Dennis Packer has seen it all.
He’s been rinkside at the Forum, courtside at Pauley Pavilion, behind home plate at Dodger Stadium and had 50-yard line seats at the Coliseum.
And while most fans never see him, they are all aware of his presence. With every score, penalty, hit and play, Packer is there, following the game right along with the fans.
Packer has been at every USC home football game for the last 20 years. Impressive, given he was a full-time police detective until 2008. But that’s just his day job. Saturdays in the fall, Packer exchanges his badge for a microphone.
Packer has been the announcer for USC football since 1990. It is his voice heard across the bowl before each game: “Your, USC Trojans!” and it is his voice that rises above the din after a “Touchdown, USC!”
For Packer, it all started in the 11th grade at James Monroe High School in the Valley.
“They had just gotten a new sound system in the gym,” Packer said. “And seeing as I wasn’t good enough to actually play basketball, they wanted me to announce the game.”
By the time he graduated in 1968, Packer was doing the public address for basketball, baseball and football games at Monroe. He assumed the same roles at L.A. Valley Junior College.
In 1970, Packer transferred to UC Davis, where he announced for basketball and baseball. He wanted to be a TV reporter after graduation, and made a few on-air appearances with NBC Sacramento during his senior year. However, he was not offered a job.
Packer returned to the L.A. area and enrolled in the police academy in 1973. Just two years later, he was back at L.A. Valley Junior College, announcing football. It was there that he caught his big break.
While announcing a game, he was mistaken for the “voice of L.A. sports,” John Ramsey. Ramsey was a legend in Los Angeles, announcing games for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Angels, Kings, Rams and USC football. It was near impossible to go to a sporting event and not hear his voice. And it just so happened that the person who mistook Packer for Ramsey was none other than Ramsey’s uncle.
“He wandered up to the booth expecting to see his nephew, and instead I’m sitting there in front of the mike,” Packer said. “Needless to say he was quite surprised.”
Ramsey was looking for someone to fill in for him when he had a scheduling conflict, and his uncle passed Packer’s name along.
“A few days later I get a Dodger press credential in the mail and a phone call asking me to come to the stadium that Saturday and try out as Mr. Ramsey’s backup,” Packer said.
When Packer arrived, he was one of four people auditioning for the job. Ramsey told him to go behind home plate and do the pregame routine, just like Ramsey would.
“The crowd was quite confused because they heard John speaking, but they could see he wasn’t at the microphone,” Packer said. “And when I finished John told the other three guys that they could just go home; I had gotten the job.”
The next week was Packer’s first day on the job.
“I’m really nervous, so I get to the ballpark early enough that they’re still serving breakfast in the press dining room,” Packers aid. “I get my food and go to sit by myself, and after a little bit someone taps me on the shoulder and asks if he can eat with me. Well I felt like the hand of God had touched me, because it was Vin Scully.”
When Packer got home after the game, he had about 200 messages on his answering machine, including one from the Chief of Police — who wanted to congratulate him and ask for tickets.
Over the years Packer filled in for Ramsey anywhere he was needed. Eventually, Packer took over the Angels public address for 18 years, the Dodgers for five years, the Clippers for 10, the Kings for 11 and the Raiders for 13 — the entire time the team was in Los Angeles. Packer even flew to Oakland every Sunday to announce for the Raiders the first two years after they left Los Angeles.
In 1994, Packer announced the World Cup at the Rose Bowl. Packer called this one of his greatest challenges, “because of all the different languages and pronunciations of names.”
This is an aspect of the job Packer find particularly difficult. Petros Papadakis was a USC running back in the late 1990s. The name alone appears difficult enough to pronounce, but Packer remembers that Papadakis was fond of “changing its pronunciation.” One day it was Pa-pa-day-kus, the next Pa-pa-dah-kus.
“Be careful who you ask about names,” Packer said. “Baseball players are as big of pranksters as there are in sports, so I learned the hard way to ask the club P.R. people instead of the players whenever I did baseball.”
Once, however, Packer took trying to get it right a bit too far. In 1985, the Soviet Union Hockey Team was going to play its first game ever against an NHL team. The Soviets were to take on the Kings at The Forum, where Packer was the public address announcer.
“I might have gotten a little carried away, because I decided I wanted to do every announcement in both English and Russian,” Packer said.
Packer met with a Russian professor at USC, who helped him translate his announcements. He spelled everything out phonetically, and then proceeded to deliver all his opening announcements — in both languages — perfectly. Too perfectly, as it turned out.
“After I finished, and before the game started, the referee came up to me. And it turns out he’s Russian,” Packer said laughing. “And he starts talking to me in Russian, and all I’m doing is nodding my head yes or no. Well I guess I did it in the right order, because he skated away without incident.”
But that’s not the whole story. During the game, a Russian player was penalized.
“This player turns to me and starts talking to me in Russian, because at this point the entire arena is convinced I can speak Russian. Well I guess I didn’t nod my head at the right times, because he gets really mad at me and chucks the chair he was sitting on at the glass between us,” Packer said.
“I was supposed to meet the [Russian] team afterwards, but I got out of there as fast as I could.”
Although Packer has dropped much of his announcing duties, he still has fond memories of his hectic life behind the mike. In one instance, Packer was slated to announce for both the USC and UCLA football teams on the same day. The USC game went to overtime and did not end until 6:30. The UCLA game was to start at 7, with introductions at 6:45. Packer took a helicopter from the top of the Seeley G. Mudd building to the Rose Bowl, arriving just a few minutes late.
His favorite event he has announced is the so-called “Miracle on Manchester.” It was game three of an NHL best-of-five playoff series in 1982 between the Kings and the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were heavy favorites, but the two teams had split the first two games in Edmonton.
In game three at The Forum, however, the Oilers were asserting their dominance. The Kings trailed 5-0 with 18 minutes left, but managed to tie the score at the end of regulation. The Kings won two minutes into overtime.
“I try my best not to be a cheerleader,” Packer said. “But that game — I still get chills thinking about it.”
Not being partial is something Packer prides himself on. In the 1993 football season, he announced for both USC and UCLA. After their game at the Rose Bowl, the athletic directors from both schools told him that they “couldn’t tell who he was rooting for.” Of the many compliments Packer has been given over the years, this remains one of his favorites.
Today, Packer is an intelligence analyst with the Drug Enforcement Agency during the week, the announcer for the San Diego Chargers on Sundays, and of course, the voice of the Coliseum on Saturdays. He says few things get him more excited than when the drum major stabs the center of the field.
“Because then,” Packer said, “everybody knows, it’s game time.”
So this Saturday against Washington, take a listen to the voice echoing from the loudspeakers, and know that is Dennis Packer, the voice of USC football.
Clarification: 9/30/10- Dennis Packer is the second from left in the picture accompanying this story. A previous version of the caption misidentified Packer in the photo.