Packer Had More Than One Shining Moment

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, July 15, 2008; 11:19 AM

Don't feel all that badly for Billy Packer, because it's the last thing the long-time CBS voice of college basketball would ever want.

The network's announcement that Packer's 27-year career at CBS ended with Kansas' victory over Memphis State in the championship game of the Final Four came as no surprise to Packer, who has been working on one-year deals for the last few seasons so that either side could cut the cord whenever they decided it was time.

"CBS has a relationship with the NCAA long beyond the number of years I want to do," Packer told the New York Times. "They have to have plans for the future and I'm not doing the tournament when I'm 75."

In fact, Packer knew all during the 2007-08 season that it would be his last year working with Jim Nantz, who also was fully aware his long-time partner would not be returning next season. But Nantz apparently was sworn to secrecy by Packer himself, who wanted nothing to do with any sort of emotional victory lap or rocking chair gifts for his so-called retirement.

There were some hints. At its annual seminar for its expanded crew of announcers hired on for the NCAA basketball tournament, Nantz reportedly spent a good bit of time talking about how much of an impact Packer had made on the ever-increasing popularity of college basketball and what he had brought to the table over so many years in the analyst seat.

It was quite a tribute, according to those who heard it, but to his credit, Nantz kept his word and never leaked. He also avoided what could have been a very emotional, schmaltzy long goodbye to his friend just before CBS signed off from that final game and rolled its traditional "one shining moment" mixture of music and tournament highlights.

"He just wanted to take the headset off after the final game just like he put the headset on for his first game," one long-time friend said. "He wanted to do the last game just like he did his first game."

What Packer did for a seeming lifetime of broadcasting basketball was to break down a game about as well as any analyst in any sport ever did. He also managed to do it without the histrionics and look-at-me catch phrases of a Dick Vitale, without the "kiss off the glass" silliness from a Bill Raftery or the outrageous hyperbole of a Bill Walton.

He simply told you who was playing well and who was not, commented good or bad on coaching strategy (much to the chagrin of some coaches, including John Thompson, among others), offered his own suggestions on how to handle late-game situations, second-guessed whenever necessary and almost always managed not to talk down to viewers.

He had a remarkable run of doing the color on 34 straight Final Fours, starting with an entertaining partnership with the late, great Al McGuire at NBC, followed by the last 27 years on CBS.

All of that being said, there often times when Packer took it upon himself to be the conscience of college basketball, an unofficial commissioner of the game who thought he absolutely knew what was best for the sport he once played so well as an all-American guard at Wake Forest.

And while he was constantly at odds, for example, with NBA Commissioner David Stern on the league's decisions involving the drafting of high school players, he also tended to glorify many of the college players who often were far more athlete than they were students.

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