BY Todd Dybas 11:00AM 05/09/2011

Dybas: No Gus Johnson? That would be cold-blooded

Unique style has made a unique bond between fans of the NCAA Tournament and Gus Johnson. No other TV announcer is as popular with a singular event.

Gus Johnson in March was the bellower that preceded a frothing, fist-throwing Isaiah Thomas, who roared at the CBS camera following his Pac-10 Tournament game-winner.

“COLD BLOODED!” the play-by-play master screamed amid the hysteria in Los Angeles after Thomas’s stepback swish guaranteed an NCAA basketball tournament spot for the University of Washington.

His chilled-plasma label became a Twitter trend, something Thomas himself capped within his 140 allotted characters.

Part showman, part instructor — “That’s the guy who should shoot it!” — Johnson’s histrionics have seeped into March Madness. His calls folded him into the tradition itself, as if he were an expected favorite side dish during a holiday meal.

Thursday, Sports Illustrated delivered the bad news: Johnson and CBS could not reach a new deal. Johnson, for now, is no longer part of March Madness, which leaves college basketball fans rightfully irritated.

Johnson’s detractors grumble his calls become incomprehensible when a rush of emotion appears to detach his brain from his job. The deliverable becomes a squish of “OHHHH!” and “AHHH!” Often, that’s followed with the Johnson standard of “Ha ha!”

That’s why he’s so effective. His loss of common sense with the headset strapped over his ears mirrors the loss of common sense by those with beer cans strapped over their ears. The dual dive into rudimentary emotion feels symbiotic.

He knows basketball, too. At times, disgust for dumb play leaks out. Good.

The initial story of Johnson’s departure was countered by an unnamed-source-based story that Johnson’s time as CBS’s manic maestro may not be quite over. Johnson reportedly was contacted about calling Pac-12 football games, as well.

No matter where it comes, more Johnson is good. But too much would be bad.

Johnson’s kinetic style is best suited for moderation. Listening to him during Big 10 mid-season slogs — think of very peach-basket games that end 48-42,  often in Madison, Wis. — exposes the battles between his once-in-a-lifetime deliveries and the reality most games are mundane.

Yet, it’s his emphatic calls that appear to momentarily alter the hoops universe. The Law of Gus states that if Johnson is doing a tournament game, the finish will be tight. This fanciful alteration of physics stems from Johnson calling notables like Princeton’s back-door upset of UCLA, Vermont’s takedown of Syracuse and Ohio State’s overtime battle with Xavier.

He has an inextricable link with Adam Morrison and Gonzaga. He titled the pre-Mark Few Zags’ march through the tournament by announcing the “the slipper still fits.”

Johnson vocalized the meaning of “stunned” from KeyArena during a Battle in Seattle matchup in 2005 when Morrison banked in a three-pointer with a couple seconds to go against Oklahoma State.

The same year, his “Heartbreak City” call during UCLA’s comeback from 17 points down to the Bulldogs in the tournament framed Morrison’s infamous weep, prior to the shooter’s entrance into career oblivion.

Johnson calling only tight, epic games, of course, is not true. Just feels that way.

That’s why fans track where Johnson lands in the NCAA Tournament. Hometown team is in the East Regional. Got it. Next: Is Johnson calling the game?

No matter the foes, the games he calls are anticipated. No other NCAA Tournament announcer can claim the same.

He’s had missteps — as when Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson bolted down the right hash and Johnson exclaimed, “Watch out! He’s got gettin’-away-from-the-cops speed!” That would have resulted in manic derision of an announcer with different pigmentation. Johnson apologized, and here we are demanding his presence.

CBS tussled with Johnson two years ago, reducing his workload and silencing his mic after the second round. But the company relented then, as it surely should now.

Jim Nantz can stick to his melodramatic putt-putt. Give me Gus.

Follow Todd on Twitter at @Todd_Dybas


  • Pharmening

    Ah!!!  THE ambassador/legend of sports; a four decade resident of the NW.  I still remember seeing my first TV (much later replay) of Boston’s Russell and Cousy vs Wilt Chamberlin with the Minnesota Lakers in the NBA championship game in 1957, of course in black and white.  I think that was the NBA’s first television game.  I could be mistaken there.  I watched it in North Bend WA.  Man, I’m not that much younger than those guys (by a decade).