The sentiment is probably not unique to Packer fans, but Packer fans are convinced Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman hate the Packers.
The reason probably has to do with (1) Aikman’s having been the Cowboys’ quarterback, who engineered all the Packers losses to the Cowboys in the 1990s, and (2) some people’s belief that saying anything negative about your team means they hate your team.
Buck and Aikman will be announcing Sunday’s NFC championship, as they have done all of the Packers’ playoff games since Aaron Rodgers first got the Packers into the playoffs. (Including all four 2010–11 playoff games and the final two must-win home games before those.)
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interviewed Buck and Aikman before last weekend’s NFC playoff game:
Let’s get this on the record right up front: Joe Buck loves Green Bay.
Fox’s top play-by-play football announcer enjoys coming to Wisconsin, even when the weather is less than hospitable. He respects Packers coach Mike McCarthy. He admires quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
His father, the legendary Jack Buck, was in the broadcast booth at Lambeau Field on that wretchedly, wickedly cold day 47 years ago when the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.
“I was indoctrinated in the Ice Bowl and the Packers at a very young age,” Buck said in a telephone interview.
So why do a lot of Packers fans think he has an anti-Green Bay bias?
“It cracks me up,” Buck said. “It’s equal parts funny and frustrating. It’s just baffling to me. I’ve said that McCarthy is the coach I would start a franchise with, and (Rodgers) is the quarterback I would start a franchise with.”
Buck and his partner, analyst Troy Aikman, will call the NFC divisional game between the Packers and Cowboys at 12:05 p.m. Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Aikman, the former Cowboys quarterback, beat the Packers regularly in the 1990s and won three Super Bowls. So maybe there’s some guilt by association?
“I think that’s part of it,” Buck said. “He had success against them. But Aikman feels the same way. Troy loves Aaron.”
Aikman said he took the criticism from Packers fans in stride.
“It’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “It’s not isolated to me or Joe or one crew. There was a petition for Phil Simms not to do Denver games. It’s part of the job. Joe probably said it best: Fans say, ‘We want you to be unbiased,’ but they really don’t. They want you to be biased toward their team.”
Buck gets it, too. He understands that the venom heaped on him in social media by a segment of fans comes with the territory. There’s even a “Joe Buck Sucks” Facebook page.
He isn’t a “homer,” an announcer who is paid by the team and therefore refrains from being critical. But he can’t recall anything he’s said that would make fans think he roots against the Packers or revels in their misfortune.
“I honest to God can’t think of anything critical we ever said except for maybe (kicker) Mason Crosby when he was struggling in 2012,” Buck said. “I think we’re in a different era and some of that stuff gets fanned by social media.
“I mentioned it to McCarthy the last time we were there and he was like, ‘What?’ It is what it is and it’s nothing anybody has lost sleep over.”
Buck said that when he visits Green Bay, people he meets in hotels and restaurants are unfailingly polite.
“When you walk around town,” he said, “people could not be nicer.”
But when he sits in the open-air broadcast booth at Lambeau, fans throw peanuts at him and Aikman and yell things that aren’t fit for print.
“What are you even listening to?” Buck said. “Did you hear my Week 17 call last year, when (Randall) Cobb caught the touchdown pass (that beat the Chicago Bears)? I almost pulled a groin on that call. That was raw emotion coming out.”
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch interviewed Aikman:
How much do you currently enjoy broadcasting?
I’ll tell you a story: We did the Giants–Patriots Super Bowl in Arizona in 2008. It was a great finish, an unbelievable game. The Patriots trying to go for the undefeated season, the Giants upsetting them. I was staying at a different hotel from the rest of the Fox people and when the game ended I went back to the hotel. I was married at the time and my wife said, “Are we going to go to the [Fox] party?” I said, “No, let’s just go downstairs and grab some dinner.”
I was a little down, to be honest, a little depressed. So we are sitting there having dinner, relaxing, and [ESPN’s] Ron Jaworski comes over. He was eating at the other side of the restaurant. So he says, “Hey, man, what a great game! How about that catch from [David] Tyree!” He’s all excited. I was like, “Yeah, it was good.” He is going on and on and then finally says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing is wrong.” He said, “Why aren’t you excited? You just called this great game.” I said, “Ron, I didn’t do anything. I’ve played in that game. I won that game. I know what that feels like. All I did was talk about it. I didn’t do anything.” And he walked away and when he did, he gave me this quizzical look. It was like, “What is wrong with this guy?”
So he walks away and I said to my wife: “You know, this may be the greatest game that I ever call. I may have just called the biggest game that I will ever have the opportunity to call in this profession and I could not be more depressed right now.” It shook me up a bit. I thought, “Man, where does the joy come from broadcasting when you have already been the one out there doing it.”
But I will tell you since that time I have not experienced that low again. We did the Super Bowl last year in New York and I could not have felt a greater accomplishment in this business. I don’t know why I am all of sudden getting real satisfaction out of this job, but I am and that has really helped me. The preparation is extensive and I put a lot of time into it, but I enjoy it. As a former player I have a real appreciation for a guy like Aaron Rodgers and how much time he puts into his craft and how good he is doing it. I enjoy the relationships I have with coaches and players. I enjoy the process of getting ready each week. I enjoy my crew. I like the weekends and being at the site of the games, and we get to do great games.
I am so fortunate to have had a career like I had playing — I lived my dream playing in the league — and now to do a job where I get to be around the sport is beyond imagination. The only negative for me is I have my girls [he has two daughters, 12 and 13] and I am gone for six months out of the year. I miss a lot of their activities. I do get to see a lot of them during the week that a lot of dads don’t get to see and then I have six months where I am always there. But being gone on the weekends and missing some important moments in their life is really the only negative.
How did this professional fog lift? And how long did it exist?
You know, I don’t really have a great answer. I never felt it again. Of course it was three years until we did our next Super Bowl, which was the game in Dallas. But I didn’t feel that way after future playoff games. I have not experienced that feeling again and I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t want to say everything was fine the next season, but when we did our next really big game, I didn’t experience it. So because of that, I really have been able to enjoy the profession.
“At the time this was happening, I’ll admit I was thinking everyone wants to take pride in what they do and feel satisfaction and I was thinking, Do I need to go into coaching or something else to experience the highs and lows of winning and losing? That for me is real. You love the winning when you were playing but you just miss having so much invested and then not knowing completely whether we got it done or did not get it done. That’s how I felt in 2008 but I have not felt that way since.
You’ve been a broadcaster since 2001. At what point does a sports broadcaster reach his or her apex and why?
Good question. I feel that last year midseason is when the craft kind of clicked for me. I feel like I have been at my best since midseason last year. The one thing about being an athlete, say you are struggling with throwing a comeback route, well, then you go out and practice it. You throw it 100 times a day and you get better at it, and you see those improvements pretty rapidly. In this business, you don’t get the practice reps. You can’t work on it as much as you like to work on it. Your practice time is live. I find you have to do a lot of evaluating on your own. I’m asking myself, Why is this good? Why does this work? And not everyone agrees with that. We are in a business that does not give a lot of feedback and you just try to be a critic of yourself. Or you ask other people why something is good for them and try to incorporate it into what you are about but still remain authentic.
People who work in regular jobs get quarterly reviews or end of the year evaluations. How does you get your work reviewed?
Fox began a few years ago using an anonymous person to evaluate each broadcast. We also get a report each week — things they liked, things they did not like, things they felt I could have added. Or this was a great anecdote, things like that. It is helpful. But the frustrating thing for this business, and I think everyone experiences it, I use the analogy that when I played, I would be watching a Monday Night game and if Joe Montana threw three interceptions, you would say, “OK, he had a tough day but he is still a helluva quarterback.” In this business, it just seems like really more opinion than anything else. One is only as good as what people think. There is no real measuring stick as there is in athletics. That part of it is frustrating for all us who played competitively and then have gotten into television. But I receive critiques from my bosses each week and the weekly reports.
So how do you view the Dez Bryant play now that a couple of days have passed?
When it happened I did not think for a minute it was not a catch. When it happened, I’m thinking it is an unbelievable catch. Then when we went to break, [Fox rules analyst] Mike Pereira said he thought the call was going to be overruled. I said, “Really? It looks to me like if anything is changed to the call it will be ruled a touchdown.” They ruled it the way Mike saw it. I’m not going to argue with Mike. After the game you hear from all sorts of people about the call and 99 percent of my friends who texted me are just fans and most don’t know the rules. But I did hear from some coaches and that got my attention. And they felt it was a poor call.
The question becomes about the whole football act and that’s why it ultimately was not a catch. If you said Dez made a football move, then it would have been down by contact. Since it was through the process of the catch when the ball was bobbled, then it was incomplete. I trust Mike Pereira and I trust the New York office had the ability to communicate with [referee Gene] Steratore. But I think in general there are way too many discrepancies in our rule book. I have felt for years they should blow the whole thing up and start over and make it simpler. What is a football act? There are just all kind of different exceptions and not just on catches but the rules in general.
Something that’s interesting to me is that I believe Pereira frees up you and Joe not to have to get in-depth about rules decisions. I see that as a positive because broadcasters can get in trouble with rules-based stuff in any sport. But you might view it differently. Does Mike free you up, or do you still feel you have to get an evaluation in?
I don’t feel he necessarily think he frees me up. I think he is great to have and I think everyone has seen the benefit of Fox having Mike Pereira on our network because now everyone has gone with someone like that. And it makes sense. It is great for the viewer. The rulebook is extensive. The league sends a video out every week to the broadcasters on all the various plays that happened the previous week and here is why it was ruled that way. You go back and forth on why things are being called the way they are being called. Mike and I have disagreed on calls. Go back to the NFC Championship Game [Jan. 2010] between the Vikings and Saints. Mike said a hit on Brett Favre should have been roughing the quarterback. I disagreed. I think when you have a call that helps determine the outcome of a game and you are able to go to the guy who was once the head of officiating, it is a great luxury for us to have. But that does not take away from what my job is. So I don’t know that it frees me up. I just think it is a great luxury for us at Fox. …
Do negative comments ever impact your broadcast?
It doesn’t impact me. It really doesn’t. I think it is because I was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for 12 years. I have been in the middle of the storm. I have thrown game-losing interceptions and had to deal with that for a week. Whatever is said, such as people saying I am hating on some team, it has no relevance to me.
As an athlete, you were trying to reach the top of your profession both individually and with the Cowboys. How important is it for you to be considered the top NFL analyst on television?
Well, that is what you strive for, that is what I work toward. But I don’t know that you ultimately ever achieve it.
Because it’s subjective?
Right. It’s like saying who is the greatest quarterback of all time? That’s what great about sports. It is a great debate. No one has ever ultimately achieved that unanimously. So if a fair percentage of people regarded me as the best at what I do, that would be a great complement to me and that is what I strive for.
Joe Buck is a strange case. He’s not a polarizing broadcaster with his content yet he draws emotion on both sides, especially from viewers who dislike his work. People always have a definitive opinion of him and, obviously, there are some fan bases that just don’t like him. Have you ever been able to figure out why a guy who is not provocative or a shock jock draws such strong opinions about him?
Yeah, that is a very good question and I don’t know that I have a good answer for you. I have worked with Joe for 13 years and the guy is phenomenal. He is so good at what he does. He simply does not make mistakes and with all that is going on, he just handles everything so effortlessly. I think Joe’s style is that he wants to come across as very casual, but the amount of time that he puts in for preparation is off the charts. He is a play-by-play guy who is not interested in just blending in. He has opinions and he is going to give them and people are going to take notice of him during a broadcast, And that is great. Beyond that, people just like something or they do not. To me, I think it speaks to how great he is, that people immediately have a reaction to Joe Buck. But as far as people viewing him unfavorable because of something he might have said or challenging this particularly fan base, nothing could be further from the truth. He is a great guy, cordial to everyone he comes across. I don’t quite get it and I don’t know if he is impacted by any of it. But there is no one I would rather be working alongside. …
Is there one game that you consider your best sports broadcasting performance?
There is usually two or three broadcasts a year that I come out feeling really, really good about. The game was great, we were really good, it was lively, and we had great conversation. Not that everyone agrees with that [laughs] but that’s how we [Buck and Aikman] assess it or how I assess what I did. But I will say I have never come out of a broadcast and didn’t look back and think I wish I had said something a little differently or pointed something else out. And I was like that as a player. I tend to think I will never have the perfect broadcast but when I am done I do think I will look back at one or two and say this was about as good as it got for me.
Part of this probably has to do with Aikman’s getting the biggest games, as part of Fox’s number one team with Buck. (Who gets complaints as well; Buck is Fox’s number one NFL and baseball play-by-play guy.) Their CBS counterparts, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (who get complaints of their own — Nantz for being too vanilla, Simms for saying nonsensical things), apparently are setting a sports broadcasting record by announcing their 30th game of the season, the AFC championship, on Sunday.
Whether that’s overexposure depends on whether you like the announcer. Buck is following the path (maybe not by choice) of Curt Gowdy, who was NBC’s number one announcer for football, baseball and most other sports (including the 1972 Winter Olympics) in the 1970s, and Al Michaels, who did the same for ABC in the 1980s.
It’s not easy to be the number one announcers. (Though one of the networks really should give me the opportunity …) In addition to the pervasive commentary about and criticism of the commentators, there is the fact that they have to sort of dumb down their commentary the farther in the playoffs they go, because the last two rounds of the playoffs are viewed by an increasing percentage of casual fans who may watch the playoffs and not much of the regular season. That’s probably why Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated often would rank announcers lower on the network pecking order higher in his announcer ratings, because Dr. Z was a football guy and wanted to hear about such inner details as line play. There will be many viewers of Super Bowl XLIX (carried by NBC in two weeks) who could not care less about the difference between an offensive guard and an offensive tackle, or a safety (the defensive player) vs. a safety (the offense’s ending up in its own end zone.)
But: Does this sound like someone who hates the Packers?
At least Aikman is willing to change his mind if the later evidence contradicts his first opinion.
I like Buck and Aikman (in the former case probably because we’re contemporaries age-wise), but regardless of your opinion, if you are from the ’80s or ’90s you should find this funny: