I associate Billy Packer with a golden era of college basketball.
Packer, who called Final Fours for 34 years as an analyst for NBC and CBS, died this week at age 82 in a North Carolina hospital from kidney failure after a series of health problems.
My love for college basketball peaked when he called games for NBC with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire. Packer and McGuire's odd couple act revealed the game's strategic rigor and poetic beauty.
Although McGuire was the great coach who had led Marquette to a national championship, he was less analytical than Packer, a former Wake Forest star who had played in the final four before it was a national event.
McGuire saw the game instinctively, looking at intangibles and emotion in players' performances. Packer often clashed with McGuire, seeing the game more like a chess match of strategy and coaching.
Packer moved to CBS when the network took over the NCAA tournament, building its national "March Madness" power. He called the big games with CBS lead announcer Jim Nantz until 2008, when Packer's abrasive personality veered from the network's increasing "feel good" kitsch.
March Madness still brings in big audiences, but the game has declined with stars leaving early for the NBA, over-reliance on the three-point shot and the erosion of offensive skills.
Billy Packer held the game to a higher standard, which it often reached during his heyday.
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