I recall thinking, then writing, “It has come to this?”
Not sure he’d have chosen it as part of his legacy, but Billy Packer, who died Thursday at 82, helped remind us that the sports world had gone — and remains — nuts. No bottom in sight on which to bottom out.
The selection committee for the 2004 NCAA Tournament, which was being called on CBS in large part by Packer (as a longtime NBC court-side presence with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire, he followed the Tournament to CBS, and in 2008 he was dumped, replaced as lead analyst by Clark Kellogg) had chosen Philadelphia’s Saint Joseph’s University as a No. 1 seed.
Saint Joe’s was a very strong team. Led by coach Phil Martelli and guard Delonte West (a soon-to-be NBAer who became both a father and a drug-addicted, twice-arrested, presumed panhandler) finished the regular season 16-0 in the Atlantic 10.
Packer — his opinion solicited due to his job-description, fame and by his cooperative, talkative, utterly convinced nature — said that Saint Joe’s, due to its conference and schedule, was placed a bit too high.
Packer said Oklahoma State, 14-2 in the Big 12, deserved to be seeded ahead of Saint Joe’s. For what it’s now worth — almost nothing — Oklahoma State defeated Saint Joe’s by two in their regional final.
Well, you’d have thought Packer had accused Saint Joe’s of sedition, treason, tyranny and conspiracy to poison cheesesteaks. All dams burst. All hell broke loose then spilled north, south and west from the Schuylkill.
In an overreaction to a reasonable, no-big-deal opinion, Martelli several times called Packer “a jackass.” The student-body and local radio erupted in spasms of boiling hate.
Given that Packer, in 1962, was the star guard on the Wake Forest team that defeated Saint Joe’s in the second round of the NCAAs, anti-Saint Joe’s and Philly conspiracy theories were fabricated and disseminated.
People — college basketball “fans” — went crazy over something that ultimately meant nothing, held no intrinsic or collegiate educational value beyond some words that formed an irrelevant, passing opinion.
Not that we needed additional proof, even in 2004, but that Packer-Saint Joe’s episode was and remains memorable as sports institutions continue to lose their collective minds to diminished standards and values.
Born Anthony William Paczkowski and the son of Lehigh’s basketball coach, Packer called 34 NCAA Tournament finals. But he was a weekday businessman, a deal-maker first.
That was problematic. He increasingly saw college basketball as a business corrupted by money, from sneaker company payola to TV rights auctions that so often transported poor, fatherless academically-deficient, full-scholarship recruits thousands of miles from the colleges ostensibly charged with their educations.
We’d talk about that often in long phone conversations during which he encouraged me to follow all the dirty-money trails, some of which he touted.
Yet, business — his TV business — prevented him from being publicly vocal, a genuine advocate with an established national forum, for change, accountability and liability. He knew that NBC, then CBS, and the business of college basketball had purchased — or rented — his weekend soul, rest his soul.
Gray practices hypocrisy while calling out hypocrisy
Now and then I check out the WFAN/CBS Sports Net simulcast of the “Boomer & Gio” show to hear if “Weekday” Boomer Esiason — a transparent, where-am-I-today? phony — and Gregg Giannotti — a pig who confuses himself with a prize ham — have risen above cheap, childish, junior high school pee-pee and poo-poo “entertainment.”
Thursday morning, for example, they chatted about (giggle, giggle) vaginas, spoken with crude expressions that would have 13-year-olds sent to the principal’s office.
When the conversation made a sudden turn to the latest from makes-bad-worse Jimmy Dolan, they welcomed former WFAN colleague Maggie Gray.
Gray made news when she bashed Dolan for his “disgusting hypocrisy” in supporting the complaints of sexually abused women despite the Garden’s loss of $11.6 million in a sexual harassment suit — Dolan testified for the defense — to a female executive who alleged mistreatment by Dolan-hire Isiah Thomas.
Gray also objected to Dolan’s band’s song, “I Should Have Known,” a confessional about Dolan’s friendship with convicted sexual deviant Harvey Weinstein. Gray said he’d traveled the opposite road too long to suddenly change direction.
The on-air chat Thursday with Esiason and Giannotti concluded with Gray’s claim that she absolutely loves their show.
In that case, she must’ve missed all the low vagina talk that just preceded her, or ignored it in exchange for the attention.
As for Giannotti and Esiason, they didn’t mention to her their own disgusting hypocrisy spoken just moments before. A couple of champs.
Bugged by all the bugs
The DamnFool prop bets Sunday include: Number of Fox studio panelists to appear before the 49ers-Eagles game. Last Sunday, prior to Cowboys-Niners, Fox had eight — four more than needed to form the male chorus to sing Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy.”
While Fox’s Erin Andrews, despite evidence to the contrary, insists she’s a serious broadcast journalist, the fact she hugs subjects of her Fox Sports interviews — Dak Prescott the latest — is anathema to serious journalism.
One more reason to enjoy hockey: The action-rich first period of the Islanders-Maple Leafs game Monday ran a mere 29 minutes. TV play-by-play man Brendan Burke: “One commercial break. Usually, there are three.”
Donald Trump is not a white supremacist. He is, however, a self-supremacist. That’s why last week he again won his Florida golf club’s senior championship — and by a lot — while everyone, caddies to competing members, knew it’s tough to beat a guy who disregards all the rules, starting with being a no-show for the first round, but posting the leading score anyway.
That NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has no problem with Oilers star Connor McDavid appearing in a sports gambling commercial with suckers-baiting Wayne Gretzky is more evidence of CFOs posing as good-of-the-game guardians.
Knicks radio analyst Brendan Brown, recently fired by MSG after allegations of verbal abuse, made for a good team with play-by-play man Ed Cohen. Whatever went down, it’s a pity.
The question isn’t why Bethune-Cookman pushed out former NFL star DB Ed Reed as head coach after just 25 days, but why the college planned to hire a vulgar, unkempt, lowbrow street-talker in the first place. (Check the video.) Was the school star-struck or just stuck for a hire?
Bobby Lewis — who directed thousands of Rangers and Knicks games from the good old days of MSG Network, starting in 1976 through 2013 — has died at 74. He was cherished by all in the house when the house seemed like home. Mike McCarthy, MSG’s former executive producer:
“For 25 years, Bobby was MVP of the network.”
Last Sunday, 1:55 left in the first half, Bengals third-and-4 from the Bills’ 10 — who’s in, who’s out? — CBS went into formula mode: two crowd shots and one of a coach watching from a sideline. Big game, postseason game, neglect of game circumstances is habit-formed.
Jimmy Dolan threatens to go one whole game without selling booze? Will it be a home game?