Legendary college basketball announcer Billy Packer died Thursday at the age of 82 after calling 34 Final Fours during his career.
For 18 of those years, Packer worked alongside play-by-play man Jim Nantz.
Nantz, who will call his last Final Four in Houston, Texas, in April, paid tribute to his friend and colleague Friday.
BILLY PACKER, VOICE OF THE FINAL FOUR AND LEGENDARY COLLEGE BASKETBALL BROADCASTER, DEAD AT 82
“I think Billy will go down in history as one of the greatest analysts in the history of sports television. I think that when you start looking at the pantheon of great analysts, you’ve got John Madden and you’ve got Billy Packer. And you start right there,” Nantz said Friday on “CBS Mornings.”
“He blessed this network for a long time, from 1982 until he retired in 2008. One of my dearest friends. It’s been a restless night thinking of the family, the Packer family, which I’m very close to. I got to speak to Billy the day before he died and tell him I loved him.
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“He was a genius. There was no one who could just look at the field — in this case, look at the court — and see everything. He’s going to be very much missed, but he loved college basketball, and he looked after it as a guardian of this sport. And he’s just a giant. And a giant heart, that’s all I can tell you.”
Nantz said that his friend’s “greatest fulfillment” was as a husband looking after his wife as she dealt with health issues over the last 15-20 years of her life.
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Packer died from kidney failure after spending the past three weeks in a Charlotte hospital, according to The Associated Press.
Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008 after calling every Final Four from 1975 to 2008.
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“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Packer’s son, Mark Packer, told the AP. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”
Packer began his broadcasting career in 1974 when he joined NBC, later moving to CBS in 1981.