The Easter Bunny has the beginning of April, the domain of Santa Claus stretches from Thanksgiving until the end of December. Now March, March belongs to Dick Vitale. He conjures a wealth of opinions good and bad, but no one from my generation can think of March Madness without hearing his voice.
I know he is an unabashed homer for the ACC. I know his love affair with Duke is as over the top sappy as a Nicholas Sparks novel. I know that by the end of a two-hour game his hoarse shouting can start to wear you a little thin. I know all that, and I still love the guy.
One of my greatest memories of Dickie V. is from the 1999 Coaches vs. Cancer championship game at Madison Square Garden. The tournament that year featured UConn vs. Iowa and Duke vs. Stanford in the first round. Duke and UConn had met in an epic NCAA championship game only 8 months before, and they were both heavily favored in these games. I was in my freshman year at Ithaca College at this point, and a friend and I decided to drive down to the city for the games. The opening games were on a Thursday night, with the championship and consolation games to follow on Friday night. My friend and I both had class Friday morning, so we planned to make the five and a half hour drive down in the afternoon. With the long drive we might miss part of the consolation game, but we weren’t worried. I mean there was no way Duke and UConn would love, right?
Of course Duke and UConn did both lose the opening night. The drive took longer than we thought, we missed the entire consolation game between the Blue Devils and Huskies. We had problems with parking and our tickets, and got there a few minutes into the championship game between Iowa and Stanford. Steve Alford was coaching Iowa at that point, and Casey Jacobsen was starring for Stanford, but needless to say we were both a little disappointed that this was the game we ended up with.
Luckily, Dickie V. was there to save the day. The arena completely emptied out after the Duke – UConn game so we were able to move down to seats at center court right behind the announcers. I can’t remember who the play-by-play guy working with Dickie V. was, but we were less than twenty feet away from them. Vitale never shut up, not once, during the entire game. He shouted through every play, every timeout, every dead ball and every foul shot. He was twenty feet away but it sounded like he was shouting right in our ears. The energy never dissipated. His exhausted partner looked like he wanted to strangle him, just for the few minutes of silence it would bring before the police rushed in to take him away. I have never enjoyed a live basketball game more. The excitement and absolute joy that pours out of Dickie V. is so contagious, even more so in person. It’s not a schtick, or a character he is playing, the guy really is certifiably nuts for college basketball. As far as I am concerned he is one of the best things about basketball. He is a PTP’er and Higher Riser, metaphorically speaking of course. Can you imagine if you love your job as much as he does? Can you imagine being excited enough about anything to scream at the top of your lungs for hours on end?
So when the weather starts to get warm, and the first buds start creeping out onto the tree branches. I ‘ll be sitting in front of my TV waiting for Dickie V. to kick it into overdrive and take my college basketball experience to the next level. Yeah Baby!