Joe Buck doesn’t have to strain to hear whispers; New England sports fans are plenty loud in letting him know what they think of him. Once, while exiting Fenway Park after a regular-season Red Sox game, Buck made eye contact with a woman walking the other direction. She stopped and turned back to the veteran Fox sportscaster.
“You!” she yelled.“You! You ruined the World Series for me.”
“She went off,” recalled Buck, who was on play-by-play for the Thursday night game on Fox between the Patriots and Colts, and perhaps will pay a few more visits to Fenway should the Red Sox advance to the World Series. “I don’t even know what to do. It was kind of crazy. This one red-headed woman. If she reads this piece, she knows who she is.”
It mattered not that the Red Sox had won the World Series in question. For national broadcasters, incurring the ire of local fan bases is a guaranteed occupational hazard. Local fans always — always — detect bias and favoritism toward the other team, no matter whom the other team is.
And as the No. 1 play-by-plan man for both NFL and MLB on Fox, Buck, one of the few originals still here to celebrate the network’s 25th anniversary this year, Buck has been cast as a broadcasting villain in too many cities to count.
Boston, however, may want to reconsider its willingness to be at the front of the line.
“I was thinking,” the St. Louis native said, “even Boston fans have to admit, when it counts the most and I show up, good things happen.”
Indeed, Buck has been in the booth for some of Boston’s most iconic sports moments, from the 2004 curse-breaking Red Sox World Series win to the heart-stopping Patriots Super Bowl comeback over the Falcons two years ago. Throw in the 2007 and 2013 Red Sox World Series wins and the Patriots’ dynasty-making win in Super Bowl XXXIX, its third in four years, and give Buck a 5-1 record in Boston championship games — the lone setback coming in the Patriots’ perfection-denying Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants.
“They still think I hate the Red Sox and the Patriots,” said Buck. “I think about that all the time, that in 2004 — and of course they were playing the Cardinals — when nobody but the ’27 Yankees was going to stop them after they came back from 3-0, that you live for those moments.
“And you’re lucky if you get one as a broadcaster. To get them again in ’07, in ’13 against the Cardinals again, all those Red Sox moments which are just terrific because they’re at Fenway, and then you do the Patriots and do them three times in the Super Bowl, and then to have them and call the first overtime Super Bowl, it’s been a great run.
“You always want to do games for fans that seem to really care. That is the Boston fan. They’re passionate.
“I don’t say that lightly. There are certain fans on a different level. I come from a city like St. Louis, where they consider themselves great baseball fans. I just consider Boston and New England incredible sports fans. If they give me trouble, think I’m rooting for other side, it’s mainly because they’re living and dying with every pitch and every play and think I’m rooting for the other side.
“I’d much rather that than apathy. Most of the time, if someone gives me trouble at a bar or something, saying, ‘Why do you hate the Red Sox or Patriots?’ they end up buying you a drink or whatever. They like to be heard, say their piece, and then talk about the team. Philly is the same way. I prefer that, because it’s done for the right reason.”
And that’s reason enough to give Buck a break (even though he’s not asking for it). Much as your emotions might insist otherwise, he gets you. He understands where you’re coming from. And most importantly, when the moment demands it, he knows how to elevate his words to match what’s happening on the field.
From a heartfelt homage to his father (legendary sportscaster Jack Buck) after David Ortiz’s post-midnight home run in the epic 2004 ALCS — “Ortiz into right field, back is Sheffield, we’ll see you later tonight!” — to his simple acknowledgment of a near-century of sadness when Boston finished it off — “Red Sox fans have longed to hear it. The Boston Red Sox are world champions.” — Buck can strike a balance of emotion and information.
Perhaps nothing proved that better than the Super Bowl comeback two years ago, when delirious Patriots fans turned a traditionally corporate crowd into a New England house party. By the end of the comeback madness, those Patriots fans and Buck were rooting for the same thing — that James White had indeed crossed the plane in overtime — but for different reasons.
“I remember watching the replay thinking, ‘Please God let him be in the end zone,’ ” Buck said. “Someday somebody is going to declare a team a Super Bowl champion based on a call, and it’s going to be reversed.
“Think about James White barely getting over the goal line with the winning touchdown. I’m screaming and yelling. There’s confetti. I woke up thinking, ‘What if his knee was down, they reviewed that, and something crazy happened?’ That would be one of those moments I don’t know if you ever live down.”
White was in, and Buck, who made a point of getting the number of the official who made the call to send him a note of thanks, was right.
As he prepped for Colts-Patriots, it was too soon to know whether there’s another Super Bowl run in the offing. But Sunday’s decisive win over Miami certainly changed the narrative following back-to-back losses at Detroit and Jacksonville.
“It feels like it restored world order,” said Buck. “It’s like oh gosh, headlines, news flash, Brady and the Patriots start slow and then remind everyone how great they are.
“I do think they’re challenged on the outside. We’ll see if [Josh] Gordon gives them anything, but [Julian] Edelman coming back is huge.
“I feel they have the best coach, they have the best quarterback, and that’s at least two-thirds of the puzzle for any team. They’ll make it work.
“The AFC is so watered down this year. Everyone goes, ‘Who do you like in the AFC?’ I feel stupid saying the Patriots, because they’re every year. As an outsider, it’s like ‘ho hum.’
“That was a little jarring, that loss to Jacksonville, and Kansas City is really good, young, a good head coach, maybe they have the combination. But give me the quarterback and the head coach who have done it.”Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.