When McGuire expounds, listening is easy and fun

ON THE AIR

March 07, 1995|By MILTON KENT

NEW YORK -- It was like old times yesterday in a 25th-floor conference room at CBS, as Al McGuire and Billy Packer squared off again.

McGuire and Packer, two-thirds of what once was the hottest announcing trio in the business, when they analyzed college basketball games together at NBC in the late 1970s and early '80s, were back, side-by-side as CBS convened its college basketball announcers and crew for an NCAA tournament seminar.

In the span of about five minutes, McGuire, who will call first- and second-round games in next week's men's tournament, broke up a room of sportswriters with a stream-of-consciousness tale that somehow wove together a carnival midway, songs from Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard and Engelbert Humperdinck and the time he picked cherries in an orchard in Traverse City, Mich., and got diarrhea.

Did it make sense? Of course not, and that's a part of McGuire's charm.

"Now, a lot of people think when I talk that I am beyond my time," said McGuire, 65, who coached Marquette to the 1977 national championship, then retired from coaching. "I am younger in life and style than anybody in this room. I've always lived like a flower child. I still drive a motor bike without a helmet."

Said former Southern California coach George Raveling: "He's one of the last of the cowboys. I remember the two of us were speaking at a clinic in New Rochelle [N.Y.] once and he went first, so I figured I'd listen to what he had to say. He starts his talk by saying, 'Fellows, some of what I say today is true and some of it is false. It's up to you to figure out which is which.' "

McGuire, who was teamed with Packer and Dick Enberg for four years before NBC lost the tournament after the 1980-81 season, said that professional scouts and college coaches should put together a list of 150 players with pro potential, either in the NBA or overseas.

"We should tell the others, 'You can't make it. You're not going to be a pro. Please release me, let me go,' " said McGuire, who then turned to Packer, sitting next to him, and said, "Who was that -- Humperdincker? -- who sang that?"

"I thought we got [former New York Knick] Dick McGuire," said Rick Gentile, senior vice president for production at CBS Sports.

Packer didn't have an answer for the musical question, but he did have a quick retort for McGuire's suggestion.

"Listen to him about life, not about basketball," said Packer. "First off, who would know who the 150 players are? And how about [Utah Jazz guard] John Stockton? He graduated from Gonzaga and nobody wanted to select him for the East-West All-Star Game. Now, he's got more assists than anybody in the history of the NBA. So, is he supposed to give up his dream? That's [nonsense]."

Hearing the two friendly adversaries banter made one yearn for the days when they were the most entertaining show in sports broadcasting.

"It was kind of like two guys sitting in a bar," said Raveling. "Al would say something and Billy would have no caution about saying, 'Al, you have no idea what you're talking about.' "

When Packer and the tournament left NBC, McGuire languished in sort of a no-man's land but sprang back when he came to CBS three years ago for tournament duties. He thanked CBS for letting him have a piece of one of the greatest shows on Earth.

"One of the words I kept hearing today from the [network] executives was carnival, and it's true," said McGuire. "This thing is like cotton candy and the guy with the straw hat who wants you to come in and see the girl. . . . It's the toughest ticket to get in the world if you don't know Billy Packer. Enjoy the carnival. It's the greatest sporting event of all the sporting events."

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