On This Date – 1980

Just in case you needed any more proof that former college hoops broadcaster Billy Packer doesn’t care for mid-majors, Michael Brown C’83 has some.

Twenty-four years before Packer’s famous on-air spat with St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli over the Hawks’ No. 1 NCAA tournament seed, Packer was apparently just as critical as another Philadelphia team’s place in the Big Dance.

Brown, a freshman on the Quakers’ 1979-80 team, remembers overhearing some negative comments from Packer as Penn warmed up prior to its first-round NCAA game against Washington State – on this date 31 years ago.

Penn came into the NCAA tourney that season as a No. 12 seed after going a modest 17-12 overall and 11-3 in the Ivy League. It was a year after the Quakers’ epic run to the Final Four.

“I overheard him saying that Penn’s year was last year and they have no business being on this court,” Brown told me during an interview I conducted with him for my Fran McCaffery C’82 alumni profile. “He said lightning struck once and it’s not going to strike again.”

The Quakers didn’t return to the Final Four that year but they did make Packer eat his words. Led by Brown, fellow freshman Paul Little and senior James “Boony” Salters – who, just two days earlier hit the game-winning shot to beat Princeton in an Ivy League playoff and earn the conference’s automatic NCAA berth – Penn upset fifth-seeded Washington State, 62-55, on the campus of Purdue University. (Duke ended the Quakers’ run in the next round.)

Billy Packer: once a curmudgeon, always a curmudgeon

The win was especially meaningful to Brown, a Las Vegas native who said Washington State started to recruit him and then stopped. But as happy as he was following the win, Brown still refused to talk to Packer, who was then with NBC.

“He didn’t give us a chance at all,” said Brown, who went on to become a first-team All-Ivy player in 1983 before returning to Las Vegas, where he works today as a casino executive. “We might have been from Penn but we could compete with anyone. I still don’t event want to recognize him.”

Brown, of course, is not the first to get annoyed by Packer’s perceived bias against smaller basketball schools. A year before that, the broadcaster ridiculed Indiana State’s credentials as a No. 1 seed – you know, the Larry Bird-led team that made it to the national title game. And in 2006, he opined that too many mid-majors were getting NCAA bids – the same year Bradley and Wichita State made the Sweet 16 and George Mason advanced all the way to the Final Four.

The man has eaten a lot of crow over the years. And even though he is now retired from the business of calling NCAA tournament games, don’t expect Michael Brown to forgive him.

1 Comment

Filed under Men's Basketball, This Day in Penn History

One response to “On This Date – 1980

  1. perry mason

    I once sued Billy Packer in connection with defaulting on some real estate loans on behalf of some banking clients (e.g. banks) back in the 1980s. He was wrapped up in investments down in AC involving casinos.

    While I can’t speak about that in any detail, it’s public record that he was involved in litigation, and moreover, it’s pretty well-known that his financial interests prevent him from being objective.

    He is, on the other hand, entertaining, if somewhat of a buffon.

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