Talkin' Baseball and Football with Buck
Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck keeps several balls in the air
By Mike Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/15/2006 8:00:00 PM
To paraphrase the old Bo Jackson/Nike commercials, Joe knows baseball—and Joe knows football, too. Joe Buck, that is, Fox's lead play-by-play guy for both the NFL and MLB. And as if juggling two live broadcasts wasn't enough, he recently added another ball: hosting Fox's new high-volume, high-testosterone pre-game show, NFL Sunday.
“Last night, I had my first dream about the pre-game show,” Buck says. “I was arguing with our director about something. I can't for the life of me remember what it was about, but I woke up stressed.”
Buck, of course, is the son of legendary baseball and football announcer Jack Buck, who died in 2002. At 37, Joe already has a solid career under his belt. He started out calling minor-league baseball while at Indiana University and joined Fox to do NFL games in 1994. He moved on to Major League Baseball and called his first World Series in 1996. When Joe worked the Super Bowl in 2005, the Bucks became the only father and son to have called the NFL final.
Cracking the Fraternity
NFL Sunday, shot live in front of a screaming crowd each week, is Buck's latest challenge. Besides doing commentary in an atmosphere that's akin to a college bar on nickel-beer night, he has had to crack the tight fraternity of co-hosts/NFL vets Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson. “There's been pressure on me to fit in right away, not do too much or too little, not be boring or make them mad,” he says. “It's a tough balance to find, and it's only going to come with time.”
To expedite the process, Buck and the boys get together off the set—enjoying long dinners, hoisting glasses at the hotel bar and trading barbs all the while. “It's something we don't do enough in today's broadcast world,” Buck says.
Just as the gang is hitting its stride, Buck is off for three weeks to do the baseball post-season. The broadcasts feature super-slo-mo and an on-screen device to mark the strike zone. But Buck says the games, not the gadgetry, are what make for good television. “If they're boring, there's not much we can do to make it more exciting,” he says. “We've got to just cover the game as best we can and hope we get good series.”
Asked which sport he'd cover if he had to pick just one, Buck doesn't miss a beat: “Ice dancing.” But seriously, he says, nothing matches the hold-your-breath tension of post-season baseball—except, perhaps, the any-given-Sunday intensity of the NFL. “I'm starting to lean more in the football direction, only because it's a new challenge with the studio show,” he says. “But I'd do either sport for the rest of my life and be the happiest guy in the world.”
The “It Factor”
Charmed as his career has been, Buck has occasionally run afoul of his viewers. Many complained that he overreacted to NFL receiver Randy Moss' pantomimed mooning of the crowd in 2005, calling it “a disgusting act.” And Buck, a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, admits that hugging Mark McGwire on-air after the St. Louis slugger broke the home-run record in 1998 was unprofessional. But he maintains that such stumbles are only human.
“Nobody is going to do countless hours of live sporting events and not make mistakes,” he says. “You'd be a robot; you'd be boring. When you make a mistake, you regroup and move on.”
Fox Sports President Ed Goren isn't complaining. “When you look at broadcasting personalities, there's the It Factor—something you can't teach,” he says. “Joe has It. He's a rock-solid play-by-play broadcaster, and, like a great athlete, he makes the people around him better.”
Buck, who enjoys helping his daughters with their homework and reading “junk” murder-mysteries when he's not consuming or dispersing sports reportage, hopes to continue being a two-sport man for the next bunch of decades. Even the hectic schedule doesn't really feel like work.
“People say, 'My God, how are you doing all this?' But there are a lot of people around this country doing a lot harder jobs than I am,” he says. “As long as they want me to continue, I'll keep going.”
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