March Madness: My fantasy basketball bracket ... and the winning announcer is ...
For all the dough spent on announcers for the Final Four, and all the money fans spend to get there, I have to wonder: Is there a better way to pick who should get to call the games?
Announcing is supposed to be an art. A good announcer crafts the narrative, tells the story of the game as it unfolds, and doesn't detract from the game itself. It's a fine line but the best announcers in the world have that natural gift to tap-dance that line like Fred Astaire. A bad announcer, however, is a bit like a movie director who walks in front of the camera every five minutes to give the actors notes, but then refuses to edit out the parts where he's standing in front of the camera.
Nope, let's leave that shot in there, it's good, just put some CGI on me. Wrap me in CGI. Uhhh ... good work, Michael Bay.
A good announcer, like Gus Johnson, transforms into a lovable fan with a microphone, rattling off emotion-laden jabs at the television screen. A bad announcer, like Billy Packer, turns into a senior citizen golfer who parks his cart on the green and wanders off into the forest to look for free golf balls.
With March Madness upon us, the state of college basketball announcing is rather concerning. College basketball, for no real reason at all, has far more hack golfers than microphone-wielding Jedi in the booth. It's filled with broadcast school rejects and ancient talking trees ... I'm talking about you, Brent Musburger.
So in the spirit of the tournament, it's time a different sort of "March Madness" was held, to sort out the bad announcers from the good. It's not going to be pretty, but neither is Clark Kellogg in high-definition. Unveil the NCAA Basketball Announcers Bracket!
In the finals of the color commentators region, Fran Fraschilla of ESPN's NBA Draft coverage fame, swooped in to the tournament as a bubble four seed before knocking off a stunned Dick Vitale, who couldn't fathom how "Yeah, baby!" wasn't his ticket to the championship game. Fraschilla faced off against the prognosticator of prognosticators, second-seeded Bill Raftery who walked through Clark Kellogg's bizarre on-camera appearance to make it to the finals.
Raftery opened with a few obnoxious catchphrases, screaming out "ONIONS!" into the microphone with a baffled audience trying to make sense of the comment. Fraschilla, who some considered a dark horse in the tournament, countered with some unique insight about the success of European players in NCAA basketball. Not to be outdone, Raftery, in his thick East Coast accent, spotted a shuffling defender and yelled "Moving the puppies!" Fraschilla wasn't fazed, the fans were, but Fraschilla wasn't, and he produced a quick breakdown on the top players' chances of being first round picks in next year's NBA draft.
Raftery was stunned, knocked on his back like Mike Tyson against Buster Douglas. No one saw it coming, but Fraschilla's quiet, intelligent commentary "surprisingly" beat out the loud, over-the-top word vomit of Bill Raftery. Enjoy the golf course, Bill.
Moving on to the big show, the finals of the play-by-play region, fans were treated to a monumental 1 vs. 2 matchup, with Jim Nantz, CBS poster-boy and the hands-down favorite to win the tournament, up against Gus "Pipes" Johnson, who mowed down the Communist Brent Musburger in his semifinal game. (I'm not your "pardner," Brent.)
Nantz, legendary for his rich, mahogany tone and thoughtful descriptions, had never been challenged in a CBS event. The Masters were his forte, but Nantz always showed up big for the NCAA Tournament, stealing energy from the field of other announcers like a smooth-talking succubus. He didn't bring Shock Tarts to play-by-play, but he did bring Werther's Original mints. And who doesn't like those?
Gus Johnson, that's who.
Waiting for a lull in the action, Johnson busted out the sordid details of Nantz's pre-divorce relationship with a 29-year-old woman, silencing the lulls of the seemingly-unshakable auteur. Johnson, clearly in his element, howled with unbridled passion, the type of emotion only a true worshipper of the game of basketball could produce, as a game-winning three pointer swished through the nylon net ... Nantz sobbed irrepressibly in the corner, bitterly defeated and alone.
There can only be one, and that one is Gus Johnson.
Seattle-based Erik Larsen is an award-winning former sports editor of the Loyola University Chicago school newspaper, the Phoenix, a former sports writer for the Chicago Tribune's RedEye, and author of the Sports Tzu blog. Got a tip? Or a spare ticket to the Final Four? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.