The Night Dick Vitale Gave Us A BabyPosted by jstevrtc on January 12th, 2011
He’s mo-bile, probably not very a-gile, but definitely not fra-gile. Dick Vitale, one of the best friends the game of college basketball has, signed a contract extension with ESPN today that will keep him telling us about PTPers and diaper dandies through the 2014-2015 season. That’s right — at least an Olympiad more of Dickie V.
We needle Vitale on here quite a bit. But we wouldn’t have been disappointed if ESPN had locked him up for forty more years as opposed to four. Not becuase we like ribbing him, but because you gotta love the guy.
The first time I “met” Dick Vitale I was a sophomore in college. I won’t tell you where or when (heh heh) this was, but there were no college basketball blogs then. A couple of friends and I had attended a Vitale-called game at our beloved institution of higher beer consumption hitting on girls learning, and we stayed around for the head coach’s live post game radio show. When it was over, my buddies and I saw Vitale, who had just completed his post-game duties for ESPN, walking up the stands with an undeniably imposing security guard in front of him. We figured we wouldn’t get too many chances like this in later life, so, like star-struck fanboys, we speed-walked (okay, ran) up the bleachers towards him, calling him “Dickie V!” as if we’d known him for most of our lives.
The school had given out those cardboard cutouts of Vitale’s smiling face on a stick (actual size), similar to the ones they use on Pardon the Interruption. We still had ours and brandished them as we approached him. The security guard turned, put out a halting hand, and told us, “No, gentlemen. Thanks, but Mr.Vitale is finished working for the night.”
Actually, he only got out half of “finished” before Vitale, in long coat and gloves and obviously wanting to get back to his hotel and rest, turned around, removed his gloves, and shook our hands. With his usual enthusiasm and only slightly reduced volume, he asked us, “Hey, what’d you fellas think of that game? Man, that press took care of [the opponent] tonight, they had no answer! I mean, it was like there were ten of ’em out there!…” We didn’t even have time to answer. If he was just assuming “Dickie V-mode” and performing for us, he was doing a pretty convincing job.
One of my friends was from Maryland and loved his Terrapins despite being very far from home. When he could get a word in, he asked Vitale, “Hey, Coach, when’s your next trip to Maryland to see my Turtles?”
Vitale perked up and immediately reached top gear. The volume rose as the security guard scowled; he probably wanted to go home, himself. “Awww, guys, let me tell you about the good thing Gary Williams has got goin’ on down there in College Park, baby. I’m goin’ there next Monday. You’re from there? I tell ya, I love that program and GARY WILLIAMS, baby. He’s a GREAT coach…”
This went on for a couple of minutes. Vitale dutifully signed the forehead — his forehead — on each of our Vitale-on-a-stick cutouts (I still have mine, prominently displayed in the office) as he spoke. Finally, after telling us about his itinerary for the following two weeks, he added, “You know, I tell ya, guys, I gotta go to bed. I gotta get outta here and, hey, THIS guy [pointing at security guard] wants to go home to his wife and kids!” Ribbing us, he joked, “See, you college kids can stay up late like this but, hey, you’re keepin’ this guy from his wife and kids, baby!”
We thanked him profusely and he was gone, waving as the security guard all but shoved him into the concourse and out the door. He never stopped smiling the whole time. As we walked away, one of my friends reverently reminded us, “Guys, Dick Vitale just gave us a ‘baby.'”
Sure, this probably happens to him fifty times a day. And maybe he was just acting “on” for us, but from what we know about Dick Vitale, there is no on/off switch. He’s on from the word go. Further evidence: an old radio friend of mine once interviewed Vitale over the phone, but the interview had to be scheduled for recording at 5:30 in the morning because of Vitale’s schedule. At 5:15 AM, my colleague called him at the given number. At the other end of the phone, a man said, “Hold on, let me turn of this alarm, here. I set the alarm for five minutes before you were to call. I guess I overslept a little, baby!” By 5:15 AM +15 seconds, Vitale was at full throttle, and my co-worker could barely keep up.
You may grow weary of his cliches, you may grumble at his obvious allegiance toward a certain Durham, North Carolina school, and you may shudder at his ability to find a way to get numerous ACC references into a Holy Cross-Lehigh game, if he were to ever call a contest like that. What’s behind all of that, though, is something on which Vitale can never be challenged — his love for this sport, the kids who play it, and the coaches who teach it. It’s not just evident in the enthusiasm you hear in his color commentary. There’s the extensive charity work, the organized talks he gives to players about everything from drugs to life skills, the public appearances that don’t involve ESPN, the hours of preparation that go into each broadcast (it’s not just showing up, calling the game, and leaving), the travel, and his constant advocacy for college kids. You’ll notice that in any situation that involves a student-athlete — say, a controversial NCAA decision on eligibility, or a kid’s questionable actions off the basketball court — he always supports the course of action that will help the student-athlete. Even if he thinks a kid should be punished, suspended, or kicked off a team, Vitale always advocates the position that will teach the player the non-basketball lesson he needs to learn. As we know, this isn’t always the path chosen by certain coaches, or even the NCAA.
So, congratulations, Coach! We might needle you a little from time to time, but we love having you around. We don’t even want to imagine the game without you.