And yet even today, as the most outrageous and recognizable college hoops color man ever, Richie the Worrier frets about pink slips. "What would I do?" he says. "There's not a job in America that I could do if I got fired from this. I mean, where's a guy doing college basketball color on cable supposed to go?"
And so he has one rule. Never stop. The big black limo could be right around the corner.
A man, seemingly with all his faculties, is actually asking Dick Vitale to open his mouth.
It's Vitale's dentist, Dr. Daniel Cohen, who has a drill in his right hand and Vitale at his mercy. And just as Dr. Cohen is about to get busy, he stops. "Do you know how many people would love to be in this situation?" he says.
For its volume of work, Vitale's mouth should be studied and preserved by the Smithsonian. A fan recently took the time to database every Vitalism uttered over an undefined period of time (presumably, as much time as the fan's wife could stand). The fan found that during this stretch, Vitale had used 36 different "times" to describe events in basketball games, including Maalox Time, Pine Time, Trifecta Time and ZZZ Time; 68 different "teams," including All-Airport (those who look good in the airport but get no playing time), All-Pickpocket, All-Lunch, All-Bart Simpson (underachievers) and All-Randy Newman (short); 413 turns of phrase the fan had never heard before (don't ask); 17 "cities," including Cupcake City (easy schedule) and Lock City (game's over); half a dozen promises, including "I'll stand on my head if Austin Peay beats Illinois" (it did, and he did), "I'll scrub the floors of Allen Fieldhouse if Larry Brown stays at Kansas!" (he didn't) and "I'll put tape over my mouth and not speak for a day if Princeton beats Villanova" (please).
Generation X seems to love the shtick. Kids do not just come up to Vitale and say hi. They need a running start. They begin yelling their Dicky Vee impressions from 25 feet away and then close in. "Uh-oh, gotta get a TO, baby!" a hat-backward UCLA student hollered one day as he ran to Vitale from across the street. "Dicky Vee! I'm a PTP'er, baby! Are you serious?!? Give us your John Hancock, baby!" Sometimes when Vitale signs, the signee takes the liberty of rubbing Vitale's head. Former Indiana star Calbert Cheaney did it once and said, "Always wanted to do that." (You think he ever rubbed Bob Knight's head?)
When a Syracuse communications professor recently asked his class to name the one sports announcer in America they would like to write about—remember, Syracuse turned out Bob Costas, Marv Albert and Dick Stockton, among others—70% of the students chose Vitale, who never took a single journalism class anywhere.
And it's not just fans who want to meet him. Players do too. At Purdue, Kenny Williams, a senior forward, sidled up to Vitale. "Yo, Coach," Williams said. "Can you talk to [Purdue] Coach [Gene] Keady? I need some PT, man! I'm All-Pine!" After UCLA beat Arizona on Jan. 20, star Bruin forward Ed O'Bannon waited patiently for an evaluation of his play from a man who hasn't coached in 15 years. "Move more," said Vitale. "Easiest guy to guard is the one who won't move." O'Bannon looked like he was going to go right back to his locker and write it down.