- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Billy Packer was obsessed with the fatigue of the players, at least the ones bent to their knees and tugging on their shorts.

This analysis often seemed unlikely, given the youth of the players and the high number of television and team timeouts, not to mention a generous halftime pause.

The exception was the aptly named Big Baby, who was still packing his newborn’s weight while at LSU.

The late Al McGuire once said his one-time on-air buddy was the sort of person who would step out of the shower to have a restroom break.

Packer could not hide his elitist manner and self-appointment as one of the lords of college basketball.

If so, he presided over the demise of college basketball as a high-quality entity. Its appeal as a betting fix remains untouched. The office betting pool is the engine that drives the NCAA tournament each March now.

Packer came to the Final Four in 1975, four years before the epic showdown between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, which forever changed the way America saw the event.

That was the beginning of a special era in college basketball, and Packer was there to tell us how to see it each step of the way, even if it left many in a snit.

College basketball no longer produces Patrick Ewing vs. Ralph Sampson. Or even Dan Dakich vs. Michael Jordan.

It gives us the unseasoned one-and-done flavors of the moment instead, as decreed by a David Stern looking to get more use out of his cost-free minor league system while stepping on the right-to-work laws of the nation in the name of education.

You are obligated to stifle a laugh with the latter. Packer is not laughing either.

Packer preferred the old days, although he did fine by the new, even if he questioned the high seeding of the occasional mid-major program. He was partial to the major conferences and reluctant to acknowledge the egalitarianism that had come to the game.

He also was wrong on the NBA/college basketball relationship, blaming the deteriorating quality of college basketball on the NBA, as if any teen would spurn the multimillion contract of any business.

Packer was an imperfect person ensconced in an imperfect system fraught with imperfect notions.

Packer’s verbal gaffes through the years are being recited anew following the news of his departure from CBS. The “perfect people,” as Bob Knight once dubbed members of the national press, neglect to note the impossible standard of going gaffe-free in 34 NCAA tournaments.

Packer was more often right than wrong, which is the fairest standard. After all, it is impossible to be always right, no matter the pursuit.

Packer did not mind regaling viewers with his insights into the game, a few as pedestrian as a team’s change in defense or a team’s need to call a timeout. Packer was the antithesis of Dick Vitale, the self-parody who holds himself up as a cartoon figure.

The 68-year-old Packer does not need CBS or the game. He always has had an aptitude to make a dollar, if not millions of them in real estate. He long ago realized that life is merely a series of phases. He was a college basketball player and assistant coach at Wake Forest before he went into announcing. He says he is working on a basketball-related project that will be announced in several months.

It won’t be the same without him, the tournament won’t be. Even the Packer-haters might concede that, their Internet venom momentarily missing a target.

Packer’s body of work will be more appreciated after his void is measured, just as it was with Howard Cosell.

Not that Packer ever was as caustic and controversial as Cosell. Or so full of himself.

Packer merely was authentic in an increasingly sterile medium, plus opinionated, smart and sure of himself.

The game will be less without him.

Tom Knott can be reached at [email protected]

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