"I've never been much of a sports fan" sound likes a perfect epitaph for Billy Packer.
The initial reaction to Packer's ouster as CBS Sports lead analyst for the NCAA Tournament has been about as sympathetic as Javier Bardem's character in No Country For Old Men. Some would even say the blogosphere -- witness the 90.5% disapproval rating he received from Deadspin commenters -- might have forced the network's hand.
Packer, through his words and deeds, more or less brought this on himself. His strengths -- being direct and unafraid of calling it like he saw it, even when he didn't see it -- were also his weaknesses, as so often is the case. A TV sports announcers also has to come off like he/she knows the people watching at home. Packer seldom seemed to relate to anything outside of his very narrow agenda of kissing coach keister.
That's why there won't be many requiems or honestly loving tributes for someone who's after being a TV staple at the Final Four since since 1975. (How long ago was that? John Wooden was still coaching.) Ten years ago, Keith Jackson, who to a generation was to college football announcing what Packer was to basketball announcing, got a season-long send-off when he announced he was retiring.
(Of course, Jackson scotched that by unretiring and working regional games, but he did hang on long enough to get in that "Vince Young has moved beyond the pale" line after the winning touchdown in the Texas-USC BCS title game.)
It probably had to end this way for Packer. CBS' crankypants emeritus, who was about a cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel, probably wasn't one for being presented with a gold watch and a rocking chair during his final visit to each stadium. Knowing how it ended with other sports broadcasting institutions who tried to be more than the games they were commentating -- Howard Cosell 25 years ago, Howie Meeker on Hockey Night in Canada around the same time -- a lot of them act like they'd prefer to go out on a sour note. It's proof everyone else is wrong and they're right, and they can live our their days saying "screw you" to everyone when they should be saying "thank you."
It's called the bitter end for a reason. From a fan's point of view, I've never been much of a sports fan are absolutely perfect words to remember Packer by.
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