John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC. His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
This past Saturday I was watching the North Carolina vs Miami (FL) matchup and simultaneously checking out nvr1983′s live press-row blog of the event. Just before the second half started, ESPN’s Dick Vitale started talking about his favorite subject, the Duke Blue Devils. No surprise there, right? Well, this time he prefaced it by saying, “I know people don’t like it when I talk about Duke, but I’m gonna talk about them!” or something close to that (I don’t have video of this, but if you do, put a link in the comments section and I’ll add it to the post and credit you).
This tells us that it’s obvious that Vitale is very much aware and maybe even a little sensitive about how the college basketball-loving public perceives him as favoring the Blue Devils. Heck, I admit, in the past I’ve been quick to jump on the guy with both feet about this. I’ve rolled my eyes and shaken my head like so many others when he, in a non-Duke basketball game, starts prattling on about Duke like a lovesick 6th-grade girl who has a crush on a boy and wants to talk about it endlessly.
So Vitale said a few things about Duke and that was that. Big deal. Big surprise. But right as the second half began, I began thinking — this wasn’t his usual Thom Brennaman-Tim Tebow hyperbole about the Dukies. It was — gasp! — actually relevant. You see, it was the “I know people don’t like it” part that caught my attention, specifically. That borders on an apology, or at least an acknowledgment of his Blue Devil affinity. Now, like a lot of college basketball fans, I think, I don’t have a problem with the Duke program (I’m still deciding whether Coach K’s satellite radio show is fair or not) as much as I have a problem with Vitale (and certainly Mike Patrick) bringing it up when it has no relevance to what’s going on in front of him. That’s the only time it ticks me off.
You know what it reminds me of? When you’re talking to some girl and she does that “boyfriend” thing, meaning she inserts a random reference of the fact that she has a boyfriend into a conversation the FIRST chance she gets because 1) she really has one, or 2) she’s not interested and this is her way of telling you. I think you know the conversation I’m talking about. Who among us hasn’t been here:
Me: I had a flat tire today.
Girl: You know what? My boyfriend’s car has tires.
Me: That’s a heavy oxygen tank, there.
Girl: My boyfriend breathes oxygen!
Me: Hi, I…
I recall that great bit on Seinfeld where George was out on a date with a woman who does that little trick by telling George he has a nice watch, then says, “My boyfriend loves watches, he’s a real watch freak.” When discussing it with Jerry, Jerry notes, “They just SLIP it right in there, like it’s all part of the conversation.” Well, I think that’s kind of what Vitale does. And I think it’s combined with a little bit of that schoolgirl thing I mentioned above. Or perhaps in Mr. Vitale there’s a little bit of that guy who was affected so much by Star Wars as a kid that he’s never been the same. You know the guy, the one who makes a Star Wars reference any time he can; the guy who filters his whole existence through that movie, seemingly asking himself at every moment of the day, “What does this have to do with Star Wars? What possible link can I make between that movie and the things that happen in my life on a moment-to-moment basis?” I think all of these are at the root of Vitale’s Duke-o-philia.
BUT, my dear readers, I caught myself on this occasion, before I started texting my friends and ripping Vitale. There’s a difference, this year. This season, Duke is relevant. Because Duke is good. True, Duke is usually good. But this season is different.
I see a different sort of energy around this particular Duke squad that I haven’t seen in recent years. This is a team that has bought into the fact — one that coaches across the country at all levels try SO HARD to get into the collective consciousnesses of their teams — that defense creates offense, that the toughness of your defense will determine your success. In addition to being 4th in the nation in scoring, themselves, Duke keeps their opponents at 39.6% shooting per game, and they are second in the nation in a statistic I consider very important and telling, that of Turnovers Forced Per Game (17.0!!). So maybe Vitale, in his Duke love, is to be given a little leeway this year?
I admit, that’s going to be tough. How many of you recall this incident from last year, where Vitale was calling a Duke game and this was shown: