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The thrill had gone out of Packer's game

COMMENTARY

July 15, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Billy Packer had become old-school -- and not in the good way of paying attention to detail or studying hard before he would go on the air, but in the way of a crotchety old guy who chases neighborhood kids out of the yard.

"Get off my grass, younguns," became "How dare the NCAA tournament committee let in all those Bradleys and Wichita States and George Masons instead of . . . (insert any bottom-feeder from the Atlantic Coast Conference).

Packer will no longer be part of the CBS college basketball broadcast team, it was announced Monday. In a statement, Packer, 68, said he was leaving to "pursue other basketball projects." He will be replaced by Clark Kellogg, 47.

Kellogg is knowledgeable, fair-minded and, most of all, seems excited to be doing college basketball.

Do a five-minute Google search on Billy Packer and you will find him described as "arrogant," "pompous," "imperious," a "blowhard," an "ACC apologist," "angry," "rude," a "fuddy-duddy" and "stubborn."

You will find stories that say Packer didn't cotton to cellphones and computers, though he wasn't quoted directly as saying he didn't own such gadgets. (And, as a matter of fact, I know people who have Packer's cellphone number.)

Packer, who played college basketball at Wake Forest, has been part of every Final Four television broadcast since 1975. His best years were when he was teamed with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire.

Packer's cranky complaints fit in well with Enberg's graceful descriptions and McGuire's emotion-based enthusiasm. (Even if McGuire didn't have command of all the facts, he still let you know he loved being at games.)

Having interviewed Packer, Enberg and McGuire (who died in 2001) dozens of times over the last 15 years, it was always fun to speak with Enberg and McGuire and intimidating to talk to Packer. Enberg and McGuire would stop, say hello, tell a story, praise a story. A hello to Packer might elicit a grunt in return.

Where it's hard to stay mad at Dick Vitale no matter how biased his views are for the fabulousness of anything Big East, ACC or Big Ten because he is genuinely excited to watch every college basketball game ever played, it seemed as if Packer was always wishing things were like they were in 1975.

His dyspeptic rant during the 2006 CBS NCAA tournament selection show, when he unapologetically savaged the choice of four Missouri Valley Conference teams, offered a couple of good points missed because of his red-faced anger. Oh, and no apology from Billy when Bradley and Wichita State went to the Sweet 16.

However, Packer did do some apologizing.

In 2000, he harangued a female student who asked him for a pass or credential before a game at Duke. Jen Feinberg, the student, said Packer told her, "You need to get a life. Since when do we let women control who gets into a men's basketball game? Why don't you go find a women's game to let people into?"

Feinberg received an e-mail apology -- apparently from a computer that didn't belong to Packer. He also apologized to Allen Iverson for referring to the then-Georgetown guard as "a little monkey." Packer said he meant nothing but praise for Iverson.

Then there was the March 2007 ACC game between Duke and North Carolina in which the Blue Devils' Gerald Henderson elbowed Tar Heels center Tyler Hansbrough in the nose with such force that Hansbrough left a bloody trail as he left the court.

Before watching the replay, Packer said with certainty that Henderson's elbow was inadvertent. However, video showed enough intention for the officials to issue a flagrant foul call against Henderson.

Even after the replay and the call, Packer refused to budge.

As Henderson was ejected, Packer said, "I don't like the call at all. . . . I think this was a poor piece of officiating. I didn't see any intent."

But more than an unwillingness to change an opinion, what stood out about Packer over the last few years was inability to project joy.

He had one of the most recognizable voices in NCAA tournament history but never sounded as if he was having fun.

I have a brother who is a college basketball wonk. He watches, DVRs, listens to every bit of college basketball that is available.

His reaction on hearing Packer is gone: "Good. He's no fun."

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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