Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sticking Up for Joe Buck

In this column, I am going to attempt to do the unthinkable.  More outrageous than Julian Assange having the balls to post secret US diplomatic cables.  More improbable than Rex Ryan agreeing to a vow of silence.  More unthinkable than Mike McCarthy successfully managing the clock on a 2-minute drill.

I am going to defend Joe Buck.  To a certain extent anyway.

It seems most people have reached a general consensus about Buck -- he sucks.  He's dull, he's monotone, his energy doesn't meet the moment, he doesn't seem to recognize when something truly riveting is happening (see: Helmet Catch call, which was panned by pretty much everyone), and he always came across as snooty and self-righteous, especially after the Randy Moss fake-moon "incident."

Be honest, when you found out this year's Super Bowl was going to be on Fox with Buck and Troy Aikman, you did one of three things: you groaned in disappointment, you said "Oh no" as you double-checked online to see if it was true, or you decided right then and there instead to watch all 6 hours of the "Puppy Bowl" on Animal Planet.  Point is, people do not like Joe Buck.

He would at best receive begrudging praise for his baseball work, since he seems like a more natural fit -- his dad was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals for decades, after all.  But with football, he's come across as out of his element from the start, especially compared to his peers, people like Gus Johnson and Al Michaels.

Personally, I always thought Buck was trying to be a sort of throwback to Pat Summerall.  In theory, there certainly isn't anything wrong with that, and it's understandable considering his lineage.  The comparison stems from Buck's simple approach - not over-complicating what's on the screen, staying even keel, never getting too excited.

The problem with this is two-fold.  First, obviously there's only one Pat Summerall.  He had an everyman quality about him, and he came across as a fan just like anyone else watching.  Buck tries, but you can't try to be an everyday guy on TV.  You either are or you aren't, and Buck just isn't.

But most importantly, Summerall had the pipes, the regal NFL-Filmsian quality to his voice.  That's primarily what made him one of the greatest and my personal favorite announcer ever.  It's hard for me not to get goosebumps watching one of his classic intro packages to an important game.  Take this one from the '92 NFC title game - "Sooooarrring out of the darkness are the new staaaaars in Dallas."  It's perfect.  It's football.

Now, Buck's voice is fine.  It's not Summerallian, but it's fine.  It's immediately recognizable, it's memorable, it resonates, and it's good enough that I think he's got fair reason to take a similar approach to play-by-play as Summerall.

But therein lies the 2nd part of the problem with that approach - I don't think it works in this day and age.  Take Gus Johnson for instance.  People are gaga over him to the point that he's become something of a cult hero, all because of his enthusiasm that he brings to whatever he's involved with.  Some would say he's over the top, and I'm inclined to agree, but the bottom line is that his popularity is proof enough that other announcers should at least consider altering their style, change with the times and adapt.

It seems Buck agrees with that sentiment.  Listen to his call of the unreal DeSean Jackson punt return that won Philadelphia the game against the Giants earlier this year.  He NAILS it.  It's perfect.  And you know why?  Because he sounded legit excited, and his timing for it was perfect.  I have a strong suspicion that if Buck calls this play two or three years ago, it goes something like his droll Helmet Catch call.

That's just one example.  Listening to him throughout the playoffs this year has been unexpectedly refreshing.  It seems as if he's actively looking for a big play to get excited about (but carefully, not recklessly as people accuse Gus of doing), rather than letting something happen and judging as it happens whether or not it deserves that treatment.

So, I'm giving Buck full credit and sticking up for him. He's actually listened to criticism and has since changed up his style, something you very rarely see (or hear in this case) from someone so firmly entrenched in the sports media landscape

Now, Troy Aikman on the other hand?  Don't get me started...

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