I’ve taken some unpopular stands in my time at OnMilwaukee and distributed my share of stupid opinions, as required by the Sports Media Hot Take Association of America. That’s especially true when it comes to the Green Bay Packers.
Last year, I received a chiding letter from the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau for a story about how Packers rookies found the town – shocker! – kind of boring. I named kicker Mason Crosby the team’s 2015 MVP, which wasn’t everyone’s favorite choice. Because I’m a Milwaukee homer, I predicted undrafted rookie safety and city native Marwin Evans would "save" Green Bay’s injury-depleted secondary earlier this season (he didn't). And I also wrote a column in November that began with an obituary to the Packers’ seven-season playoff run, burying them before they ran the table and then won their Wild Card Round playoff game against the Giants on Sunday.
So I’m no stranger to sort of sucking when it comes to covering Green Bay and eliciting the deserved ire of populist cheeseheads.
Having said all that, I have one final fight to wage with Green and Gold fans, the ultimate detestable Take Hill on which I am prepared to die. Are you ready for it? Here it is: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman really are not a couple of bad, anti-Packers derps. In fact, they are good. Literally, it is a fact that they are good. Buck and Aikman have been FOX’s No. 1 broadcast team since 2002, a run that exceeds even the network’s venerated, decade-plus Pat Summerall-John Madden pairing. No one's more bottom-line results-oriented than TV executives, and they've kept the duo together for nearly 15 years. Buck is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer and Aikman is a three-time Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer. But enough about facts. This was never about facts.
Because the internet is the internet, we currently have a Change.org petition circulating to "Get Troy Aikman and Joe Buck banned from announcing Green Bay Packer's (sic) games." The idea behind the plea is understandable and fair enough. After all, many people find Buck impossibly boring and view Aikman as both somewhat dim and a former Cowboy who, therefore, must inherently hate the Packers. Fine.
Here is the wording of the petition, which notes that it will be delivered to the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell and FOX News:
"This is a petition to get Joe Buck and Troy Aikman banned from announcing/commentating on the Green Bay Packers.
On behalf of the Green Bay Packers fans across the world, we would like action taken to prohibit them from giving their constant negative input about our team. We are sick of the biased announcing always coming from them."
That's just one dude's petition, and it only has 1,300 supporters, as of Monday afternoon. But the attitude is widespread, in homes and bars and on Twitter, every time the Packers play a game on FOX worked by Buck and Aikman.
As Buck discussed – honestly, in great detail and presumably with his eyes rolled all the way back into his brain – in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story from two years ago, the veteran broadcaster is always incredulous at the sentiment that he is biased against Green Bay. "It's equal parts funny and frustrating," he said. "It's just baffling to me."
Paid a great deal of money to objectively call the game, Buck is just like almost any sports media member – rooting for a good story, regardless the result, rather than for or against a particular team. Was he obnoxiously Pollyannic after Randy Moss pantomimed mooning the Lambeau Field crowd in 2005? Absolutely, but that wasn’t anti-Packers. Was he critical of Crosby’s struggles in 2012? Yes, but the kicker was enduring the worst slump of his career and was, statistically, terrible. Of course, there are plenty of in-game moments when Buck says something unfavorable about the Packers, but that’s his job.
I’ve always found Buck to be one of the best announcers in all of sports. At times, I do find his voice and reactions to underserve the emotion of a big moment, but he’s not a diehard at a bar. Not everyone is national treasure/over-caffeinated shouter Gus Johnson, who’s now a Bucks broadcaster, and not everyone needs to be. Vin Scully didn’t stick around for nearly seven decades because he bellowed out every Dodgers home run.
Buck – and many others, like Cris Collinsworth on a Bill Simmons podcast a few months ago – says he hears the same complaints from every fan base in every city. The negative, he’s-against-us perception is especially interesting in Wisconsin, where Brewers play-by-play man Brian Anderson has a similarly low-key style but is beloved locally and is generally considered to be one of the best in the business. But we Milwaukeeans do love our own and warily distrust those Big City Outsiders. Plus, Buck is from St. Louis and his dad Jack was the longtime famous Cardinals announcer, so that doesn’t help his reputation here.
As for Aikman, well … yeah, he’s not my favorite. Despite being the color guy in a two-man booth and ostensibly the expert analyst, he seems to have no problem saying "You know, Joe, I’m really not sure" about 20 times a game. On Sunday, while referencing that Aaron Rodgers hadn’t been sacked in the Packers-Giants Week 5 matchup, Aikman said, "I'm not sure he was even touched." Well, thanks to easily available statistics, we know that Rodgers was hit three times, which is the kind of relevant research and basic preparation expected of national TV broadcasters.
But having said that, he is simply not a Packers hater – neither by nature of being an ex-Cowboy nor by nature of being a person who talks about the Packers but isn’t a fan or paid employee of the team and occasionally has to say unhappy things about them. Because of his appreciation for great quarterback play, he’s often sounded wildly enthusiastic about Rodgers’ incredible performances. (Listen to OnMilwaukee staff writers Jimmy Carlton and Matt Mueller discuss the Packers' playoff win, the upcoming Cowboys game and the Buck-Aikman duo in The Postgame Tailgate podcast here.)
In the Journal Sentinel story, Aikman had this to say about fans’ feelings: "It's just the nature of the business. It's not isolated to me or Joe or one crew. There was a petition for Phil Simms not to do Denver games. It's part of the job. Joe probably said it best: Fans say, 'We want you to be unbiased,' but they really don't. They want you to be biased toward their team."
Irrespective of that, and despite sometimes not being the most eloquent speaker, Aikman is – like Madden before him – phenomenally insightful and discerning of actual football things in the games. The former quarterback has a knack for predicting, or at least suggesting, a particular play is coming, like he did on Randall Cobb’s crossing route out of the slot and touchdown reception in the third quarter. He’s a stick-to-football guy, for sure, but he is useful.
Buck and Aikman are good at what they do. If you don’t like them, that’s cool, just pull a dad move, mute the TV and put on headphones of the radio broadcast, with the trusted, warm and unabashedly pro-Packers voices of Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren. Or complain about it on Twitter or start a petition, I guess I don’t actually care. It’s almost lunch time; I’ll find a different unpopular hill on which to die.
But enjoy Packers-Cowboys, everyone! The Division Round playoff game in Dallas is Sunday at 3:40 p.m. It will be on FOX and it will assuredly be broadcast by Buck and Aikman, who are not bad and do not hate your team.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.