The recent announcement that shy, retiring Gus Johnson would no longer bring his nuanced, hushed tones to coverage of the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Tournament after moving from CBS to Fox, was greeted in some corners (including this) as a genuinely sad moment in sports broadcasting. The New York Post’s Phil Mushnick (above), however, begs to differ, arguing that while we’re free call him “an old sourpuss who resides in a predeceased living community” (hey, that’s pretty good!), “the ‘evolution’ of play-by-play shows that TV and radio execs now favor the screamers and the self-promotional who shout pre-fabricated phrase.”
At all stops, we’re told the same: “Gus is favored by the young audiences for his enthusiastic approach.” Translation: Networks figure that younger viewers are lured by hollering and gimmickry.
As FOX’s press release notes, Johnson has many signature calls, including, “Pure!,” “Bam!,” “Cold-blooded” and “Ha-Haaa!” Johnson recently revealed an enterprise to peddle apparel that carried his “Rise and Fire!” line. The last guy who tried that with his signature calls was John Sterling. Lead balloon.
Regardless of popularity, Johnson has made it clear that he has little to no idea what he’s hollering about. This past NCAA tournament he demonstrated that to a national audience when, with BYU and Florida tied with 15 seconds left, Florida with the ball, he asked, “If you’re BYU, do you foul?”
Partner Len Elmore’s could not contain his incredulity: “No! Why would you foul? It’s a tie game!”
Shouldn’t games speak for themselves, no artificial help, especially when they’re on TV? Isn’t phony, forced “excitement” an insult to viewers of all ages who know better?
If, as Phil argues, the drama of the competition should speak for itself, how should history judge such sickening, self-styled grandstanders as Jack Buck, bellowing, “I don’t believe what I just saw!” after Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series, or the proto-Gus known as Russ Hodges, who forgot to take his Calm-The-Fuck-Down pills the afternoon Bobby Thomson went deep against Ralph Branca? Do we believe in miracles, Al Michaels? How about believing in putting a lid on it and not interrupting Phil’s UGLY SLEEP?