Billy Packer

Things are slowing down a bit on the UNC athletics front. I believe the season is over for all sports with the exception of the baseball team which will probably follow suit soon since they don't seem to be able to play with the stronger teams. The record looks good but at crunch time, they have not performed well at all. At least they took the series from Ga. Tech and the Yellow Jackets play Virginia for the ACC Tournament title later today.

Did any of you see the Johns Hopkins-Virginia Lacrosse thriller on TV yesterday? ACC had 3 of the final Four but the finish to the Hopkins-UVA game was one for the ages. Virginia goes up on unbeaten Hopkins with 12 seconds to go and Hopkins ties it up and sends the match into overtime. Hopkins pulls it out in overtime and will meet Duke for the title tomorrow.

In searching for a topic for this week, it occurred to me that it might be a good time to take a look at our good friend Billy Packer. I say good friend with tongue in cheek because not many UNC people I speak with like ole Billy and most of them are convinced that Packer is all out totally forever against all things UNC. I'm not sure this feeling is based on fact but I do admit that, at times, I have to wonder if there is some deep seated biased against the Heels. The problem with that argument is that fans of other schools including his alma mater, Wake Forest, feel the same way about Packer and their schools as do Tar Heel fans. A fairly recent theory about Packer is that he is against everybody but that might be a slight overstatement of the situation. We all change as we age and there is another variable always at work. As we change as individuals, the world at large is changing also. Therefore, the change may be as much with the world as it is with the individual.

I remember Packer when he played at Wake Forest from '60-'62. I don't understand him being listed as playing only 2 years because I thought he was at Wake for four years but that's the information contained in a biography. I remember his last collegiate game in the Final Four against UCLA, a game that many have forgotten was won by the Deacons for their highest national finish ever. He was an outstanding player and was selected as an All-ACC performer.

He joined the Wake Forest coaching staff from '65 to '69 even though I was under the impression that he coached at Wake for only one year. I knew that he was an assistant under one of my old high school mates by the name of Jackie Murdock, but he must have been an assistant under other Wake coaches. I believe Murdoch was Head Coach at Wake for only 1 year.

Packer's first TV exposure as a broadcaster was in '72 when he subbed for someone not able to make the broadcast. The next year he was a regular. In '74, Packer joined NBC sports and teamed up with Curt Gowdy during the opening round NCAA playoff games. Packer also teamed with Dick Enberg during the mid 70s.

It's difficult to remember or even research the exact dates when Packer teamed with Jim Thacker and later when he was matched with Al McGuire, but for many years, Packer rode a crest of popularity when his broadcast partner was a strong sports personality.

He, of course, continues to be paired with a second person on every telecast he does now but it just doesn't seem the same. Packer seems to be overly critical of whatever is going on and he seems intent on calling the games for the officials. He has had a case or two of hoof and mouth disease along the way, the most recent instance being where he was commenting positively about the Illinois screens in the championship game only to abruptly switch his position to calling attention to the "illegal' screens being employed by the Illini. The screening did not seem to change during the game but Packer's position on whether they were legal or not sure did.

Another controversy that Packer became involved in several years ago was with the free throw shooting of the top female free throw shooter in the NCAA by belittling the female's accomplishments on TV. Packer said that we must remember the ball used by the women is smaller than the one used by men. The female, at the time, was a student at the University of Richmond, and it seems like her name was Welch. At any rate, she later was an Assistant at East Carolina.

To continue, Packer was challenged to have a free throw shooting contest with Welch here in Richmond and sure nuff, he showed up for the shoot out. I'm sure he wishes he had stayed at home. Welch agreed to use the men's ball which trumped Packer at the outset, and then she proceeded to hit 20 of 20 while Packer could only manage a measly 13 of 20. It was not a good day for the ACC men's senior citizen basketball.

There have been several other incidents along the way like the time he was required to by two female student employees to show his identification at Cameron Indoor Stadium. I don't know whether it was that he was insulted because the students didn't know who he was or the fact that females were involved in a position of control but he exploded. It was later explained that the incident was planned as a joke. Impossible to confirm.

Then there was the controversy over his statements regarding the St. Joseph's team in the NCAA playoffs last year and the incident where the Kentucky player (Sparks) shouted to Packer from the court after making a crucial basket in the Louisville game. We could go on but let's just say that Packer has had his share of controversies and I will give him credit when he takes a position. He does not back down easily.

So it's up to you to decide whether you like Billy Packer or not. He was born on Feb.25, 1940 which makes him 65, a time when many people are thinking of retirement. Sportscasters seem to be a little different though. Most seem to be understandably reluctant to go and sometimes they don't until someone pulls the plug. Not sure that is about to happen but at least one petition has been sent to his current employer with over 1000 signatures asking that he be removed from the air. Surprisingly it was not from a fan base in the ACC. When he does go though, it just won't seem right with Packer not there for the final game. He has become such a fixture at the Final Four that I would hate to be in the shoes of his replacement.

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I finally got my ' 05 UNC National Championship cans of Coke this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised to see the old Rameses logo on the can. Wonder how that happened? I really wish I could find out who decided that the new meaner looking Rameses is superior to the old one. Probably the same person who decided that Coke itself needed changing. I'm told that the new Rameses actually frightens some small children when he tries to interact with them in Kenan Stadium or at other functions. Some call it progress.