"What kind of work are you in?" Vitale said.
"I sell software to insurance companies," she said. "And you?"
"I'm a fired NBA coach. Detroit Pistons."
"Hey, you got kids?"
Vitale cannot let go of that day, Nov. 8, 1979, when Piston owner Bill Davidson arrived at Vitale's house in a big black limo, stepped out, touched Vitale lightly and warmly on the shoulder and whispered, "Made a coaching change today."
Remarkably, Richie the Worrier never saw it coming. "Just like that!" Vitale says now, still amazed. "Made a coaching change today.' Unbelievable! Man, that was hard. My whole life, I had just gone up and up and up and had nothing but success, and then all of a sudden somebody's telling me, 'You're zero, baby! You ain't worth nothin'!' "
But what Vitale doesn't tell you is that he worried himself right out of the job. The ulcers were bleeding, and Vitale was calling Davidson nightly from the road, saying, "You oughta fire me. I'm not gettin' it done for you."
Pink-slipped, Vitale was inconsolable. He stayed in bed for a week. And a month later, just when he wondered what he might do with the rest of his life, he got the luckiest call of his life. ESPN. "Sounded like a disease," he remembers. It was a call that changed Vitale, college basketball and the careers of ear specialists forever.