1983 | Billy Packer's N.C. State call: 'They won it! ... On the dunk!'

Former announcer Billy Packer says his final call was instinctive, a natural reaction to the shocking end

ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2012 

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CBS announcer Billy Packer, left, interviews N.C. State seniors Thurl Bailey, Dereck Whittenburg, and Sidney Lowe after the Wolfpack won the National Championship on April 4, 1983. The Wolfpack won the game 54-52.

MIKE SARGENT — News and Observer file photo

Having seen N.C. State play several times during the regular season, ACC tournament and NCAA tournament, Billy Packer knew better than anyone else just how good the Wolfpack was in 1983 – and how Dereck Whittenberg’s mid-season ankle injury skewed everyone else’s perceptions.

Going into the Final Four, the broadcaster had carried on a running conversation with Jim Valvano that lasted months, from game to game to game, right up to the final weekend in Albuquerque, N.M., where Packer and play-by-play announcer Gary Bender would call the Final Four for CBS.

“I’ll never forget, he came out for the Friday shootaround, and some friend hollered out, ‘You going to win something? ’ (Valvano) said, ‘I’m just happy to be here’ and started laughing,” Packer said. “He turned to me and said, “I just hope we’re competitive against Georgia.’ ”

The Wolfpack was more than competitive, beating Georgia to advance to the championship game, and when Lorenzo Charles dunked Whittenburg’s airball to seal the upset of Houston and the national title for N.C. State, it was Packer whose words put the final stamp of authority on the amazing turn of events.

“They won it! … On the dunk!” Packer screamed, the soundtrack to the pandemonium breaking out on the floor in front of him.

His memories of that game are as strong as ever, from the consensus that Saturday night’s semifinal between Houston and Louisville – a game that featured more dunks than a Harlem Globetrotters practice – was the real national championship to his amazement when Valvano had N.C. State come out playing at the same fast pace as Houston.

As Packer said during the broadcast, “This has to shake up Houston a little bit, because everybody around town talked about a delay game, but that’s not the case.”

That kept the Wolfpack in it until the Cougars started to pull away in the second half. Up seven, Houston coach Guy Lewis decided to slow the pace to lock down the win – inadvertently letting N.C. State back into the game.

“Had they continued, there was no doubt in my mind, at that fast tempo, at that pace, I don’t think State could have kept up,” Packer said.

It came down to the final possession, when Thurl Bailey fed Whittenburg well beyond the top of the key, the pass flying just past the fingertips of Houston’s Benny Anders, and Whittenburg – who was making just about everything in the second half – heaved up a desperation shot.

“The problem was, and (Whittenburg) and I have kidded about this a hundred times, he was about two steps beyond his range, two steps farther than where he should have been to receive that pass in shooting range,” Packer said. “The only reason Benny didn’t pick that off was because Dereck was out of position. He ended up launching that shot that turned out to be a perfect pass.”

Bender: “Whittenburg … Oh, that’s a long ways! Good!”

Packer: “They won it! … On the dunk!”

Packer’s call was perfect in its simplicity and brevity, but the veteran announcer, who retired in 2008 after 34 Final Fours (and countless ACC games), hasn’t given it much consideration since.

“I don’t think about those kinds of things,” Packer said. “It was natural, and hopefully anything I ever did was natural, out of instinct. It was just kind of unbelievable they won the game.”

DeCock: Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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