March Madness is finally among us and with it comes the most electrifying voice in sports. If you just said Joe Buck, I suggest you close the page. The correct and obvious answer is Gus Johnson. Gus, who should be chomping at the bit after putting up with the regular season all winter, is the reason why I would even consider watching the regular season at all. With my alma mater Indiana, still acting as the Big Ten’s punching bag, it’s hard to stomach an afternoon of CBS regular season basketball without hearing “Ha-Ha” after each three pointer. On top of the “Gus Factor” being the main reason I still watch meaningless eight vs. nine seeds every year, it’s the only reason I continue to follow the tournament once my bracket gets torched by opening round upsets. His uncanny ability to keep people interested and keep people listening is why Gus Johnson needs to be on a short list of what March Madness is all about.
Since 1996 Gus has been in our living rooms every March, bringing us some of the most thrilling and memorable finishes in college basketball. Being too young to remember the 90′s version of Gus, I personally have been a huge Gus Johnson fan ever since the 2006 tournament when he called UCLA’s monumental comeback over Gonzaga. An ecstatic Gus Johnson begins parading the Bruins efforts, while a camera is fixed on Adam Morrison crying at mid-court like it was the Miami Heat locker room. The sequence reminded me a lot of a dog getting scolded by its owner for peeing on the carpet. Sorry Adam, tough loss, but get off my court, is basically the message it sounded like Gus was trying to send to Morrison. After watching the following moments of that game it’s safe to say he sent that message perfectly. Without Gus, I’d bet my life I wouldn’t be able to tell you who won that game.
In his latest masterpiece between Arizona and Washington, Gus goes H.A.M on the Staples Center with his explosive call of the final two possesions. Not to be outdone by the stiff who called the Uconn finish two days earlier, Gus was poised for yet another electric call when Washington’s Isiah Thomas decided to go for the juggular. To put this call into perspective, had the clip been just an audio I would have assumed a shark attack was taking place and Gus was acting as the lifeguard. At about the 36-second mark of this clip, I couldn’t help but imagine a huge shark soaring through the air with a helpless seal in its mouth as Gus is screaming at the top of his lungs, overmatching another lackluster PAC-10 crowd. For the icing on the cake, Gus belts out “Cold Blooded” as the attack, I mean game, comes to an end. Nonetheless, this shot, although for the PAC-10 tournament title, didn’t carry much significance with it besides the fact that one team will now get to call itself tournament champions. Both teams were locks for the tournament and the win probably took Washington from an eight to a seven seed. More significant was how this clip gave Gus more pub on Youtube.
With the type of delivery Gus uses in calling his games, games like the Washington-Arizona game will be remembered far longer than they should be. There are dozens of buzzer beaters each year and some are more significant than others. From a personal standpoint, though, the only endings I remember are, for the most part, Gus Johnson-called games. So what if Gus called other sports? Think about it. Picture Tiger Woods, Sunday, on the 18th at Augusta, drilling a 20-foot bomb to win the Masters. Tiger is in mid-fist pump, while Gus is screaming in the background “Pure!!!”. Think Andy Roddick at Centre Court in Wimbledon, hitting a backhand winner for his championship point over Rafael Nadal. Wouldn’t listening to Gus yell “the slipper still fits!” as Roddick drops to his knees, make the moment a little more memorable.
We can wish all we want for Gus to appear trackside at the Kentucky Derby or ringside at a Heavyweight fight, but the bottom line is we are still blessed with his presence during March Madness. Calling close finishes on the hardwood is what he does best and for the next 3 weeks all we can do is hope the tournament gives him ample opportunities to do just that. Just remember when your bracket gets turned upside down, there is still a reason to keep watching.
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Written by Mick Moody