Billy Packer

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Anthony William "Billy" Packer (born Anthony William Paczkowski,[1] February 25, 1940) is a former American sportscaster and a published author. Packer spent more than three decades as a color analyst for television coverage of college basketball.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Packer was born Anthony William Paczkowski in Wellsville, New York.[1] The Polish surname was changed subsequent to his birth by his father Tony whose 35 years of service at Lehigh University included 16 seasons as the school's men's basketball head coach from 1950 to 1966.[2][3] He is a graduate of Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He attended Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina from 1958 to 1962 and played guard on the school's basketball team for his last three years (at the time, freshmen were not eligible for varsity sports), leading Wake to two Atlantic Coast Conference titles and the 1962 Final Four. He was a member of the Delta Nu chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity.

After graduation, he had a brief stint as an assistant coach for his alma mater. In 1972, Packer began his career in broadcasting in Raleigh, North Carolina, when he was asked to fill in as color analyst for a regionally televised ACC game. Packer became a regular the next season.

Broadcasting career[edit]

Packer first worked at the network level with NBC (1974–1981) and then CBS (1981–2008). He covered every NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, including the Final Four, from 1975 to 2008. For many years he also covered ACC games for Raycom Sports. Packer won a Sports Emmy Award in 1993.

In 2005, Packer received the Marvin Francis Award for "notable achievement and service in coverage of the ACC," as reported by The Washington Post.

On July 15, 2008, CBS announced that Packer would be replaced on the network's lead broadcast crew by Clark Kellogg, marking the end of 35 straight years of Packer covering the NCAA tournament as a TV analyst.[4]

In March 2009, he returned to the studio with Bobby Knight for Survive and Advance, a NCAA tournament preview show produced by Fox Sports Net.

Broadcasting partners[edit]

Packer's broadcast teammates included Curt Gowdy, Jim Thacker, Dick Enberg, Al McGuire, Gary Bender, Brent Musburger, and (from 1991–2008) Jim Nantz and Verne Lundquist (usually pre-Championship Week when Nantz was covering the NFL and/or golf). When working games for Raycom Sports, Packer's on-air partner was Tim Brant. When Nantz covered the 1992 Winter Olympics for CBS, Packer's on-air partner was Mel Proctor. Packer also did play-by-play alongside Al McGuire for two games (a February 6, 1994 contest involving Purdue at Iowa and a February 27, 1994 contest involving Indiana at Minnesota) while Jim Nantz was covering the 1994 Winter Olympics for CBS.

Memorable calls[edit]

On April 4, 1983, after Lorenzo Charles made a game-winning slam dunk as North Carolina State upset Houston to win the NCAA title, Packer said, "They won it...on the dunk!"

After the University of Arizona won the 1997 national title, Arizona star player Miles Simon celebrated on the court. Observing the scene, Packer said, "Simon says... championship."

Controversy[edit]

Packer is known for his eccentric behavior off camera and sometimes controversial statements. He involved himself in high-profile legal cases, hiring a psychic to find the weapon in the O.J. Simpson murder case and starting a legal defense fund for accused 1996 Olympic bomber Richard Jewell. He purchased Picasso ceramics and displayed them in makeshift plexiglass and plywood work desk he had created. Packer once directed his interest to politics by approaching 123 random women, without identifying himself, and asked them if they would vote for Hillary Clinton.[5]

Iverson comment[edit]

In 1996, during an on-air broadcast of a game between Georgetown and Villanova, Packer described Hoyas star guard Allen Iverson as a "tough monkey." Packer later apologized, insisting he was actually trying to praise Iverson's relentless play. Neither Iverson nor Georgetown coach John Thompson said they were offended by the remark. Thompson told USA Today he doesn't "have to explain to anybody about Billy being a racist because he's not."[6]

Apology to Duke students[edit]

In 2000, Packer publicly apologized to two Duke University students for allegedly sexist comments he made before a men's basketball game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. According to published reports, when the students asked Packer to show his press pass, he responded, "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?" Packer apologized after the comments were published in Duke University's student-run newspaper, The Chronicle.[7]

Martelli feud[edit]

In 2004, he was involved in an on-air spat with Saint Joseph's University head coach Phil Martelli, when he questioned the #1 seed that St. Joe's was given by the NCAA committee. The Hawks ended up being defeated in the elite eight (losing on a three pointer by John Lucas III of Oklahoma State with 6 seconds left, 64–62) to a team many believe would have been a 1 seed if the Big 12 tournament had ended earlier. This is similar to his criticism of Larry Bird's undefeated Indiana State University team getting ranked #1 in the media polls and being given a #1 seed in the 1979 tournament. Indiana State eventually made the final game, losing to a Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson.

An important dimension of this particular controversy is that CBS assigned Packer to cover the 2004 East Rutherford Regional. Saint Joseph's was playing in this regional, and the Hawks' semifinal opponent was none other than Wake Forest, Packer's alma mater. To add further interest to the conversation, Packer pointed out on the air that his Wake Forest team had actually eliminated Saint Joseph's from the tournament when he played in the 1962 East Regional en route to the Final Four. While many fans and media observers were expecting fireworks from Packer in this game, there were never any unpleasant or even remotely controversial moments from the contest, which was won by Saint Joseph's. Packer and Martelli actually shook hands at courtside during practice the day before the Wake Forest-St. Joe's game, and when St. Joe's played Oklahoma State in the regional final two days later, there were no incidents to speak of.

Comments on Allen Fieldhouse[edit]

While calling a 2005 contest between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Oklahoma State Cowboys at KU's Allen Fieldhouse, which Kansas won 81-79, Packer suggested that the reason Kansas won so many home games was because opponents were not used to the then-poor lighting at the facility. This comment sparked the ire of many Jayhawk fans.

2006 comments on mid-majors[edit]

In 2006, Packer again hit sports headlines after blasting the inclusion of mid-major teams in the NCAA tournament, when larger conference teams like University of Cincinnati and Florida State University were left out altogether. His comments caused a backlash among fans of mid-major conferences such as the Missouri Valley Conference, which Packer had singled out for getting four teams in; and the Colonial Athletic Association, both of whom ended up having successful tournament showings (Bradley University and Wichita State University making it to the Sweet Sixteen and George Mason University advancing to the Final Four). Packer complained on Selection Sunday that teams from these two conferences had won just one game between them in the past three years' tournaments, despite committee chairman Craig Littlepage repeatedly telling Packer and his colleague Jim Nantz that past tournament performance was not a factor in determining the field. A week later, Packer tried to defuse the controversy by saying, on CBS airwaves, that he was "often wrong, but never in doubt." (March 19, 2006)[8]

"This game is over"[edit]

In a semi-final game at the 2008 Final Four between Kansas and North Carolina, the Jayhawks jumped out to a 38–12 lead, at which time Billy Packer declared, "This game is over." However, the Tar Heels clawed their way back in the second half, cutting the deficit to 4 points midway through the second half, though Kansas finished strong to win 84–66. Pundits have noted that this may have been an ominous allusion to Packer's future career as a broadcaster, which was "over" when CBS announced over the summer of 2008 that Clark Kellogg would be taking over the lead color commentary duties.[9][10]

Family[edit]

Packer is also the author of Hoops, Why We Win, and a number of other basketball books. He has two sons in the sports media. Mark Packer was a sports radio host for WFNZ, the all-sports radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina and continues his show in syndication.[11] Brandt Packer produced golf telecasts for ABC Sports and is now a producer with the Golf Channel. In 1988, Billy Packer was inducted into the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. { http://polishsportshof.com/inductees/sports-journalism/billy-packer/ }

Career timeline[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Curt Gowdy
Lead analyst, NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (with Al McGuire, 1978-1981)
1977-2008
Succeeded by
Clark Kellogg