One year ago, Villanova defeated Georgetown in a remarkable NCAA basketball championship game, and CBS' Brent Musburger and Billy Packer called it in equally impressive fashion. The game was memorable largely because of the Wildcats' improbable victory; the broadcast was memorable because most everything Musburger and Packer said was long forgotten by the next day.
Almost always, the best broadcasts are the ones you don't notice. Occasionally, an announcer will use a phrase that stays with us for a lifetime -- Russ Hodges' hysterical "The Giants win the pennant!!" refrain in 1951 and Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles?" at the 1980 Olympics come to mind -- but usually, the viewer prefers the action to speak for itself.
As Musburger and Packer work the regional finals this weekend and prepare for their third consecutive Final Four telecast together next weekend in Dallas, they both seek to recapture the understated magic of 1985.
"I plan to watch it [the '85 final] again this week," Musburger said. "It's the kind of rhythm and work I want to do again. I remember I didn't talk too much. We had things to say to the audience, and we said them and got out of the way. We didn't get trivial."
"One of the things I learned from that game," Packer said, "is that when you've got a game like that, let it tell the story. I see my role like the referee's role. People should remember it's a great game, and they shouldn't be talking about the broadcasters afterward."
Interestingly, Packer does occupy more air time than most analysts. But he's seldom frivolous or humorous, and his points usually are insightful, if a bit long-winded.
"I give him a lot of leeway," Musburger said. "I try to finish a play quickly to let him jump in. It's irritating to an audience if an analyst talks through the next play. He understands the rhythm, he's done it for so long.
"Here's where Billy and [ESPN analyst Dick] Vitale differ. Billy keeps both eyes on the game and Vitale keeps one eye on his index cards. Billy's much more concerned with the action of that game."
When Musburger and Packer teamed for the 1984-85 season, they started roughly. Their first telecast was a St. John's rout of UCLA in which Packer told Musburger on the air, "They're not all this bad, Brent."
He was right. The games got better and the broadcasters began to click. It was a process of getting comfortable with each other. Aside from the fact that they both were born in 1940 and they both speak English fluently, they didn't have a whole lot in common, at first inspection.
"All of us have a preconceived idea of what Brent Musburger probably is like based on his on-air presence," Packer said. "He has the ability to shut everything out except for what he has to do at that moment. The whole ceiling could fall at CBS while he's in the studio and he wouldn't realize it.
"I thought he may be that way otherwise, away from that environment. I probably misjudged him more than anyone I ever met for the first time. He's very relaxed and down to earth. You couldn't ever imagine Walter Cronkite sitting in your living room, drinking a beer with you, but Brent's the type who likes doing that."
Still, Musburger and Packer are a contrasting pair. Musburger is Midwest-bred and CBS Sports' man for all seasons; Packer is a North Carolina resident forever linked to basketball and the ACC.
In fact, the Atlantic Coast Conference remains a friendly sore point between the two.
"I love to kid him about the ACC and how he's so partial to them," Musburger said. "And it bugs him, because he's bent over backwards to shake that rap. He's probably tougher on ACC schools than other schools."
"It's funny how Brent's finally talking about the ACC as the best league now that NBC has their games," Packer said with a laugh. "It tells me two things -- one, the league's always been high quality and two, he didn't know what he was talking about in the first place."
Packer almost always knows what he's talking about regarding basketball. He seemingly does nothing but talk basketball. His days are a constant stream of court conversation, interspersed with a meal or two and the need to sleep every 24 hours or so. Take the sport away from him and he might need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"Oh, Billy would be a great businessman if there wasn't basketball. He's a great wheeler-dealer," Musburger said. "If he weren't an analyst, Billy would have the T-shirt concession for the state of North Carolina for all the ACC teams."