Legendary announcer Billy Packer passes away at 82
Billy Packer, a voice synonymous with college basketball and March Madness, passed away yesterday at 82.
His son posted the following tweet.
Life before announcing
Born in Wellsville, New York, Billy was destined for a life in basketball. His family moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania so his father could take the head coaching position at Lehigh University.
Highly recruited out of Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Packer attended Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Playing in the days when freshmen were not eligible to suit up, Billy played guard for 3 seasons. During his career, Wake Forest won 2 ACC championships and made the school’s first-ever Final Four Four in 1962.
After graduation, he was briefly an assistant coach at his alma mater before making the move that would forever etch him in the memories of millions of basketball fans.
Fabled announcing career
In 1972, Packer was asked to do a fill-in as a color analyst for an ACC game. Doing such a good job, he became a regular analyst the following season.
He first moved to the network level in 1974 with NBC. He stayed at the network for 7 years, moving to CBS in 1981. He covered every NCAA Final Four and National Championship game for 35 consecutive years.
In 2008, he was replaced in CBS’s college basketball studio and took a year off. The next season, he was paired with another legend, Bobby Knight on Fox Sports.
Not without some controversy
Usually, whenever a person is in a high-profile industry for an extended period of time, some gaffes occur. Billy was no different.
According to his Wikipedia page, Packer was described as being “overbearing and arrogant”.
One of his more famous miscues occurred during his final season with CBS, the 2008 Final Four matchup between Kansas-North Carolina. During the first half, Kansas jumped out to a 38-12 lead and Packer proclaimed “This game is over”. North Carolina fought back to shrink the deficit to 4 points in the second half, but eventually, Kansas pulled away for 84-66 win. There are some that thought Packer’s comments were alluding to his leaving the network.
Hall of Fame partners and memorable games
The list of partners that Billy was paired up with reads like a veritable “who’s who” in the broadcasting world. Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Al McGuire, Brent Musberger, and Verne Lundquist were all men who called games with Packer.
But when Packer was paired up with another legend, Jim Nantz, the basketball world got a broadcast team that last a generation.
Packer was an analyst for the 1979 Championship game between Indiana State (featuring Larry Bird) and Michigan State (with Magic Johnson). This game, labeled “the college basketball game of the century” still remains to this day the highest Nielsen rated championship game ever, at 24.1.
Some of his famous calls included the 1983 NC State miracle. Packer proclaimed “They won it…on a dunk!” as NC State forward Lorenzo Charles caught either a pass or an airball (you decide) and slammed it home as time expired.
In 1997, during the celebration following the Arizona Wildcat’s win, watching Arizona’s Miles Simon, Billy commented “Simon says…championship”.