Do a web search on Joe Buck. A lot of people dislike him. A lot of people hate him. A lot of people think he sucks.
Reading some of the comments about Joe Buck usually reveals that people hate him for one of three reasons. 1. People think he is a pompous prick. It is hard to argue with this one, since he does leave the impression that he is in fact a pompous prick. 2. People think he is disinterested in the sports that he covers. Maybe he is bored because he has been to so many games. Maybe his interest is lacking because he doesn’t have to invest a substantial portion of his disposable income to purchase a ticket, parking, and maybe a couple of beers. 3. People think he is a beneficiary of nepotism. It is hard to argue that Joe Buck would have been given an opportunity as a sports announcer had his father not come before him.
All of these are superficial. None of these are the true reason why people hate Joe Buck, and why people think Joe Buck sucks. I am about to tell you the real reason.
The reason why people hate Joe Buck and think Joe Buck sucks is because he is bad at his job.
Maybe I am spoiled. I grew up in the Chicagoland area. My dad was a huge Bears fan (still is), and I remember watching many, many Bears games as an adolescent. My dad used to do something during the Bears games that, as a kid, I never gave much thought. Before the game started, he would turn on the TV, and turn the volume down all the way. Then he would turn the radio on, and tune to WGN-AM 720, where Wayne Larrivee handled play-by-play duties.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad was among what was likely tens of thousands of other Chicagoans who did the exact same thing. Maybe it is because radio featured more prominently in their lives than television as they were coming of age. Maybe it is because the Chicago Blackhawks had the strictest of blackout rules, forcing Chicago hockey fans to listen to games on the radio if they wanted to follow the Hawks, and that carried over to football. Both seem plausible.
But maybe, just maybe, the reason they preferred the radio play-by-play is because they recognized that the TV equivalent was a far inferior product. This seems extremely likely and– coming back to topic– Joe Buck is the quintessential example as to why this is the case.
Try this. Turn on a game that Joe Buck is announcing. Turn the volume up, and go sit in a different room so you can hear the audio, but not see the television. As the play-by-play announcer, it is Joe Buck’s job to be your eyes. In theory, Joe Buck should paint a picture as he describes all of the important events as they occur, hence play-by-play. In practice, you will be almost completely lost.
You will find that Joe Buck does an extremely poor job at informing the audience and describing critical facets of the game. In particular, here are some areas where I find Joe Buck to be lacking:
- Pre-snap down, distance, and position on the field. It is essential that this critical information is relayed to the audience every single play. Joe Buck often neglects this responsibility. You will often get down, sometimes get distance, and rarely get position. This leaves the viewer to shift their focus from the actual game to a tiny down and distance graphic, then to the field to determine field position. It becomes fatiguing.
- Pre-snap offensive formation and motion. As it is the offense that primarily drives the game, it is important to provide insight that may not otherwise be readily observed by a casual viewer. Joe Buck almost always fails to describe game elements such as as whether the quarterback is in the shotgun formation, or how many backs / which backs are in what formation. I don’t know if I have ever heard Joe Buck describe pre-snap motion. If I have, it has been extremely rare.
- Actual details of the play as it unfolds. Joe Buck is so lacking in this aspect– the main duty of a play-by-play announcer– that it would be hard to detail without writing another thousand words. If you have, as I suggested, tried to follow a game with audio only, it should be extremely apparent that Joe Buck does an incredibly poor job of filling in the details. Sometimes he says nothing. Sometimes he just says a player’s name, like he just did in the SF @ CAR divisional playoff game that I am watching (“Newton,” is all he said). Sometimes he is so busy talking about something completely unrelated to the ongoing play that he fails to offer any description of the play as it unfolds. Rarely does Joe Buck provide a thorough and informative account of what is occurring during a particular play.
I think Joe Buck would be well served to follow my suggestion himself. My suspicion is that he is so far removed from what it is like to be an actual sports fan that he simply does not know that he is not very good at what he does. It seems that he is almost comparable to a twelve term congressman who long ago lost perspective on what it is like to be an average Joe. He may mean well, but his ignorance is apparent to any observer who can look past the superficial in a critical fashion.
I also think Joe Buck would be well served to listen to the broadcasts of other announcers, even in other sports. Listen to Jeff Joniak do the play-by-play for a Bears game. That guy keeps you informed and entertained. He is enthusiastic. He is memorable (his call of “Devin Hester, you are ridiculous” has been featured on many television highlight reels). He is everything that Joe Buck is not. Tune into a Blackhawks television broadcast with Pat Foley. Listen as he establishes the cadence necessary to cover ten minutes of non-stop play. Listen as he weaves play-by-play with almost continuous player substitutions. Listen as he effortlessly shifts from offensive to defensive coverage, sometimes every few seconds. Listen to how he paints a picture that informs the viewer, and reinforces what the viewer sees.
I think Joe Buck could be a good announcer. Unfortunately, I have seen no improvement in his play-by-play technique over the years. I expect no improvement in the future.