Vikings

People Don't Like Joe Buck, But Their Reasons Are Silly

Tuesday night marked the latest occasion where fans united under a common belief and voiced their displeasure toward a common enemy: Joe Buck.

The A-team FOX broadcaster called his 17th All-Star Game in San Diego and, predictably, was met with vitriol from the online public.

No play-by-play man gets as much grief as Buck, the son of the legendary Jack Buck, who famously called Kirby Puckett’s Game 6 walk-off home run in 1991 and Kirk Gibson’s one-legged walk-off homer in the 1988 World Series (on radio). The younger Buck was given a full-time job calling NFL games on FOX at the age of 25 and announced his first World Series at 27. Fairly or not, his successful career has always been attributed to the legacy of his father, who helped Buck get experience with the St. Louis Cardinals, beginning at age 22. The elder Buck passed away in 2002.

There’s no doubt Joe’s career got underway earlier because of who his father was, but it’s also tough to deny the chops he had in the craft at a young age. His call to end the 1996 World Series – “The Yankees are champions of baseball!” – was superbly delivered and is probably considered his first great broadcasting moment. The similarity between his voice then, at 27, and now, at 47, is incredible. Most 20-somethings don’t have pipes that mature.

But through two decades of high-level play-by-play, including four Super Bowls, 18 World Series and now the U.S. Open golf tournament, his approval rating has ostensibly continued to dive, perhaps fueled by social media’s vendetta against him.

Personally, I’ve always been puzzled by it.

I like Buck a lot. And in discussions I’ve had with other respected broadcasters and sportswriters, the feeling that Buck is misunderstood is mutual. Notably, he was defended by Will Leitch in a well-written 2012 piece and was ranked as the top NFL announcer in a study done by Sports on Earth. He was also featured by The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis in the recent “Joe Buck Is Underrated” feature. He has great admiration from his peers, which is Clue No. 1 that maybe he’s not 100 percent evil personified – or at least, he’s competent at his job.

Obviously, though, the vast majority of the listening audience are not broadcast critics with a trained listening ear, so I decided to take a Twitter poll during the All-Star Game to see why, exactly, fans dislike Buck.

There were three major themes. The first: He criticized Randy Moss for his controversial mooning celebration in the 2004 playoffs. (I’d say it’s safe to assume this reasoning is limited to the Minnesota market.)

As Awful Announcing wrote in their Buck feature that was released Wednesday, Buck really couldn’t win in that particularly situation. “If Al Michaels had said the same thing, he would have been applauded for calling out Moss’ immaturity,” the Jim Weber article said. “But because of who called the game, somehow Buck ended up receiving the brunt of the criticism simply for chastising a crass gesture.”

My theory on this: Buck either mistook the celebration for something worse or misconstrued its meaning. Keep in mind, broadcasters are often positioned high above the field, far away from the action. If Buck wasn’t looking at his monitor, he may have been screened off by the goalpost and only been clued in by Cris Collinsworth shouting, “…Randy Moss shoots the moon to the fans here in Green Bay!” That could lead a man to think Moss had actually pulled his pants down. Or perhaps Buck thought Moss was imitating some kind of pole dance since he was right by the goalpost.

Either way, it’s OK to believe that Buck jumped the gun and shouldn’t have immediately lashed out and apologized for having the “disgusting act” shown live on the airwaves, but the fact that this call – Buck simply begging for decency – is following him around 11 ½ years later is criminal.

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The second major theme I discovered seems to stem directly from the aforementioned Moss incident. Minnesota fans think Buck is a cheesehead-wearing member of Packers Nation.

First of all, it’s hard to believe that Buck, who grew up in St. Louis, has any real Green Bay loyalty. More likely, he’s been put in positions to praise the Packers because, well, they’ve been really good for the last 20 years. Giving Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers praise is preaching to the choir – not bias. Favre was and Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer who have engineered dozens of victories and numerous game-winning drives on Buck’s watch. Bias would be if Buck insisted that Eddie Lacy was actually in better shape than Adrian Peterson, which is clearly ridiculous. If Buck is giving the Packers too much love, it’s probably because they deserve it, which no Vikings fan likes to hear.

There are some bad associations Vikings fans might have with Buck in addition to the mooning kerfuffle. He was at the mic for the Vikings-Packers game back in 2010 where Green Bay lambasted Minnesota at the Metrodome and got Brad Childress fired. He narrated the Vikings’ loss at Lambeau Field in 2012, as well as the dismantling at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015. He infamously called the team’s playoff loss to Philadelphia in 2008 and then the 2009 NFC Championship Game with Brett Favre throwing across his body to Tracy Porter.

To reverse things, Buck was also assigned the final six Packers games during their 2010 Super Bowl run – from Week 16 all the way through the title game. Bitter Vikings fans had to endure their greatest enemy winning a Lombardi Trophy with Buck on lead vocals. Had Mother Teresa been broadcasting that six-game stretch, Vikings fans would probably hate her, too.

The funny thing about bias is that it’s almost always perceived by a biased person. A quick search on Twitter reveals that Buck has managed to have a positive AND negative bias towards numerous professional franchises.

The Cubs

The Seahawks

The Yankees

And believe it or not, the Packers!

So yeah, either Buck is hyperactively switching loyalties on a broadcast-by-broadcast basis, or fans just use Buck as a scapegoat for negative things happening to their beloved squads.

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The third theme that manifested itself may best represent the nation as a whole: Buck is arrogant. The way he’s portrayed, you’d think he began each broadcast by saying, “Alongside Troy Aikman, I’m Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Joe Buck, God’s gift to broadcasting, and I’m married to a former NFL cheerleader.”

Here are a couple responses I got:

It’s tough for me to defend a man’s humility when I don’t know his heart. It’s entirely possible Buck is internally cocky. It’s also possible he’s misunderstood, and unfairly juxtaposed against his father, who was perhaps more relatable to the common man than Buck.

While Jack gave off the ‘Aw, shucks’ vibe of an uncle discussing the game in your living room, Joe is more commanding and decisive behind the mic. He’s got a great voice that gives each word a little more weight. But he’s also a minimalist, and early in his career he often elected to keep his voice down in big moments, which may have turned off fans looking for better sound bites and more emotional investment.

Fans equate the simplistic style with disinterest, and by extension, arrogance. The best ammunition Buck haters ever received was the interview he did with Colin Cowherd in 2008 where he jokingly claimed to enjoy watching The Bachelorette more than sports. To a Buck antagonist it may seem like the announcer tries harder to crack wise than call the game. He’d rather analyze the pad level of a squirrel, do a mocking role play of Johnny Manziel or continue to push the informal “I’m Joe, he’s Troy,” first-names-only intro. To a fan, these witty quirks are fun. To an enemy, they add fuel to the fire.

His worst offense? Deadpanning the call of David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” in Super Bowl XLII. Giants fans are still salty.

Again, there’s a double standard here. Buck’s revered predecessor Pat Summerall, notorious deadpanner (God rest his soul), called a game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI and sounded like he was playing a game of Monopoly, yet took no heat. Another iconic broadcasting voice, Mr. Vin Scully, is routinely praised for the way he allows the crowd to take over moments, occasionally bowing out for half a minute at a time. Why is the onus on Buck to force enthusiasm?

Perhaps because we now live in an era where broadcasters going bananas make great YouTube mashups (i.e., Gus Johnson, Kevin Harlan, Icelandic soccer commentators), Buck’s style evidently doesn’t fly with the masses, presumably since he didn’t get grandfathered into the less-is-more style. That’s a shame.

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Contrary to the allegations of arrogance, Buck is actually quite self-deprecating. He shot this parody in New York two years ago, which acknowledges how fans in the Big Apple apparently hate his guts. He filmed this All-Star Game intro at Target Field in 2014 where he gets “cut off” by Derek Jeter, who feigned annoyance at his presence in the A.L. locker room. He stumbled through several minutes of St. Louis Blues commentary during a guest appearance on their local broadcast, making no effort to pretend he knew how to announce hockey.

The best part of Buck is that he clearly sees the out-of-control criticism and uses it as part of his schtick. Instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, Buck is the first to acknowledge his cult of detractors. Until a recent change, his Twitter bio featured the line, “I don’t hate your team.”

Maybe you think he’s overexposed. Maybe you think he’s privileged. Maybe you hate his beard.

But it’s fair to say the general public dislikes Buck for all the wrong reasons when he is actually quite good in his vocation and is continuing to improve. After nearly losing his career to a vocal cord ailment in 2011, Buck seemed to rediscover his passion for broadcasting and has since delivered a handful of memorable calls that have even satisfied some of his critics. He paid homage to his late father with a well-timed “We’ll see you tomorrow night!” call in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, then rebooted “The Giants win the pennant!” in 2014. He also rose to the occasion on Percy Harvin’s Super Bowl XLVIII kickoff return and captured the emotion of Dustin Johnson’s missed putt to lose the 2015 U.S. Open.

In general, he’s discovered a more satisfying crescendo during games that has him punctuating more big moments than ever before, and critics should give him credit for that, at least.

I can’t make you love Buck’s announcing. That’s a personal preference. I would, however, encourage you to grade him on some realistic criteria, like his broadcasting ability. Is he correctly identifying the right storylines? Is he identifying the ballplayers and pronouncing their names properly? How is he interacting with his color man?

His FOX bosses aren’t keeping him around because he’s Jack Buck’s son; not after 20-plus years. They’re keeping him around because he’s a good play-by-play guy. I’ll leave the mic drop to @FourPuttBogey.

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