The Media Column: How Joe Buck has learned to ignore all of the things that people say about him

Alex Reimer
November 29, 2018 - 11:58 am

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Buck might be the most scrutinized sports announcer ever. Over the last two decades, he’s called 20 World Series, five Super Bowls and 19 MLB All-Star Games as Fox’s lead man for its NFL and baseball coverage. His baritone is omnipresent in living rooms across the country, serving as the understated narration for some of the most indelible moments in Boston sports history: Mientkiewicz flipping to Foulke, Tyree’s helmet catch, 28-3. 

In interviews, Buck likes to joke he’s probably angered every market in the country. That’s what happens when you take over for the beloved local guys right when the games start to get good. Every night for six months, fans listen to the same announcers live and die with each pitch. Then all of a sudden, in comes Joe Buck, who once said he would rather watch episodes of “The Bachelorette” instead of sports during the week.

Buck was being flippant, of course, but his comment went viral, as it often does. Unlike other contemporary sports broadcasting titans –– Jim Nantz, Al Michaels, Verne Lundquist –– Buck’s ascension coincided with the digital age. He was not universally accepted as part of our national sports folklore, leaving him open to the social media shrapnel. These days, it is commonplace for announcers to get skewered for even the slightest slip up –– I would know, because that is my unofficial beat for this fine website –– and Buck was one of the peanut gallery’s first targets. His condemnation of Randy Moss’ “disgusting act” at Lambeau Field fueled the content machine for days, making its way to seemingly every upstart sports blog of the mid-aughts.

Nowadays, Buck laughs at the Moss incident, burying the hatchet with the Hall of Fame wideout. When you talk to Buck about sports media coverage, he sounds detached, and frankly, it’s hard to blame him. During his first year on the Cardinals’ broadcasts, he was eviscerated in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The writer said it was ”insulting" that Jack Buck’s son was handed the Cardinals job, when so many other hardworking announcers were still scraping away in the minor leagues.

But that was forever ago. In his 24th-year at Fox, Buck has long shed the nepotism knock, and now become one of those broadcasting staples. The media coverage about him is now usually favorable, such as when supposed critics were fawning over his ability this fall to call both NFL and World Series games in the same week. (Buck, for the record, says he does not think anybody cares about his work schedule.) 

In a wide-ranging phone interview with WEEI.com, Buck expounded on his viewpoint towards the incessant coverage about him. We always talked about his perception of Tom Brady, and why he thinks he and Troy Aikman’s relationship with Bill Belichick has gone from an “F” to an “A.” Buck will be on the call for Vikings-Patriots at Gillette Stadium Sunday.

Alex Reimer: Do you like pulling double duty on Thursday Night Football?

Joe Buck: I think it’s good for Troy and me. It’s made us a little more loose, a little bit “fly by the seat of your pants.” I think we’ve both done the same amount of work going into the game, but instead of having six days to chew on an NFL matchup, I think it forces you to be a little more –– I don’t want to say “loose,” because that has a bad connotation –– but a little more light in your approach. I think, in this day and age, lighter is better. It’s just a football game.

AR: I actually noticed that when you guys did the Pats-Colts game a few weeks ago. You were jabbing at Troy a little bit. It seemed more conversational.

JB: Yeah, and that’s good. I think it’s good for him. People don’t want to believe me, but Troy is one of the funniest guys I know –– and I know a lot funny guys. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around lots of people who have been in movies, television, who are really clever and fun guys. He’s right there at the top. For so long, he had to be the voice of reason for the Dallas Cowboys, and the guy they would go to for some solid, “everybody give 110-percent” quote guy,” and I think as time has gone on –– we’ve been together now for 17 years –– I’ve been able to chip away at that. And he’s more willing to do it. It’s up to him to show his personality, and when he does, that’s when we are at our best.

AR: We talked about how you’re calling double the amount of football. During the (MLB) playoffs, there were lots of articles about your schedule. But I read an interview you did –– I think it was in St. Louis –– and you said you were embarrassed by the coverage. You didn’t think it was a big deal, because your dad had done it a lot. 

JB: I don’t think anybody cares. I think people on different websites that focus on announcing and how everybody sucks, they care, because it’s content. But growing up, my dad did baseball every Saturday, would do a Sunday night football game, Monday night football game, and come back and pick up the Cardinals wherever they were on Tuesday, and do a call-in radio show in the mornings. That’s way harder than anything I did. On top of that, I don’t care if I’m doing seven games per week. Nobody cares, they’re trying to watch the game. When you start making it about yourself –– it’s like when we did the double-duty in San Francisco in 2014. I was doing a 49ers game in the late afternoon and then did the Giants NLCS game. They put me on a trolley car, they were following it with a blimp. I was like, ‘My God, I just want to put my head down.’ I ran into the stadium, got there about 10 minutes before first pitch, and I was relieved I had gotten there, but also that the coverage was over. We laugh about it now, but man, it was embarrassing and dumb. The trolley car was going six miles per hour down the highway, and I almost missed the first pitch. 

AR: The funny thing is, if that happened today, and I was on our morning show the next day, we would make fun of you for that. We would say, “Joe Buck, what a hardo. Wow, he covers a football game in the afternoon, and then a baseball game at night.” It makes you look like a jackass.

JB: Yeah, and look, I get it. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that’s going to be fair game. And it’s there for a couple of hours, and it’s onto the next topic. But for me, that’s what I saw from my father. Not to make this syrupy, but my dad used to say, “If you were hit by a bus heading into the stadium, they’re still going to play the game.” Nobody cares whether you’re there or not. That’s kind of how I saw it as a little boy. I’d be a complete fraud if I now thought, “My God, everyone can’t wait to see the game I’m doing.” For the most part, nobody cares.

AR: Yeah, well you can say nobody cares and the games go on, but why do you think media stuff gets so many clicks? For us, whenever I write about ESPN, people go crazy.

JB: I talk to friends of mine who are in bands –– and I’m not name-dropping, just in general, people in movies or TV shows –– if you watch a TV show or go to that concert, you’re generally a fan of that performer. For me, people are stuck with me whether they love me or hate me. If you want to be loved in baseball, do local baseball. If you want to be hated, do national baseball. Once the local guys are out, and the national guys are in, you’re just going to get whacked around. I’ve done it for so long now, there isn’t a home market I haven’t pissed off. I think for people doing the games, the sports fan is way smarter now than when I started in 1994. If I had started now opposed to then, it would’ve been much rougher for me as a football announcer.

People think they know more than the announcer, and here’s a hint: they probably do. I haven’t seen 162 games. I get that. I just try to pick my spots, make the call and get out of the way. That’s the job of the national guy, opposed to the hometown guy who’s screaming, yelling and crying about what’s happening on the field.

AR: Did you always have this detached attitude about the coverage?

JB: No. I think it came with time. I was 21 years old and doing the Cardinals games. There was this brutal article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how it was an insult to Cardinals fans that this kid was doing it, because my last name was Buck. I had done two years of minor league baseball, but the gist of the article was, there are lots of guys working hard in the minors to get this opportunity, but he does because of his dad. I cried like a little baby. I was still living at home, about to move into my apartment, just out of college, and in my hometown newspaper, I read about how insulting it was that I was one of the Cardinals’ announcers. That began the education of what life is like in the public eye.

You’ve got to be an adult, and willing to put up with lots of more scrutiny than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As time has gone on, more and more people get your whacks at you, but you just have to grow a thick skin, and know if it’s not you sitting there taking the criticism, it will be the next person. I want everyone to love me, but that’s not going to happen. So I have to be aware of that, and be a man and take it. 

AR: Do you think that’s the most important trait for a big-time national broadcaster –– thick skin? Because for me, in my couple of years at EEI in talk radio, I would tell anybody who wants to do this that your skills are secondary to, “You’ve got to be able to take it.” If you’re going to melt every time you’re criticized, you could be the greatest radio host in the world, but you’re going to last one week. That’s similar to play-by-play?

JB: I definitely agree with that. I was reintroduced to that when Fox got golf, and the small golf world was like, “Oh my God, Joe Buck is doing it, and Greg Norman! The Fox cameras can’t follow the ball.” It’s Armageddon in the golf world. But eventually, you do it enough, people get used to it, and everyone moves on with their lives. I think that about anybody who’s trying something new in the public view. You better be willing to put up with online, how awful you are, and hold your head up, and know unless it’s your boss tweeting you’re terrible, or unless it’s the other people that do what you do, there really aren’t a lot of people put there who have sat in that sat. They don’t know what it’s like when the light goes on. Until they sit there, they’re just spitballing insults, and you have to power through it. If you take all of that to heart, you wouldn’t be able to say a word. You can’t do it.

AR: I think the Monday night booth is a great example of that. When you watch a game, you’re looking out for (Jason) Witten’s cliches, or Joe Tess’ cheesy jokes. The perception becomes reality.

JB: The Monday night guys are going to have to power through this. The perception is, like you said, all of those criticisms. I’ve talked to Jason about it. I know him enough to say, “You’re going to have to throw your phone away, get off Twitter, have your wife get off Twitter, and forget about it.” Once that creeps into your head and you start getting scared, you’re done. I’m proud at Jason for being able to laugh at it, and put it to the side. When the game starts, you do the same. If your bosses think you’re good enough, they’ll give you another contract. If not, they’ll find somebody else. It doesn’t matter what Twitter says, because Twitter is a fickle, unsatisfiable entity. It’s the complaint box. If you go there looking for compliments, that happens once every 40 tweets. You have to put that out of your head, or you’re going trip all over yourself.

AR: Why do you think Brady is so loathed nationally? Is it the five Super Bowl rings, or is there more to it? Because the worst thing he’s ever done is allegedly deflate footballs, or have knowledge of it.

JB: The world is a nasty place, and people are jealous. The guy has got it all. He’s the sixth-round pick, overtakes Drew Bledsoe for the starting job, beats the Rams, marries Gisele (Bundchen), everything he touches turns to gold. He’s good-looking. He’s got the lifestyle that makes everybody go, "Oh, that guy." But you’ve got to admit the guy is incredible, and has had this unbelievable run that we’ve never seen. But it’s not surprising people are jealous of him. And about people throwing rocks at him on Twitter, who cares?

AR: So how about Peyton Manning? He has a lot of those things, but he’s much more beloved nationally than Brady. Maybe it’s the looks –– Brady is a much better looking guy.

JB: That’s probably part of the equation. And Brady has won five Super Bowls, and it seems like he plays in every one of them. Peyton won it twice, and had to go to a pretty stacked Denver team at the end to get a second one. He’s also hosted SNL, been in these commercials, and has been able to make fun of himself. He seems a lot more relatable to the average person. I think people who can laugh at themselves, and legit deliver funny stuff, that translates to the average person –– "I like that guy." Tom seems a little more untouchable. 

AR: “Joe Buck says Tom Brady isn’t funny.” I have the headline for my piece.

JB: I’ll sue you, because I never said that. 

AR: Last thing: do you like (Bill) Belichick? You’re meeting with him this week. Do you enjoy those interactions?

JB: Our relationship with Bill has gone from an “F” to a borderline “A.”

AR: What’s the key?

JB: The key is he and Troy. Bill was always really –– and I know this will surprise you –– guarded with information. A lot of coaches are that way publicly, but then you’ll go into a production meeting and they’ll show you all of their cards. But Bill always played everything close to the vest. 

But as time as gone on, Bill is really close with Jimmy (Johnson), Troy loves Jimmy Johnson, and I think Jimmy has brokered, “Hey, this is a really good trustworthy guy.” The last time we did the Super Bowl against Atlanta, the production meeting was unbelievable. So I think a lot of it is familiarity. But that’s Bill. You see one persona in public, and in private it’s kind of the same. But you can talk to him about other stuff. We’ll start talking about baseball, Tony La Russa, the evolution of the passing game, and he’ll go on forever and is absolutely brilliant. But you start talking to him about the team? Years ago, you could barely get out of him that Brady was the quarterback for that week. But now we’ve gone the other way, and it’s great. 

AR: What do you mean he’s gone the other way? How far has he gone?

JB: He will give stuff to Troy, privately, that Troy can use as background knowledge heading into a game that, let’s say, six or seven years ago he probably wouldn’t have gotten.

AR: Why, though? Troy Aikman was always Troy Aikman. Is it because he’s proven he’s a committed broadcaster?

JB: Yeah, I think that’s right. I also think Bill has softened over time. For as much as he’s consistent in front of the camera, I think he’s lightened up off the camera. You see that with some of the things he’s been able to do. My God, he read our tease for the World Series. I don’t know if that happens 10 years ago. I think Bill is a little, and this is me just talking, but when I’ve been around him, I enjoy talking to him about all kinds of different topics. But I think he’s lightened up a little bit away from the spotlight. You realize life is short, and reaching out and having an honest conversation, no matter what you do in the world, can add to your experience. I think he’s been more willing to do that. 

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Celtics ratings just as disappointing as their play: The Celtics are off to a lackluster start, and so are their ratings. Their recent Saturday night contest against the Mavericks drew a 2.5 household rating for men 25-54, according to a source. For comparison’s sake, the Celtics attracted an average number of 3.24 last season.

The ratings should increase as the season progresses, but the low figure is a reminder the NBA regular season is just as, if not more tedious, than the much-maligned six-month baseball schedule. The NBA is the most-tweeted about sports league in the country, so it appears more popular on social media than it actually is –– at least in this market.

Boston Herald’s alternative universe: Last week, the Boston Herald published scores of trite anti-weed op-eds from hackneyed luminaries such as Joe Fitzgerald and Jaclyn Cashman. But the paper ignored the biggest story in Boston media: Kirk Minihane leaving WEEI for RADIO.COM. Even NECN has gotten in on the action at this point. 

The Herald is understaffed, and every reporter there is doing the best they can. But they still put out a paper every day. How can Kirk’s departure not even be worth a mention?

Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. 

Adam Schefter’s weird couple of weeks: It's been a bad stretch for Schefty when it comes to Browns news. Earlier this month, Schefter reported the Browns were slated to interview Condoleezza Rice for their head coaching vacancy, which they swiftly denied. This week, Schefter falsely reported the Browns had claimed linebacker Reuben Foster on waivers. The Redskins were the only team that touched the alleged domestic abuser.

It looks like it’s time for Schefter to find some new sources in Cleveland. 

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