Joe Buck is (Rightfully) Going to Canton
As is seemingly tradition, Joe Buck was trending on Twitter during last Thursday night’s match-up between the Bengals and Browns. In addition to the weekly “I’ve muted my television” and “Joe Buck sucks” tweets, though, there was another reason why the longtime broadcaster’s name was being used so often. Before the start of the second half, it was revealed that Buck would be the recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, which has been presented each year since 1989, “in recognition of longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.” Buck joined his father Jack as the only father/son combination to win the award.
While there were certainly some supportive responses following the announcement, a substantial amount of people couldn’t understand why Buck was selected for this prestigious award. From nepotism to a lack of excitement and everything in between, the slander of Buck was once again rampant on social media. As a 23-year-old, disliking Fox’s lead NFL, MLB, and USGA play-by-play announcer has been the cool thing to do for most of my lifetime. Surprisingly, the hate has died down a bit in recent years; multiple appearances on the popular Pardon My Take podcast, the release of his bestselling memoir Lucky Bastard, and an increase in humor (often self-deprecating) in the booth among other things have finally helped a lot of sports fans warm up to Buck.
Despite the relatively recent opinion shift, though, Buck is still the unfair subject of disdain. It’s acceptable to have a different opinion on most things, but trying to say that Buck isn’t a top-tier play-by-play broadcaster is factually incorrect. Let’s address some of the baseless anti-Buck arguments.
He only has a job because of his dad
I’m aware of how the sports media industry is constructed. It’s often more about who you know regardless of your actual talent level. Being the son of a beloved broadcaster was certainly in Joe’s favor. With that said, you don’t last as a lead play-by-play broadcaster for a major network for close to 30 years just because of your dad’s accomplishments and prowess behind a microphone.
He wasn’t perfect throughout the early part of his career, but very few (if any) broadcasters are. Living in the shadow of his father probably didn’t make things any easier. Still, even the most aggressive Buck detractors need to be able to admit how much the broadcaster has honed his craft over the years. He didn’t simply rest on his laurels; rather, he has markedly improved in every aspect of broadcasting a live sporting event. Consider this for a brief moment: if Fox didn’t think highly of Joe and his talent, he wouldn’t be calling big games for them anymore.
He doesn’t show any excitement
This was a fair critique to throw around at the start of the century throughout the mid-2000s. People love to bring up his “Mitchell” and “Helmet Catch” calls as prime examples of this which, admittedly, is reasonable.
Especially for the helmet catch, the criticism is tolerable—even as a casual fan, you’d expect one of the greatest plays in NFL history to have an equally thrilling call behind it. In the moment, though, people should understand the context of that play in particular. In an exchange with For the Win a few years ago, Buck explained his side of the story:
“You have to make sure what you’re seeing was really happening. So if you’re going to launch into this call like this was the greatest catch you’ve ever seen then they come back and say it was incomplete, well then shame on you. You have to really be careful when you’re doing really any game these days.”
It’s hard to fault Buck after hearing his thoughts on the call. As someone who has called a lot of sporting events over the years, I wholeheartedly agree with Buck’s personal assessment. One of the last things you want to do is go absolutely ballistic during a call only, for instance, to learn that the pass had actually been ruled incomplete or that the home run actually went a few inches foul. This obviously doesn’t apply to every example of Buck’s lack of excitement in certain situations, but context is certainly important for each of them.
Nowadays, though, this argument is no longer valid. Buck has been vastly more animated in the booth over the past decade or so than at arguably any other point in his career. From David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam in the 2013 ALCS to Rajai Davis sending a ball over the left-field wall in Game 7 to the Minneapolis Miracle, Buck has continually risen to the occasion when it comes to making memorable calls.
He adds nothing to the broadcast
Those that try to argue this clearly don’t understand the type of broadcaster that Buck is. While some might disagree with a minimalist approach when it comes to calling games, it works well for Buck. In an interview with The Ringer back in 2016, Buck expanded upon what goes through his mind during a broadcast: “The stuff that flies through my mind — the critical stuff, the funny stuff — I just swallow 95 percent of it, because it’s just not worth the bullshit that comes with it.”
Especially in this day and age, broadcasters are attacked for the most asinine and minute things. In the same Ringer interview, it was revealed that Buck took to Twitter immediately following Super Bowl 50 and searched the names of the CBS team who called the game, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Not surprisingly, the contempt from all corners of the internet was strong. Per Buck, “If you say the sky is blue, people are going to say, ‘What shade of blue is it, asshole?’"
That Buck is a play-by-play broadcaster on television also seems to be an aspect that is lost on Buck’s opposers. In a radio context, the play-by-play broadcaster needs to be succinct but as descriptive as possible since, in many cases, the listeners aren’t physically watching the action unfold. Dead-air also isn’t ideal when it comes to radio broadcasts; letting the crowd carry the broadcast in brief spurts is acceptable but otherwise there should be someone talking more often than not.
None of that is the case for television play-by-play. People can see what’s happening on the screen, so it’s not necessary for Buck to describe every single event to the nth degree. It’s possible (and, in most cases, acceptable) to let the crowd noise take precedence in big moments of the game. When it comes to TV, the color commentator holds a more crucial role. People aren’t interested in listening to Buck ramble on about a 3rd-and-8 pass play that failed. Instead, they’d probably value Troy Aikman’s analysis of the play concept and how the defense was able to counter it. That’s not meant to be a slight at Buck, but just an example to show why Buck might sound “bland” or “uninterested” at times during a call. Simply put, it’s not his job to explain why things are happening, but rather what happened.
This has forever been the craziest accusation against Buck, so much so that his Twitter bio at one point included the phrase “I love all teams EXCEPT yours.” Buck is not and has never been biased, he’s been neutral. A popular theory (that Buck himself has agreed with) is that fans are used to hearing their local broadcast teams and analysts throughout the course of a season (this is more the case in baseball but it can exist in football as well). So, when these same fans hear Buck call a game right down the middle, it comes across as bias. In reality, there’s only one thing that Buck is rooting for during a broadcast—a good, competitive game. Buck doesn’t hate your team, so don’t take out their subpar performance on him.
Buck has hinted at retirement in the past; coincidentally, there was once a rumor that he’d retire following the 2019 World Series. Of course, he ended up signing a lucrative contract extension a couple of summers ago, but Buck’s clearly closer to the end of his incredibly successful career than he is to the beginning. A lot of sports fans will probably be happy when Buck hangs up his headset at some point in the not-too-distant future, which is unfortunate. Buck is by far one of the best play-by-play broadcasters of my lifetime and it’ll be an upsetting day when I’m no longer able to hear his voice call some of my favorite sports.
It’s okay to admit that Buck is a top-tier play-by-play guy and start enjoying his broadcasts, trust me. I urge everyone to enjoy his presence in the broadcast booth while we all still have the opportunity. The grass is always greener on the other side until it isn’t, and subtracting Buck from the Fox Sports booth will leave a large hole that will be very difficult to fill. I don’t know when people will be able to look back at how spectacular Buck has been has a broadcaster, but hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.
(Photo credit: Fox)