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Longing for Raftery

Chris Hine | Monday, March 26, 2007

Essentially, Ohio State’s 92-76 victory over Memphis Saturday was complete. Memphis delayed the inevitable by fouling throughout the final two minutes, but I did not move away from the television or change the channel as I usually do when a game is not close to the end. Why did I do this? Because of Bill Raftery.

For the first time ever, I actually wanted to watch a game because of who was announcing it, more than I wanted to watch it because of who was playing. You will never agree with everything commentators say during a game (though with Raftery I often do), so what you look for most in announcers is to bring you the excitement of being there. It enhances the drama of the game and gives you a better viewing experience if the announcers get into the game as much as you do.

Most importantly, you want someone who conveys the element of fun when you are watching. Sports are supposed to be fun. Bill Raftery (and Dick Vitale) match all of the above criteria, Billy Packer (who will be commentating during the entire Final Four) does not. Packer has done every Final Four game on television for the past 32 years and every one I’ve heard him do, it sounds as though he would rather be somewhere else. In a cruel twist of fate, Raftery and Vitale, who would be excited to announce my brother’s fifth-grade league games, have never done one on television.

So when I kept the end of the Ohio State game on Saturday, I treasured the final minutes I had to listen to Raftery until next winter. “Send it in,” “Onions” and “With the kiss,” will all have to wait for another year. I mean, the guy gets excited when somebody properly boxes out or sets a perfect off the ball screen. How can you not love that in an announcer?

As for Vitale, as much as some people think he is annoying, you have to respect his love for college basketball. Vitale’s inspired lunacy exemplifies everything that is good about college sports and you cannot help but become enthralled in the action when he loses control on air after someone dunks or hits a big shot.

Some snobbish and arrogant writers feel Vitale, who is a finalist to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, should not make the final cut because he rarely has anything negative to say. So what if he only wants to focus on the good in the sport? Since when is this a bad thing? These people need to find more important things to worry about and need to re-evaluate their moral compass when they criticize a man because he does not want to criticize players who are not making millions of dollars. This is sports, not life or death. Vitale has been good for the game of basketball all his life and has promoted the game through his personality, celebrity and work.

But alas, Billy Packer, who adds no sense of excitement whatsoever to anything he covers, will once again announce the final three games of the college hoops season. Just once, I would love CBS to get Vitale away from ESPN, and throw him with Raftery and Gus Johnson (who goes as nuts as Vitale does when doing the play-by-play of a game) for the Final Four.

You would get top-notch analysis, first-class entertainment, and a lot of fun. Oh yeah, and the games might be good too.