At Le Colonne, an Italian restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, there’s a young woman who sits near the outdoor hostess stand and sings karaoke. One Sunday night last month, she was drowned out by a bald man at a nearby table, who was performing his own hits from the ’80s, the ’90s, and today.
"Hi, everybody! Dick Vitale here. What a night in college hoops!"
For nearly four decades, Vitale has looked into the red light of an ESPN TV camera and spoken those words. Tonight, he was looking into his smart phone, recording a video for Instagram. Howie Schwab, the former ESPN producer and star of Stump the Schwab, held Vitale’s phone aloft. Lorraine, Vitale’s wife of 46 years, looked on with the indulgent expression of someone who has seen many dinners — and even life itself — come to a halt so her husband can talk.
To date, the marriage of 70-something sports announcers and social media has mostly been a loveless one. Brent Musburger told me his sons discourage him from logging on at night after he’s had a few drinks. But for Vitale, who is 77, social media provides two things he desperately craves.
One is a microphone that no producer can switch off. Vitale used to do color commentary only on college basketball. Now, he does color on his own life.
"Hey, baby," Vitale said in a March Periscope video he recorded in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel. "Just arrived. Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas …" This is one of the more accomplished entries in the Vitale cinematheque. Another recent video had Vitale walking down his driveway in Sarasota while a camera swung around wildly as if it were attached to a linebacker’s helmet. "We laugh our asses off behind the scenes about how he uses the phone," said Dave O’Brien, a frequent ESPN play-by-play partner.
The second thing Instagram and Periscope offer Vitale is more important. It’s a method for Vitale to absorb the adoration of the masses — to be held aloft digitally as he is by the Cameron Crazies. As Vitale told me, "I like the fact that I can exchange feelings with people."
Vitale and his companions were dining in Sarasota on the first Sunday of the NCAA tournament. There were games on — including a thriller between North Carolina and Arkansas — but Vitale wasn’t watching. He seemed just as happy to meet fans. Some sports broadcasters skip restaurants to avoid the endless line of selfie seekers. Vitale eats every meal out, seven days a week, so he’ll never miss them.
On this night, Vitale brought autographed copies of his books to the restaurant, which he handed to startled admirers. "People come over and say hello," he said. "I give ’em a book."
One recipient was a middle-aged woman who stopped at our table after the appetizers had been cleared. She said her son had heard Vitale at one his many paid speaking gigs.
"Did he like me?" Vitale asked.
"He took a picture with you," the woman said.
Lorraine Vitale had an idea. Vitale and the woman could take a picture, and the woman could text it to her son, thus completing a selfie circle of life in which everyone in the family had their picture taken with Dick Vitale.
Now, Vitale pointed to another woman three tables over who’d been eyeing him. "C’mere!" he said. The women told Vitale that she knew Steve Prohm, the basketball coach of Iowa State. She and Vitale took a picture, which she promised to send to Prohm, thus extending the Dickie V brand deeper into the heartland. "People are so nice," Vitale said.
"One of the beauties of traveling and doing games with Dickie V," said Musburger, "was the fact you never — as in ever — had to call ahead for a reservation at a restaurant. Dickie V would always lead the way. He would burst through the door, and everybody would look up and there would be smiles all around. Anybody and everybody would get us a table. Dickie V would obligingly sign all the autographs. Then it was 50–50 whether the restaurant would pick up the check or bring it to me."
Vitale has long been one of sports TV’s greatest salesmen: of college basketball, ESPN, his charitable endeavors, and, of course, himself. What’s unexplored is the neediness that underlies the salesmanship — the craving for love. "We all care a little bit what others think," said Fox’s Tim Brando, who called games with Vitale when he worked at ESPN. "But no one cares as much as Vitale." By spending parts of three days with Vitale, I hoped to find out why.
After taking a picture with everyone at Le Colonne who wanted one, Vitale tried to post the video he’d recorded to Instagram. The video was pixelated and unusable. Vitale turned to Schwab and said mournfully, "Howie, no good. We gotta do it again."
Vitale — who makes six figures from ESPN and $45,000 every time he gives a corporate speech — didn’t need to provide free content about games he hadn’t even watched. But the video was important to him. I got the feeling Vitale thought that not posting something would leave his audience unloved.
Vitale fiddled with his smartphone, then looked into it and summoned the same unnatural level of ecstasy as before.
"Hi, everybody! Dick Vitale here. What a great day in college basketball!"
The next morning, a little after seven, I stepped into Vitale’s darkened living room. Vitale had allowed me to stay in his Sarasota home so I could observe him more closely. Suddenly, it seemed like a bad idea. After 38 years on ESPN, you have a certain image of a guy. You don’t want to open the wrong door …
Just then, a voice that was as deliriously happy as it had been the night before boomed down the hallway. "Hi, everybody! Dick Vitale. Hey, I’m coming on Mike & Mike at 7:27 in the morning today. Make sure you listen!"
I found Vitale in his office, posting his Mike & Mike promo to Twitter. Inside Camp Dickie, as his family calls the whirl of activity that forms around Vitale, the selling never stops.
"I worked out already," Vitale told me. "I walked for 40 minutes." Vitale doesn’t need a treadmill. He merely paces around his house. ESPN’s Jay Bilas once observed a similar regimen when he called a game with Vitale in Chicago. Bilas opened his hotel room door and found Vitale walking up and down the hallway in a tracksuit.
Across the desk from Vitale was Schwab, dressed but with bare feet. Schwab handed Vitale a sheet of notes and stats from the previous night’s games. In 2013, Schwab was laid off by ESPN. He and Vitale were close, so Vitale offered to pay him to perform the same function he had at the Mother Ship: being Dick Vitale’s external hard drive.
Now, Schwab prompts Vitale with players’ names during radio appearances, and fields the odd research call from Vitale at 1 a.m. "The company’s full of shit," Schwab said of ESPN. "I don’t owe them anything anymore — not a damn thing. The only person I owe anything to is Dick. I’m happy to bust my ass for him and do whatever I can for him."
When you spend a day with Vitale, he literally grabs you by the arm and pulls you toward something unbelievable, stupendous, incredible. Before depositing me on the white-sand beach at Siesta Key, Vitale exclaimed, "It was voted the number-one beach in the United States!" He took a photo in front of the statue of himself that was erected at a Sarasota Boys & Girls Club where he’s a major fundraiser. Vitale is the rare celebrity who wants to take selfies more than his fans do.
Vitales is always in motion. He and Lorraine will sometimes spend an extra day in a hotel if Vitale gives a paid speech. But otherwise they don’t take proper vacations. Recently, the Vitales booked a South African safari. Vitale looked at the itinerary, saw the time he’d be required to spend confined in a plane, and canceled the trip, despite having paid the deposit. "That would have been awful for him," Lorraine said.
Today, Vitale had secured backstage passes to a Baltimore Orioles spring-training practice. He walked inside the Orioles facility and stopped in front of a giant team logo in the lobby. "Why don’t we get a picture here?" he said.
On the field, Vitale spotted the Orioles pitcher Tyler Wilson, a young-looking 27-year-old who was throwing off the mound. "Ah, he went to Virginia!"
Wilson came over and began talking about why the Cavaliers were knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He caught himself babbling in front of the man who knew everything about college basketball. "Who am I talking to here?"
"We gotta get a picture!" Vitale said.
Mark Trumbo, who led baseball in home runs last season, saw Vitale looking his way. Anticipating the inevitable question, Trumbo said: "You want a picture?"
After a time, an Orioles social media staffer approached us. Would Vitale mind recording a 10-second Twitter hype video about the Orioles?
"Ten seconds is pretty tough!" Vitale.
"You can do as much as you want," the staffer said.
He looked into the staffer’s phone: "Hey, everybody! Dick Vitale here …"
A few minutes later, the staffer returned looking sheepish. Vitale’s phone had started ringing during the video. Was there any chance he could do a second take? Vitale smiled and began to hype the Orioles again.
H, everybody! Dick Vitale here. It’s 1979. I just got fired by the Detroit Pistons! Unbel-eeeee-vable! Now what do I do with my life?
It’s hard to fathom that Vitale was once a mere basketball coach. He likes to note that in the span of just seven years, he went from being the coach at a New Jersey high school to — after stops at Rutgers and the University of Detroit — head coach of the Pistons. "All of a sudden — bam! — November 8, 1979, I’m fired," Vitale said. Less than a month later, he called his first game for ESPN.
On TV, Vitale was like a creature from another planet — which is to say North Jersey — speaking in a disco-club patter of babys and mans and generating wacky lists like his All-Windex Team (for rebounders who "clean the glass"). "People look at me as their uncle, their cousin, a regular guy," he said.
"I look at that red light and I say, ‘Man, turn it on,’" Vitale continued. "Just give me the microphone! I’m in a comfort zone. When I look at that red light, I’m in a real comfort zone. I’m a hot dog, man! I’m a hot dog with a lot of mustard!"
Vitale’s announcing had a lot in common with his coaching. His unrelenting courtship of viewers — C’mon, baby, watch me! — was basically the same pitch he’d laid on high school recruits. "He just had that gift to convince people, man, to get them to believe him," said Phil Sellers, one of the recruits Vitale lured to Rutgers. (I talked to Sellers when Vitale called him and handed me the phone.)
That Vitale’s salesmanship was married to a genuine love of basketball made it all the more effective. "At least four or five times a season, when we’re in a timeout, he’ll look around the building and say to no one in particular, ‘I just love this,’" said Dave O’Brien. "It’s the same thing you hear him say on the air — I realize that. But, here, no one’s listening. He believes it."
On ESPN, Vitale was a bright sphere of ecstasy. In person, you could see a steady undercurrent of insecurity. In 1985, when Tim Brando announced his first ESPN game, he was stunned to see Vitale — by then well established as Mr. College Basketball — pick up a phone at halftime, call a friend in New York, and ask how the broadcast sounded on TV. These days, Vitale makes the same calls to Howie Schwab.
On the road, Vitale was an ebullient man-child. Much to Brent Musburger’s amusement, he didn’t drink alcohol. Sometimes, when Vitale blabbed too much on-air, producers like John Wildhack would simply switch off his microphone.
"Wildhack, Wildhack, Wildhack!" Vitale would say over the talkback. "I can’t hear myself!"
"Dick, there must be a microphone problem," Wildhack would say. "We’ll fix it." He would then motion to the audio man to turn Vitale’s mic back on. Vitale was none the wiser.
Once, during his ESPN days, Fred Gaudelli — who’s now executive producer of NBC’s Sunday and Thursday Night Football — got a call in his hotel room in the middle of the night. "Freddy," Vitale said, "you gotta help me! I lost my contact and I can’t see!’" When Gaudelli got to Vitale’s room, Vitale answered the door in his underwear, with what little hair he had left stretching toward the sky. Gaudelli asked where Vitale last had the contact. "The bathroom!" Vitale said. Gaudelli found it stuck to the mirror.
But Vitale was no anchor monster. He had a unique way of repaying a kindness. After working a game with Vitale, Gaudelli, who was single, would sometimes get a call from a woman. The woman would explain she met Vitale at the game, and he suggested he knew a nice, young producer who might take her out. Vitale had become Gaudelli’s wingman.
"He gives me advice now about the girl I’m dating," said Schwab. "He’s like, ‘Are you sure?! Make sure you’re sure!’ I’m like, ‘I’m fine, Dr. Phil. Relax.’"
It was easy to think that Vitale, blustering and yapping, had stumbled into fame. He hadn’t. His babys and mans — and the ad campaigns they inspired — were as much signs of his ambition as John Madden’s booms and whaps. "I don’t want to make ‘simple’ a pejorative," said Gaudelli. "But he was a simple guy who understood what he was good at, who understood how he connected, and who played it right to the hilt."
And Vitale was hugely important to ESPN during its bargain-basement days. College basketball was initially ESPN’s only decent live game inventory, and Vitale could pump up a Tuesday night Big Ten matchup like it was the national championship. In the golden decade of Michael Jordan, Phi Slama Jama, and NC State’s Jim Valvano, college basketball and Vitale grew in tandem. Once, upon hearing fans chant Vitale’s name, Valvano remarked, "I can’t believe you, Dick. You’re building your own personal hot dog stand in my backyard!"
In a world of hairsprayed announcers, Vitale was a factory irregular. ESPN soon hired more of them. Charley Steiner, the former SportsCenter anchor, told me: "Dick’s success — being totally unconventional in look, sound, the whole deal — I’m sure to some degree had something to do with ESPN bringing somebody like me on, with no television experience at all."
Perhaps most importantly, Vitale helped teach ESPN the art of branding — how a broadcaster could be an ad for a fledgling cable network and himself at the same time. This is apparent even today. You probably didn’t hear Vitale call a March Madness game (he announces the Final Four for ESPN International), but you likely saw his Subway commercial that ran nonstop during the tournament.
As the former USA Today sports media critic Rudy Martzke put it: "ESPN is as big as it is today because Dick Vitale and Chris Berman made the network." (I talked to Martzke when Vitale dialed him up one night and put him on speaker in his car.)
Vitale still sells ESPN — he wore a polo or fleece with the network’s logo during every moment we spent together. But these days, he has turned much of his energy to raising money for charity. Charity work is usually the least illuminating part of a famous person’s life, but in Vitale’s case it’s evidence of both his salesmanship and his quest for love. "He sees himself as not just an ambassador for the game but as something of a Father Flanagan," said Brando.
Vitale’s interest in cancer research comes from personal experience. His pal Valvano died of bone cancer in 1993. After watching his neighbors’ 5-year-old daughter Payton Wright die of brain cancer in 2007, he got obsessed with pediatric cancer.
Raising money for charity, Vitale said, requires its own kind of gonzo salesmanship. Over lunch in Sarasota, Vitale paged through the local newspaper. He found an article about an executive named Bill Johnson, whose company installs solar panels.
"See this guy?" Vitale said. "He’s the president of a big-time company. What I’ll do is send this guy a package." The package would be filled with the clippings about Vitale, about the time Taylor Swift gave his charity $100,000, along with the obligatory plea for a donation. As Vitale told me, "I’ve been recruiting all my life."
Vitale can look out the back window of his house and see a golf course and a man-made lake. For a time, his yard was invaded by two native Florida species: golfers with cameras and alligators.
Vitale didn’t mind the golfers — privacy hardly seems to register as a concept in the Vitalean mind. But as soon as Vitale saw the alligators, he had a fence built. "I’m afraid of reptiles," he said.
Vitale has a big house — 12,000 air-conditioned square feet. It’s so big that Lorraine was sheepish about adding its high-life accoutrements: A "café" off the living room. Upstairs, the John Saunders Theater — named for Vitale’s late ESPN colleague who loved high-tech gadgetry. A second-floor library accessible only through an exterior staircase near the pool. "I haven’t been up there in 10 years!" Vitale said.
Vitale grabbed my arm and led me into his bedroom, where a flat-screen TV emerges from a freestanding platform just off the foot of his bed. A few feet away is a table covered with laminated prayer cards. This is where Vitale utters his first, penitent words of the day. He has carried the card of St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes, in his pocket ever since he was a child, when he poked his left eye with a pencil, rendering it all but useless.
The tour continued: "This is my wife’s bathroom!" (Lorraine was not home.) The bathroom had a giant walk-in closet. "Hey, her closet is bigger than the living room in my first house, man!"
As we stood in the bathroom, I found myself looking upward. How high are these ceilings, Dick?
"I have no idea!" Vitale said. Lorraine didn’t know, either — she thought maybe 20 feet.
Vitale wanted me to see his daughters’ houses, too. Sherri and Terri — each in their 40s and married with kids — live in the same gated community. Vitale likes having them close. He bought them their lots as wedding presents.
We drove to Terri’s house. A housekeeper said Terri was away. We drove to Sherri’s house. No one was home. Vitale said we could go inside and see the house anyway.
Dick, I said, shouldn’t we call Sherri before we go barging in?
Vitale was insistent. We had to see the house. "Her yard is unbelievable!" Now he was punching in the security code to the garage. The garage door opened. Vitale entered and tried the door to the house. "Let’s hope this alarm doesn’t go off!" We stepped inside the empty house.
"C’mere," Vitale said. "I’ll show you a great picture." He led me into the office of his son-in-law, Thomas Krug, who’s a circuit court judge in Florida.
At that moment, we heard the sound of a TV somewhere inside the house. Keeping Up With the Kardashians was on.
Dick, I think someone’s here. … You could picture them hiding in a panic room, waiting for the police to arrive and arrest grandpa.
We rounded a corner and came face-to-face with Ava, Vitale’s 11-year-old granddaughter. Ava was home sick — and not freaked only because she’d seen Papa’s Range Rover in the driveway. Then Sherri walked in the door, and gave her uninvited guests the same indulgent look that Lorraine gives Vitale when he pulls out his phone at dinner.
Vitale was unfazed. He led me into the room of his twin grandsons, Connor and Jake, to show me their tennis trophies.
Then into Ava’s room. "Good kid, too!"
Ava is a ranked tennis player. Vitale desperately wanted me to see her play.
"She can’t hit for 10 minutes?" he asked Sherri. Sherri said she could not. Ava was sick. "Do you have any video of her?" Vitale asked.
We left out of the same garage door we had trespassed through. As Vitale drove away, he grabbed his phone. "Hey, Sherri! Dad. Do me a favor and close your garage. I don’t want those alligators in there!"
Along with Bob Ley and anchor-emeritus Chris Berman, Vitale is one of the last on-air links to ESPN’s founding year of 1979. In odd ways, you can see Vitale’s influence on ESPN today. Tim Brando credits him with the list mania that now grips all of sports TV. As a factory irregular who became a star, Vitale is the spiritual father of not just Charley Steiner but of Stephen A. Smith. In an age when everybody on sports TV seems to be assaulting the camera, when Bill Walton takes off his shirt during a broadcast, it’s almost unimaginable that Dickie V was once the medium’s most transgressive figure. "He’s like Sir John Gielgud by comparison," said Steiner.
Last summer, Vitale signed a contract extension that will keep him at ESPN until 2019. Moreover, despite ESPN’s reported vow to cut millions in on-air talent salaries, Vitale has extracted a rare promise: that he has a job for life. "I’ve assured Dick that he will always have a place at ESPN," said John Skipper, ESPN’s president.
"Age doesn’t affect me right now," Vitale said. "Mentally and physically and emotionally, it doesn’t. What affects me is the perception by some people about age."
"If I make a mistake, some psycho on the thing" — the internet — "will say, ‘He’s senile. He’s old. He’s washed up.’ A young guy makes a mistake: ‘He just made an error, man. That’s part of growing.’
"People can be the president of the United States in their 70s, yet people can’t be coaches or basketball analysts? Gimme a break!"
Yet even as an ESPN lifer, Vitale couldn’t fend off the kind of downsizing that got his pal Musburger shipped to the SEC Network. In 2014, John Wildhack met with Vitale and his agent, Sandy Montag, to talk about his future.
"I’m going to still do Carolina-Duke?" Vitale asked Wildhack. He had called every Duke-North Carolina game in ESPN’s 35-year history, most recently with Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas.
Wildhack said that he wasn’t — the call would go only to Shulman and Bilas. At that moment, Vitale began to cry.
"I wanted one thing," Vitale told me. "I wanted to go to my grave knowing I did every game that Carolina and Duke ever played. And obviously that was taken away from me."
"What I couldn’t understand," he continued, "is why am I good enough to do Kentucky’s and Carolina’s and Duke’s games, but that game I’m not good enough to do?"
Wildhack, who’s now the athletic director at Syracuse, explained that when he anointed Bilas as ESPN’s lead college basketball analyst, Bilas had to call the network’s biggest game. But it was an enormous blow to the salesman who hawked Duke–North Carolina, who — with a little help from Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner — transformed a regional matchup into a national one. As one writer noted, Vitale "made you feel like you were a special guest at the greatest sporting event in the world."
Vitale is quick to say he isn’t angry at ESPN. Indeed, as a walking network promo, such anger would be impossible. "I’m hurt," Vitale told me. "There’s a difference." Wildhack said that even as Vitale learned of his greatest disappointment in television, he could be heard exclaiming through tears, "Wildhack, I love you!" At the end of the meeting, the two men hugged.
Vitale said: "I hope and pray one day that somebody says I’m going to feel what it’s like to sit there one more time and say, ‘Wow, Carolina and Duke!’" His eyes widened and a familiar excitement crept into his voice: "I just know this: If they ever did put me back on that game, can you imagine the attention?"
Late one night, after Vitale had gone to bed, I asked Lorraine why her husband craved the love of the masses. "I do have a theory about it," she said. "His mother had nine brothers and sisters. His father had nine brothers and sisters. They all lived around each other." Vitale’s aunts and uncles would drop in on each other unannounced, just as Vitale appeared at Sherri’s house. Lorraine said the constant presence fills a psychic need. There has rarely been a minute in Vitale’s life when he has been alone.
Another theory goes like this: Vitale is pushed toward the loving arms of the crowd by the memory of professional failure. "I think with Dick it goes back to being fired as coach of the Pistons," said Brent Musburger. "There’s a little bit of insecurity there."
"He got a second chance as an announcer," said a former ESPN anchor who now works at another national network, "and I always wondered if he thought, ‘It’s my only chance. I know what it’s like when no one cares about me.’"
This theory Vitale more or less cops to. When the Pistons fired him, he couldn’t leave his house for days — which is more of an imposition to Vitale than most humans. With me, Vitale wondered aloud what would have happened if he’d remained a college basketball coach, saying at various times that he’d just now be retiring with 700 or 800 wins or that he would have dropped dead by age 50.
Vitale is willing to entertain thoughts of mortality. Schwab noted: "He has said it many times: ‘I’m in the last chapter of my life.’" As he tries to meet every fan in every gym in America, it’s as if he’s using every second left on the clock. "I think he feels he’s still at the top of his game when the students send out that love," said Musburger.
The final explanation for Vitale’s neediness is the simplest. Sports announcers want to be loved. But with Vitale, the love of the audience practically carries him through life. When he gets to an arena before a game, a line forms with athletic directors, ex-players, and fans trying to snag a minute of his time. Vitale can’t remember ever turning anyone down. Dan Shulman, an ESPN play-by-play man, said: "I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say, ‘Dick, they need you now. We’re on in 30 seconds.’"
When Vitale and I were having breakfast at a restaurant called Another Broken Egg, the waitress came to the table and told Vitale that a "young man" was calling. The man had once met Vitale at the restaurant. He wondered if he might meet him there again. Without inquiring any further about the caller’s identity (Was he a Duke fan? Ax murderer? Both?), Vitale told the waitress he’d give him an audience the following Saturday.
In the early ’90s, Fred Gaudelli, Tim Brando, and Vitale worked a Michigan State game in East Lansing. After the game, they drove five hours through a snowstorm to reach the airport in Detroit. At one point — recollections vary slightly — Brando and Gaudelli heard Vitale’s voice from the backseat. "You gotta go back to [East] Lansing!" Vitale said. "I left my wallet!" Brando assured Vitale that they’d call about his wallet when they got to Detroit.
They arrived at an all-night diner near the airport around 4:30 in the morning. Vitale had moped through the drive, but when he walked into the diner his disposition changed. Everyone seemed to know him. He returned his fans’ affection as if he were doing that old basketball drill where you run up and down the court exchanging chest passes with a teammate. "He went from crying in the back, moaning and groaning, to ‘Hey, baby, it’s me!’" Brando said. "He was in his element, he was loved again, and everything was right in the world."
"Hi, everybody! Dick Vitale. Hey, we’re going to talk a little bit about the Sweet 16!"
We’d just finished dinner in a restaurant that abuts a giant mall in Sarasota. (Inevitable plug: "Look at this place! It’s beautiful!") It was after 9 p.m. The restaurant was quiet but for the clanging of plates in the kitchen and the ecstatic Periscope broadcast emanating from a booth in the back. Lorraine and Howie Schwab looked at Vitale with indulgent expressions. Lorraine held Vitale’s phone.
"Gimme some of these matchups, Howie," Vitale said. "We got Kentucky …"
"UCLA," Schwab said.
"UCLA. … De’Aaron Fox is gonna love it. He’s going to be up and down the court. It’s going to be a 24-second kind of game like they have in the NBA. Transition, transition, transition. … UCLA has been dynamite. Incredible when you talk turnovers …"
"Nine in the first two games," Schwab said.
"Nine turnovers in the first two games. Unbelievable! That’s great, great credit to Lonzo Ball and all his people." Vitale wiped his face with one of the hot towels the waitress had brought over to clean our hands. "We’re at the beautiful Capital Grille. We’re at the Capital Grille here!"
Periscope is perhaps Vitale’s favorite online outlet because he can see the audience’s affection in real time. "Get those hearts goin’ or I’m hangin’ up!" he said. "Get those hearts goin’. C’mon, baby!" Hearts began to float upward on his screen. "I have me a volcano!"
Later, Vitale pointed at the screen and told me, "They count the hearts!" The screen showed he’d accumulated more than 1.8 million.
Musburger retired from ESPN in January. None of Vitale’s friends think he would accept a similar fate. "Him retiring would be the equivalent to Bear Bryant retiring," said Schwab, "and look what happened after that."
Vitale regards a question about retirement as a crude form of ageism. So I asked the question in a different way: Could he imagine being alive and not calling college basketball games?
"It would hurt me dearly," Vitale said. "It would tear my heart out. It’s part of my life. I’m addicted! I am addicted to the hoops hysteria!"
As his Periscope monologue entered its 13th minute, it was clear Vitale is addicted to a lot more than that. The restaurant was now eerily quiet. "OK, I got to wrap this up," Vitale said. "I got to get a TO, baby."
Just then, a Periscope viewer mentioned Vitale’s Subway commercial. The commercial! Yes, baby! Vitale got a second wind. "Go buy some Italian heroes! Maybe they’ll give me a percentage!"
Dick Vitale is the place in sports TV where passion and commerce meet. He will love you only if you will like him back, in the analog or digital senses. Later, as I remembered the ecstatic bald man shouting into his phone, I thought of what John Saunders once told Tim Brando: "There will never be a guy that enjoyed it, cultivated it, but at the same needed it any more than Dick."