Joe Buck hasn’t been heard on television in Boston since … well, if you’re a local NFL fan, since Thursday night, when he called the Saints-Cowboys game along with Troy Aikman on Fox.
But Buck, who has narrated some of the greatest moments in this city’s recent sports history, hasn’t been heard in Boston calling one of the local franchise’s high-profile games in almost five weeks now, when he and John Smoltz were the broadcast pairing during the Red Sox’ World Series victory over the Dodgers.
He’ll be back at it again Sunday when he joins Aikman to call the Patriots’ matchup with the Vikings. I caught up with him this week to talk about Boston fans, reaction to his comments about the state of baseball, and more.
Q. You get to call one or two Patriots games per year. What’s your perception of this team coming into this game? They’re 8-3 and right in the thick of the AFC race as usual, but locally it feels like there’s more skepticism about where they’re headed than there should be.
A. Patriots fans are knee-deep in [Tom] Brady and [Bill] Belichick and you see the flaws a lot more than we do on the outside. We come in, and first of all you’re excited to do a game that Brady’s playing. Then you start looking at the numbers and you recognize that this is a team that is probably bound for a first-round bye again.
I’m sure there are cracks, but there are cracks every year, and there are times in the past where you can look back and say, maybe now it’s ending. After the Super Bowl last year, Brady throws for 500-plus yards, and you turn on one of those morning screamfest shows the next day and the headline is, “Is this finally it for Brady?’’ The guy threw for 500 yards!
It’s remarkable how quick everybody is to point out what’s wrong with Brady, or to question whether Father Time is finally winning this battle, but reality in the moment is that their one of the two or three teams to beat in the AFC, and if you’re Kansas City, or Pittsburgh, or Houston, nobody – nobody – wants to go to Foxborough and play Tom Brady in January.
Going into this, it feels to me like the typical Patriots, about to play another well-played game. And until I see different with my eyes, I’m going to go into every Patriots game that way every time.
Q. You called Red Sox-Yankees games before the curse was broken. You called the ’04 World Series and the other three Red Sox championships this century. You’ve called a couple of Patriots Super Bowls, including the comeback from 28-3 against the Falcons. You probably have a better grasp on what makes Boston fans tick than almost any national voice. What are your thoughts on this market and how it treats and responds to its teams?
A. I live in St. Louis. This isn’t to denigrate St. Louis in any way, I just think people around here are more easily swept up in a good story and wanting to believe in a local team. In Boston I think it always comes with some skepticism.
There is nothing at all wrong with that. I tend to lean that way myself. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in this business a long time now. But not everything is as perfect as the ultimate fan wants to think it is sometimes. There are problems with every team. Most of the time it’s about which team can put its problems to the side the best.
Look at the Red Sox. They were the best team in baseball all season. They were clearly the class of the postseason, winning all three postseason series on the road. Nothing bothered them. Nothing. They were down in the Rich Hill game [Game 4 of the World Series, which they rallied to win 9-6 after trailing 4-0 in the seventh inning] and they didn’t appear worried at all. They seemed to truly believe they were going to get something done, and they did. They were clearly a team that was built for their market.
It’s the same way with the Patriots. Eventually they feel like they’re going to find a way to get it done. I think like Red Sox fans, they’ll see the flaws, but in my life it’s like the analogy to twins. My wife and I just had twins 7 months ago, and I know the deal with twins: I’m going to pound on my brother, but you try to pound on my brother, I’m going to pound on you. That’s how I see it with Boston fans as the guy calling it. They might moan and groan about their teams, but when the guy from the outside gets inside the bubble and starts pointing out flaws, bring a helmet because it can get ugly.
Q. Any blowback on your comments to WEEI earlier this week about baseball’s pace-of-play and aesthetic problems?
A. I think I’ve done enough – I’ve done 21 World Series now – that I’m allowed an opinion. I think what was taken out of context on a story that was picked up and rehashed from what I told WEEI is what I said at the beginning of it. I was asked why the ratings were down, and my answer was that no matter whether it’s 2018 or 2001, if you get just four or five games, things are going to be down, and if you get six or seven games, they’re going to be up. You depend upon the casual fan once you get to a do or die, and I don’t think it matters much who the teams are. I think it’s just how it is. My answer to why the ratings were down was that there wasn’t enough volume, though [18-inning] Game 3 kind of made it feel like there was.
It’s funny that the perception now is that if you don’t like the way the game is trending, with all the home runs and strikeouts and not as much nuance, then you hate the game. I feel like it’s the opposite of that. A lot of people that love the game worry about where some of the analytics are driving these at-bats.
I guess we all live in an age where people are going to pluck out of a conversation what they want. I grew up in the game. John Smoltz devoted his literal professional and sometimes personal life to the game. You care so much that you want to make sure that it’s headed in the right direction.
Boston won that series not by going up there thinking launch angle every single time and trying to hit a home run, but by having the consistently better at-bats. At some point, getting on base, and stealing a key base, and situational hitting, and of course hitting timely home runs, all of that matters, and it matters more in October than any other time.