When Joe Buck is calling a game involving a Boston sports team, that usually means something important and frequently fulfilling is happening for the locals.
As the longtime lead play-by-play voice for the NFL and MLB on Fox Sports, Buck has called all four Red Sox World Series victories, perfecting the call during the cathartic 2004 win (“Red Sox fans have longed to hear it …”). He also called their Super Bowl victories over the Eagles (XXXIX) and Falcons (LI), and the first loss to the Giants (XLII).
Buck and color analyst Troy Aikman have Thursday night’s Patriots-Giants matchup on Fox, and while this hardly carries the magnitude of a postseason game, it still has something of a big-event feel.
Part of it is that with Fox carrying NFC games, it’s rare for Buck and Aikman to have a regular-season Patriots game. Part of it is that Buck in particular is already so associated with unforgettable moments in Boston sports. And part of it is that it could be a teaser to what might be ahead for the 5-0 Patriots — Buck and Aikman will have the call of Super Bowl LIV in Miami in February.
“I think there’s also a little bit of newness to us calling a Patriots game that works, too,’’ said Buck, who is in his busiest time of the year, with the NFL in full swing and the MLB playoffs underway. “We’re not talking to Tom Brady every week, we’re not talking to Bill Belichick every week. We talk to Dak Prescott a lot, we talk to Aaron Rodgers a lot, and by the end of the season when you’re so familiar, there’s not a hell of a lot to talk about.”
Buck said it’s enjoyable to have a chance to study up on and watch a team that they don’t get to see much in the regular season.
“The Patriots always have a big-event feel nowadays, no matter what point we are during the season,’’ he said. “And of course, you have to discuss them in a way that appeals or is relatable to a national audience.
“I learned that in baseball, with whether it was the curse and everybody in Boston was saying, ‘Shut up, you’re talking about the [expletive] curse again.’ Believe me, I know, but that’s part of the story here in 2004, a huge part of the context of what the Red Sox were trying to overcome. It’s kind of a big deal to the national audience. It’s a part of the narrative. I know you’re tired of it, and I understand, but it’s part of the narrative and you have to go back over it.
“You do that with football too, except the history is different with the Patriots, obviously. I think sometimes you guys take it for granted. When you step back, the Tom Brady thing is just mind-blowing to me. In an era of free agency in every sport, this is an outlier. This is the one guy with the one coach who succeed at an exceptional level over and over again.”
Buck has an interesting bit of context to offer here that I suspect we may hear on Thursday’s broadcast.
“They won their first Super Bowl before Eli Manning was even in the NFL,’’ he says with incredulity. “Eli Manning is this rock, he wins two Super Bowls — yeah, against New England — and yet Brady started before him, has outlasted him, and in 2019 is the favorite to win again. That’s amazing to me, and I think sometimes that gets lost. You just don’t see it in any sport, and so it’s cool for us to be near it and watch it first-hand instead of on my TV.”
The first time Buck interacted with Belichick during the broadcast team’s standard sit-down with the head coach was during the buildup to the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl in February 2005.
“I think he was hesitant to be really open,’’ said Buck. “He didn’t know me at all, and wanted to talk about a little bit of baseball as we sat down. That was when I was with Troy and Cris [Collinsworth]. I think he was guarded, and I think as the years have gone on, he’s been less and less guarded.”
Buck said Aikman, a Hall of Fame quarterback whose first two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys (1989–90) coincided with Belichick’s final two seasons as the Giants defensive coordinator in the late-’80s/early-’90s mighty NFC East, has built a particularly strong rapport with the coach.
“I think we’re smart enough to know that Troy is going to get the best information and the information that Troy needs if they talk privately,’’ said Buck. “And I think Bill trusts Troy to kind of filter the information in a way that benefits the broadcast, but doesn’t reveal too much. I think there’s a really strong bond and a lot of mutual respect between those two guys. And so I’m more than willing and happy to get the notes from Troy and to talk to Troy about his conversations with Bill.
“I will cleverly say on the broadcast, ‘Troy, when you talk with Bill’ — actually, that’s not that clever — ‘this was a topic that came up.’ And Troy will just get into what he wants to reveal from the conversation.”
Buck said he learned as a young broadcaster covering the Cardinals in the early ’90s that on a day-to-day basis, a broadcaster can get a lot of information, but not all of it is useable. It is, however, valuable.
“About 80 percent of it is not stuff for the air, but your own personal base of knowledge,’’ he said. “Sometimes it gives you real clarity, like in baseball in a way a manager is using a bullpen, you can put stuff you ask about in context with what you know even if you can’t flat-out say what’s going on sometimes.
“The same applies here. You get a ton of information, and then it’s up to you how you use it. And then depending how you use it, well, we’ll see if you get the information again. And that’s the test.
“I think we’ve passed the test with Bill, and Troy certainly has passed the test with Bill.”