t like commentators at all because I think they’re pretty bad on the most part and I feel like I could do a better job than the majority, Packer and Bilas stand out as two guys who will usually give you some actually legitimate basketball observations each time out, and I appreciate that.

  3. b 03/25/2008 at 1:39 AM #

    You can’t tell me when Packer screams out “ohhh they won it!” back in ’83 he wasn’t rooting for us, too. He comes as more a fan of the game than Vitale.

  4. Howler 03/25/2008 at 6:21 AM #

    The following link is for a great Grey Blackwell cartoon about Packer.

  5. choppack1 03/25/2008 at 7:16 AM #

    Packer was absolute $$ in that Final game. I’ve got it on tape – and his calls were right on the money. He recognizes things before most other color guys do – and yes, he does his homework. It’s not all about him or even college basketball -it’s all about what’s happening on the court.

  6. StateFans 03/25/2008 at 7:24 AM #

    ^ Any quotes or specifics that you could share regarding his comments in that final game would be very much appreciated. We deleted it from our DVR before having the opportunity to memorialize his comments. Thanks!

  7. RAWFS 03/25/2008 at 7:26 AM #

    Packer is awfully quick to second guess coaches and players, and one has to wonder if why his insight into the game is so superb, why hasn’t he ever taken over a team of his own?

    Some of you younger guys may not remember my favorite two color announcers of all time: Bones McKinney and Lefty Driesell. They were both former head coaches and guys who had a lot of insight into games and called ’em like they saw ’em too. The difference was that both of them did so with a good sense of humor and a positive tone that made you smile even when it was your team that they were criticizing. By comparison, Packer comes across harsh and onery — like an old man who yells at kids for fetching their ball off of his lawn.

  8. EverettBeez 03/25/2008 at 7:45 AM #

    Bones McKinney, Packer & play-by-play guy Thacker called all those ACC games when I was a kid, and as far as I am concerned, remain the gold standard.

  9. RickJ 03/25/2008 at 7:51 AM #

    “The thought bothered him so much, he says, that several days after NCSU’s overtime victory he told Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano he had been rooting for Wake. Valvano’s response, according to Packer: “Don’t tell anybody at State, but so was I.”

    Great story. At the time Wake was coached by Bob Staak, one of V’s very best friends in coaching. Personality wise, Staak was as bad a fit as imaginable for Wake and their marriage was most likely doomed no matter what. Of course, Packer is also a Wake grad.

  10. BJD95 03/25/2008 at 7:57 AM #

    Wake fans are convinced that Packer hates them, too.

  11. Texpack 03/25/2008 at 8:17 AM #

    Sometime when ESPN Classic replays the State vs. UMd game from the ’74 ACC Tournament Final the younger participants on this blog should pay close attention to Thacker and Packer. I totally agree that they are the gold standard. I don’t get to hear Billy Packer call too many State games anymore since I can only get the ESPN announcers for a lot of the games he calls but I still enjoy his insight. He is definitely a straight man and more fun to listen to in combination with an Al McGuire or Bones McKinney.

    ^You can’t tell me when Packer screams out “ohhh they won it!” back in ‘83 he wasn’t rooting for us, too.

    Actually it was “they won it…on a dunk!” I was listening to Wally and Gary on my headphone radio at the time but I have seen the replay more than once.

  12. packbackr04 03/25/2008 at 8:18 AM #

    I really like Packer. But Bones and Lefty were such good analysts it just makes you so mad at ESPN for what they have done to the game. But Packer is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise miserable pool of color analysts like jimmy Dykes, and steve lavin.

    sorry for posting this question here, feel free to delete. But what is the word on transfers and recuits. someone posted a couple days ago that Horner was going back to NJ and might not come back to school. Are there any other defections? any other additions that Sid and co are looking at?

  13. burnbarn 03/25/2008 at 8:21 AM #

    Packer did not make a career of coaching b/c he liked business better. He is a great announcer although he can be annoying with his point du jour. He was a very accomplished player and coach and knows the ACC backwards.
    I wonder why ‘V’ said he was pulling for WFU? I assume just to be funny?

    BJD: V had a great sense of empathy, and liked the plucky underdog. I’m sure he would have been happy for Wake if they had defied the odds and won that game (not that V wasn’t still trying his best to win).

  14. Trip 03/25/2008 at 8:30 AM #

    The Horner comment was a rumor, no confirmation of it yet. If I hear anything else about it I’ll post about it. If he really was heading back to NJ and wasn’t coming back, it should be known at least by the end of this week or the next if no one has seen him in class.

    I like Packer, especially when you put him up against all of the other guys.. bleh.

  15. old13 03/25/2008 at 8:33 AM #

    I was once seated beside Packer on a 2-hour flight – he was going to announce a game. While we had a few minutes of small talk, I was amazed at all the material he studied THE ENTIRE FLIGHT in preparation for the game. I can attest first hand that he does do his homework. And, good or bad toward my team, I’ve always appreciated his comments on the games. He’s one of my favorite announcers for BB.

  16. wolfonthehill 03/25/2008 at 8:38 AM #

    My only problem with Packer is completely non-specific to him… it’s that he’s part of the media frenzy that simply fawns at the feet (and will – and work ethic – and listening capability) of Psycho T. Packer’s as bad about it as anyone except Bilas or Dykes.

    Except for that, though, yes – Packer’s is well-informed, honest, and has the appropriate enthusiasm for the game.

  17. Noah 03/25/2008 at 8:49 AM #

    I like Packer too. I don’t have to agree with everything an announcer says.

  18. packgrad93 03/25/2008 at 9:17 AM #

    SFN: Try posting about the topic. We are having a good discussion that does not need to be steered towards recruiting.

  19. choppack1 03/25/2008 at 9:21 AM #

    In the 83 game, he noted that V was intentionally fouling them at about 5 minute mark. He also noted that even though the game was tied, V would foul. I can’t remember some other observations which were spot on, but it was amazing to watch the game w/ his comments. It’s usually unfair to do w/ an announcer – because it’s all hindsight, but I came away watching the game on tape, almost as impressed w/ his observations as I was w/ V’s “feel” for this particular game and opponent. (I think he mentioned that Guy Lewis needed to get Clyde Drexler out of the game when he had 3 fouls. A second later, he picks up his fourth.)

    The bad news is that the wife gave away the VCR…

  20. SaccoV 03/25/2008 at 9:48 AM #

    1) The call Packer was made was so perfect in ’83 because he was the only one who remembered that Valvano had sad previously the team that would win would have the most dunks. NCSU – 2, Houston – 1.

    2) Packer is opinionated and he rarely gets really animated in his delivery, which some regard as arrogance and stodgyness. He’s the best analyst I’ve ever heard BECAUSE of his refusal to allow his excitement to usurp his observations (See Vitale).

    3) The only “bad mark” for Packer is his son, Mark, who really doesn’t like Billy at all!!

  21. MadWolf92 03/25/2008 at 10:00 AM #

    I compare Packer to Walter Sobchak from *The Big Lebowski*. He’s not wrong, he’s just an asshole.

    It’s hard to find the combination of insight and analysis that Packer has with a generally positive mindset. Brad Daugherty came close, but not the same level of analysis. I still preferred watching him to Billy.

  22. BJD95 03/25/2008 at 10:04 AM #

    ^ Mark it zero!

  23. ChuckAllYall 03/25/2008 at 10:38 AM #

    I used to dislike Packer but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate his candor and knowledge of the game. There are times during a Packer commentated game where I actually learn something insightful about the game, its history, or the two teams playing in it. That can rarely be said for many of the talking heads of today. I’m not sure if my incresed affinity for Packer is due to my dislike of the others or if he just kind of grown on me like a cranky old grandparent. Maybe it seems like a “bigger” game when Packer is calling it. That being said, I still get baffled looks from my Duke and Carolina buddies when I tell them I prefer Billy Packer’s commentary over any of the other tools on the air today.

    SFN: I am highlighting this in bold because this describes my feelings EXACTLY!

  24. Mike 03/25/2008 at 11:02 AM #

    Packer is a great color commentator, especially for those of us who remember the Packer/Thacker combination. I remember thinking those had to be made up names for TV. He is articulate and he can see what is happening before it happens.

    I have heard many many times that he is biased, anti-ACC, etc but he speaks it like he sees it. As much as I like Vitale as a human being, it does make me cringe to hear him root openly for Duke. Packer said it best, 50% of people are not going to like what he says. That is the perfect, unbiased ratio.

  25. wufpaxno1 03/25/2008 at 11:03 AM #

    Did anyone else catch Packer’s comment about Chris Wright during the Georgetown – Davidson game. He said something about the fact that they were playing in the RBC, NC State’s home court; that Wright liked Sid, had been close to coming to State; and with State’s bigs and lack of point guard play, that State would have been a lock for the NCAA’s and probably a final four contender this year with Wright running the point. Very interesting comment and it must have been heart felt for him to bring it up out of the blue during a game in which State was so far removed.

Leave a Reply