Who else carries a little laminated St. Jude card in his right pants pocket no matter where he goes? Vitale will miss a flight rather than leave without the card. For Catholics, St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases. What exactly does a man clearing a very lovely seven figures a year have to feel hopeless about? Who else knocks wood a dozen times a day? Who else is crushed so easily, forgives too easily, tries too hard? Who else cried at the end of Rudy? Who else gets fired only once in his life and broods about it every day thereafter?
37,000 Feet, Somewhere over Colorado
You are trying to catch a little Rip Van Winkle, as Vitale calls it, because Vitale called you in your room at 7:15 this morning to ask if you wanted to hear him do another radio talk show, and this was after he kept you up until one telling stories at some high-garlic Italian joint. Now, just as you start drifting off, Vitale starts reading USA Today. Aloud.
"Oh, man! Oh, man! Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett! Unbelievable! What a mismatch, huh? Lemme tell you something, Lyle Lovett gives every guy hope. Now, no matter what a guy looks like, he sees a beeyoootiful girl and says, 'Hey, I got a shot.' "
Right. But I'm feeling a little sleepy, and....
"Time to check the stocks, baby! Ohhhhh! Go, Mickey! Up another quarter point!"
Tragically, Vitale was born without a delete key. Take the night of Jan. 18. He had just finished doing a grueling 2½-hour ESPN call of Purdue's overtime victory over Indiana. Must have said about, oh, 59,000 words. Talked to the Purdue coaches. Talked to all the players. Talked to fans. Chatted up the referees. Talked to radio guys and beat writers and even a couple photographers. Talked to the Purdue players' girlfriends. Talked to Bob Knight, who had knocked Vitale on his keister the last time they'd met, at a movie taping, and never apologized. And, after all that talking, not three minutes after the wrenching game was over, Vitale went into the men's room and, while facing the wall, if you know what we mean, never missed a paragraph.
"Whoo, boy, what a game, huh?" he said to the guy next to him. "Unbelievable! Incredible! That was something man. Wow! I don't know, though, if I'm the General, I would have got a TO. I really mean that. But he's in the, whaddyacallit, the Hall of Fame, and I'm not, baby!" Flush.
His wife and two daughters, who love him dearly, know when it is time to turn the other ear. "Dad's messages always go right to the beep," says 20-year-old daughter Sherri, a sophomore tennis player at Notre Dame. Says Dick's wife, Lorraine, "I'm kind of used to it. We make a good balance. I take five words to answer a question, and he takes five paragraphs."
Dicky Vee is such a world-class talker that he is famous among singles at ESPN, who routinely ask him to break the ice for them with the opposite sex. ("Hey, c'mon! Why don't you give him a chance. He's good-lookin'! He's got hair!") Vitale talks so much, he forced the invention of the Vitale Count: If Dick Vitale is in the studio and you are the floor director and there are 20 seconds left, you give him the "15 seconds" sign, because when Vitale starts smashing sentences together like freight trains and exhausting the world's supply of exclamation marks, all those words do not just stop on a dime. They have to screech over the cliff a ways and then scramble back, like in the cartoons.