The maroon handkerchief hasn't moved all day. It sits immaculately fluffed up in the breast pocket of the blue blazer. Gentleman's Quarterly stuff. The blazer hasn't done quite so well. It is cold in New York and the blazer has been used for warmth. The hands have been dug deep into the pockets and the collar has been turned up against the wind.
But Al McGuire is warm. He's relaxed, comfortable. Serious negotiations are taking place.
In one hand, he holds a piece of bread; in the other, some corned beef. "You want $3.50 for this?" he asks indignantly. "The bread is at least a day old, maybe more. Look at the fat. You gotta trim the fat, buddy."
The counterman is not amused. "The bread came in today. It's fresh. The sandwich is $3.50."
McGuire leans across the counter and shakes hands. "You're okay, pal, you're okay. Give me an extra piece of bread, okay?"
Having had his fun, McGuire, the former Marquette coach and NBC's longtime basketball expert, troops to a table, collapses in a chair -- the handkerchief hasn't moved -- and glances across the street at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Eighth Avenue is teeming with rush-hour traffic. "You can tell from the outside," he says, "when a place will have good corned beef."
He takes a bite from the sandwich, munches on the extra piece of bread and smiles. "Billy could never appreciate a place like this," he says.
Two weeks later, on a cold spring morning, Billy Packer, McGuire's former NBC colleague and now his counterpart at CBS, arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He has just finished negotiations for a business deal that he hopes will be worth quite a bit of money. His main purpose in coming to New York, though, was a CBS production meeting the night before. That means CBS is picking up the expenses.
Now Packer is heading for Newark International Airport to catch a flight home to North Carolina. Packer is wealthy. CBS is wealthier. But Packer is taking the bus to Newark.
"Why pay $45 for a cab when I can ride a bus for $6?" Packer said the previous evening. "I don't care who pays for it, that's a waste of money."
McGuire and Packer. Never once in four years together on television -- or so it seemed -- did they agree. They sat with play-by-play man Dick Enberg and debated. Enberg was like a point guard who has to get the ball to the right person at the right time. Somehow, he did. Somehow, even though they sounded like the Oakland A's of the broadcast booth, McGuire and Packer came out winners.
They are as different as two men can be: McGuire is 57, tall, good-looking, the street-smart New Yorker with a line for everyone and everything. Packer is 45, short, balding, a kid from Bethlehem, Pa., who went to college in the South and never dreamed of celebrity.
Packer studies basketball incessantly. He broadcasts 40 to 50 games a season and watches dozens more on television. McGuire does 18 broadcasts a season and doesn't watch basketball unless he has to. Packer's season really begins in March -- this week, when the NCAA tournament begins. McGuire's season ended Sunday with NBC's telecast of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final.
Packer knows every rule, McGuire has broken every rule. They were the Odd Couple from the start. But even today, four years after they last appeared regularly on television together, they are linked. Al goes with Billy and Billy goes with Al. They are as much a part of college basketball as Bob Knight or Dean Smith.
Each is a wealthy businessman with an annual income approaching $1 million. Packer, the organizer, owns property in Georgia, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina and Atlantic City. He owns radio stations, gives speeches, does clinics. McGuire owns property, gives speeches and clinics, has a production company with one of his sons and is a well-paid vice president for Medalist Sporting Goods.
They're both rich. Yet, Packer will ride a bus to Newark Airport. McGuire might easily hitch a ride. But each would get where he wanted to go. And neither would pay $45 to get there.
To college basketball, Packer and McGuire were like Felix and Oscar.
"Their time together was a magic time in college basketball," said Michael Weisman, now the executive producer of NBC Sports. "Theirs was the most unusual relationship ever because they are so different. But they were special. What we had then was special."
It is Enberg who best explains the effect McGuire and Packer had on the public. "Turning on Al and Billy was like going to a bar, sitting on a stool and listening to two guys argue about the game," he said. "Only by the end of the game, no matter which one you agreed with, you had laughed, you had enjoyed it and you had learned."
The team broke up when CBS, after outbidding NBC for the rights to the NCAA tournament, hired Packer to become its college basketball expert. Everyone at NBC agrees that letting Packer get away was an error almost as egregious as letting the tournament get away.
Yet Packer and McGuire have gone on. They still talk about each other on the air -- rudely, of course. They are business partners: they do a syndicated radio show together, they promote all-star games. . The company is called Pac-Mc.
And, whenever they get the chance, they just hang out.
Packer now is a star at CBS. He is the man who saved the package. The network has changed play-by-play men, it has struggled at times with regular season scheduling. But it always has had Packer to lend credibility to its package. Last year, the network signed a three-year deal to continue doing the tournament.
NBC has hung in with college basketball even without the NCAA tournament. Enberg and McGuire went through withdrawal when Packer left, each adjusting to his absence. "Billy was always the guy who knew where the hotel was, knew when practice was, knew who the players were," Weisman said. "I think when he left, Al wondered if he could survive without him."
McGuire has survived. Although Enberg will never play Packer's role, will never say to McGuire, "that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he has learned to prod his partner, to question him when he starts running a little amok.
"When Al first came to the network after he left Marquette, I bet he didn't know the names of 10 college basketball players," Packer said. "The network thought they were getting a guy who was going to sit there and explain Xs and Os. What they didn't understand was that Al never thought or cared about Xs and Os. He just has a feel for the game. It took them a while to figure that out."
McGuire agrees: "Billy knows more basketball than I do, always will," he said. "But I can feel the game in a way Billy can't know it. That's why we disagree so much. But it's also why we worked well together. I knew I couldn't do what he did and he knew he couldn't do what I did. Egos never got involved."
In fact, the teaming of Packer-McGuire-Enberg had much to do with egos. Specifically, it had to do with Packer and Enberg being secure enough to include McGuire.
McGuire came to NBC in 1977, shortly after dramatically concluding his coaching career by winning the national championship at Marquette. The way it happened, the team winning the championship for the departing coach, McGuire's tears on the bench, made him a natural for a network. But other coaches-turned-announcers had bombed, so NBC was cautious.
When the next season began, Packer and Enberg still were together and McGuire was sitting in a little booth. When he wanted to comment, he had to press a button, get Enberg's attention, then insert his remark.
Three games into the season, Packer and Enberg had a talk. They agreed McGuire wasn't being used properly. Enberg remembers Packer suggesting McGuire be moved out to work with them. Packer thinks they both thought of it. Either way, without consulting the NBC brass in New York, Packer and McGuire told their producer they wanted McGuire at the table. The producer said fine.
"A lot of people have tried to take credit for putting the three of us together," Packer said. "The whole thing was a fluke, nothing more."
The fluke worked. People watching genuinely believed that McGuire and Packer couldn't stand each other, and they couldn't wait to hear what the two were going to argue about each week. Back then, there was no cable TV, no syndication packages. There was just NBC.
McGuire was the star. Packer and Enberg knew it, understood it and accepted it. "I think they were uncomfortable with me at first because they didn't know what to expect," McGuire recalled. "I'm not that easy a person to know."
That is one aspect of McGuire that people fail to understand. Put him on stage and he performs. Offstage, he is shy, almost afraid to be assertive. Packer and Enberg at first took this for aloofness, and the first year had its ups and down.
Packer says it turned around in St. Louis during the Final Four that spring. "I went to church on Sunday," he said. "It was Easter and I went to this little church under the arch. I walked in and there was this strange mix of wealthy people and vagrants. When I went down to take communion, one of the vagrants was in front of me. I looked at him and it was Al.
"We both burst out laughing. He said, 'Let's go for a walk.' We went down on the river and started talking to these guys working on the river breaking up the ice. Al told them we were from the St. Louis Health Department and we wanted to check out their boats. That day really started the friendship."
It grew as the act grew. But then came 1981, and CBS entered the picture. Packer had no intention of leaving NBC. The network was committed to college basketball, and he had a number of ideas for things he, McGuire and Enberg could do. But when he talked to NBC, he didn't get the answers he wanted.
Packer still was negotiating with NBC when he got a phone call from CBS announcer Dick Stockton, whom Packer had become friends with when Stockton had been at NBC. Stockton told Packer CBS needed an analyst and consultant on college basketball. Was he interested?
"I was still mad at NBC," Packer said. "I told him, 'Sure, I'll talk to them.' "
They talked. It didn't take long. CBS was willing to give Packer everything he had asked for from NBC: a hand in scheduling, consulting, halftime shows, analysis. "It was what I had waited four months for NBC, my employer for eight years, to give me," he said. "I ended up meeting with NBC one morning and CBS that afternoon. I told my lawyer after the meeting with CBS I was going and I didn't care what the money was."
And so Packer left. NBC sort of shrugged. McGuire always had been considered the star, anyway. But McGuire missed Packer more than Packer missed him. Packer, who began in broadcasting in 1971 by doing ACC telecasts, had worked with lots of partners. Even though he missed his buddies, the adjustment wasn't that hard for him. For Enberg and McGuire, it was difficult.
Now, Enberg and McGuire seem to have a new comfort together. They have become much closer in recent years and, when McGuire signed a new four-year contract two years ago, he included a clause that requires that he be the analyst any time Enberg works a college basketball game. McGuire says he'll quit when this contract is up, but most people don't believe him. He is producing halftime shows through an independent contract with his son Rob and says he has enjoyed this season more than any since Packer left.
Packer and McGuire still talk, perhaps only in fantasy terms, about being back together on TV someday. "I think Billy thinks somehow it might happen again," McGuire said. "I don't think it will. Even if it did, I'm not sure the reaction to it would be the same. Times change. People change." They may be reunited, at least for one day, at the end of this month. McGuire has received permission from NBC to have Packer appear as a guest on his annual NCAA special, scheduled for March 31. If CBS clears the way, they will be back on television together for the first time in four years.
What do they miss most about each other? "I miss the idea of looking forward to being together on the weekend," Packer said. "Al and I never plan anything special, we never put on our calendars, 'Do this together.' But when we're together, whatever we do, we have fun."
"I miss having someone to scream at," McGuire said. "On or off the air, although I still get to do it off the air. But in the old days, whenever I got into trouble on the air, I'd just call Billy a name and get out of it that way. It always worked."
It is testimony to the endurance of The Act that a lot of people still think they hate each other. One afternoon last month, as McGuire was walking into Alumni Hall at St. John's to film a piece with Chris Mullin, a man approached and demanded an autograph.
As McGuire signed, the man asked, "Hey, where's Billy?"
"Who knows or cares?" McGuire answered. As the man walked away, McGuire laughed joyously. "Billy will love that one," he said.
They had just finished having breakfast together.