NBC treats basketball fans to a trio with expert patter
Dick Enberg, Al McGuire, and Billy Packer, NBC-TV's crackerjack college basketball broadcasting crew, are widely regarded as one of the best in-the-booth teams in the country.
Enberg is a highly professional, all-purpose sportscaster who was recently voted by his peers as the best in his trade.
McGuire, of course, is the colorful, streetwise former Marquette University mentor who retired from coaching after his Warrior team won the 1977 NCAA Championship.
But the third member of the team? Billy who? Well, Packer is basically a businessman who says he comes to games to "have a good time."
Don't be misled, however, by Packer's self-effacing style. While Enberg provides the play-by-play basics and McGuire concerns himself principally with the psychology and emotions of the participants, Billy is conducting an on-the-air clinic in strategy and tactics.
An example of his clinician's approach came during a broadcast of a recent UCLA-Notre Dame game. After the Fighting Irish scored on what seemed like the umpteenth first-half layup, Packer noted, "Once again, there's easy penetration [of the defense] by the dribble. In this quality basketball game you shouldn't be able to see so many guys getting inside by the dribble."
"I try to get the guy at home into the game," Packer says of his commentating philosophy. "Once a game starts I think I'm pretty good at being able to tell if a team is doing well at what it has to do."
Like most good announcers, Packer is not afraid to voice strong opinions. He recently suggested, for example, that the pros have become so good they should take one player off the court and play four on four to make their games more wide open and exciting.
And his one-on-one banter with McGuire has served to keep things as lively in the broadcast booth as they are on the basketball court.
Packer developed his expertise as a two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference guard at Wake Forest in the early '60s and during five seasons as the Demon Deacons' assistant coach.
He began his broadcasting career as a fill-in on a Maryland-North Carolina game eight years ago and stayed on as a regular commentator on ACC games. Two years later, NBC hired him as a commentator for its regional college playoff games. When the network began broadcasting regular-season college games five years ago, it tapped Packer as its analyst.
Both NBC and Packer, who still does some midweek regional telecasts in addition to his weekend network duties, flourished in the partnership.
Last season, for example, NBC's college basketball telecasts got an overall 6 .2 Nielsen rating, or an 18 percent share of the audience. That was comparable to the network's rating for its Game of the Week baseball telecasts, and substantially better than the National Basketball Association games on CBS, which has a 5.0 rating and a 15 percent audience share.
(The NBA telecasts scored something of an upset, however, in the first of this year's head-to-head confrontations. The Purdue-Syracuse college match-up got only a 5.3 rating and 15 percent audience share, vs. a 8.5 rating and 24 percent audience share for the Boston-Los Angeles pro game featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.)
Though he has earned high praise from critics, coaches, and other commentators, Packer is modest to the point of being self-deprecating about his role in the overall success of the college telecasts.
"Whatever it is I have, it's overrated," he says. "A lot of guys could do what I do. They just don't have the chance to go on TV."