Joe Buck loves Philadelphia, even if the city and its fans doesn’t always love him back.
The longtime Fox Sports broadcaster, in his 25th season calling NFL games, will be at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday to do the play-by-play for the Eagles’ pivotal Week 16 matchup against Dallas that will likely decide the winner of the NFC East. Joining him will be longtime partner Troy Aikman, the Cowboys’ Hall of Fame quarterback, and sideline reporter Erin Andrews.
Some pundits have been sour on the game, casting it aside as a matchup between two .500 teams fighting over the right to lose in the first round of the playoffs. But Buck said despite their records and the state of the NFC East, the game feels massively important, which is why most of the country will have it beamed to their televisions at 4:25 p.m. Sunday.
“I know everybody wanted to hold their nose and say these teams have been disappointing, but once that ball is in the air nobody is going to care about that,” Buck told the Inquirer. “It doesn’t matter how you get into the playoffs. The last two division winners that have finished under .500 (Carolina, 7-8-1 in 2014 and Seattle, 7-9 in 2010) both won a playoff game ... ”
Over the years, Buck has had his fair share of run-ins with Philly sports fans, both positive and negative. As a kid, he spent part of his summers growing up on the road at baseball games with his father, longtime St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck. One afternoon when he was about 10, Buck was dressed as a batboy running around the outfield of Veterans Stadium shagging fly balls when he heard a Phillies fan yell at him from the stands.
"I was a little fat kid and some fan was yelling out, ‘It says BB, it should be FB for fat boy!’ " Buck recalled. “I wasn’t emotionally equipped to handle getting ripped. But it was an early initiation [to criticism]. The rest of this is nothing.”
In a phone conversation earlier this week, Buck discussed the criticism he often gets from fans, his disdain for social media, and his fondness of Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese.
Buck has been calling games alongside Aikman for 18 seasons (three with current Sunday Night Football anchor Cris Collinsworth, 15 as a duo). Over that time, the two have become close friends and have such a good relationship in the booth they can communicate with subtle shifts and the occasional tug on the arm.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Aikman’s future in the booth after he revealed earlier this month he’s interested in running an NFL team’s front office. Buck said it’s a desire that Aikman has had for a long time, but his interest has increased recently due to the success of contemporaries John Elway in Denver and John Lynch in San Francisco.
“He is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met,” Buck said. “It’s why he doesn’t play golf anymore. It drove him nuts not to be great and to lose to people who were 25 years older than him. It drove him crazy, and he couldn’t handle it."
“[In] broadcasting, whether you doing a good job or not, it’s subjective. It’s really up to the ears of the listener … there’s no scoreboard, no tally that says you were better than everybody else that day,” Buck added. “I think he misses the winning, not to get too Charlie Sheen on you.”
Of course, if Aikman does return to the league, it would mean Buck would have to develop a new routine and relationship with a different analyst. As a broadcaster, it’s something Buck has been forced to do in the past — his first on-air NFL partner at Fox Sports in 1994 was former Falcons linebacker Tim Green. But it’s certainly not something he looks forward to.
“It’s not fun. It doesn’t always work. And there are plenty of examples over the years where it really hasn’t,” Buck said. “Everybody’s good during the audition and at the dinner table. But when that broadcast light comes on, it’s a different game. So it’s nothing I want to do.”
Buck was once driven off Twitter for a year in part because of the harsh comments he received while calling a 2015 Phillies-Red Sox game. Today it seems like there’s even less tolerance for sports broadcasters, and small mistakes are amplified and spread on social media the second they’re made. As a result, Buck said he rarely spends time on Twitter (and never while he’s calling a game). He sends most comments he thinks might interest his 218,000 followers to a publicist to post on his account.
“When my dad was [calling games], somebody would have to send a letter to complain,” Buck said. “Now, people just pull out their phones and it becomes a who-can-top-the-last-person ripping the announcer. It’s just not a lot of fun.”
Despite the passion that surrounds football games, Buck said it’s actually baseball fans who tend to be the nastiest on social media. It makes sense, considering fans watch local TV announcers who focus on the home team for the bulk of the 162-game season, and only hear national announcers like Buck during big games.
“I’ve done baseball now for 22 World Series, so that means … 22 times I’ve ticked people off because I’m screaming and yelling for the other team, and they’re mad because their team lost,” Buck said. “It’s a no-win situation.”
Thanks to Fox carrying the NFC package, Buck has called his fair share of Eagles games over the years. As a result, he’s had the opportunity to spend some time hearing and speaking to Reese, the longtime 94.1 WIP broadcaster. Not surprisingly, Buck’s a fan.
“He’s great. His emotions are on his sleeve,” Buck said. “I almost hear some of my dad because I feel like there’s almost a crackle in his voice due to excitement when the team’s playing well, or the dejection when somebody completes a big pass or gets a touchdown against Philly.”
Buck said Philly sports fans have been blessed to have great broadcasters like Reese over the years, where the emotion is genuine and their passion for the teams they call is off the charts. Not surprising, it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas.