Maybe it's all part of the act, but at ESPN there is something of a Vitale Cushion between the journalism-school guys and Dicky Vee. The J-schoolers all smile and laugh and stand just an extra six inches away from him. Ley once introduced Vitale as the man "recently given the Lifetime Achievement Award by Sony for doing the most to promote the use of the mute button." During the Indiana-Purdue game, Vitale was amazed that one of the players had a 1,300 SAT score. "You and I together might be a 1,300," said Vitale.
"Yeah," said his broadcast partner, Mike Patrick. "My 1,200 and your 100."
The print media has generally killed Vitale. Norman Chad, sports-television critic of the Washington Post, rips Vitale regularly ("He's the Lhasa apso barking at your feet," Chad once wrote). "I don't understand it," Richie the Worrier says glumly. "I know I'm a good person. I love people. People who know me are my biggest asset. It's the people who don't know me who don't like me. Writers can be really cruel, man."
But it is a little hard to treat Vitale as Winston Churchill. He does to the English language what Nell Carter does to a strapless teddy. He strings too many words together too fast without pausing to inhale. Would that life, like answering machines, had a beep on the tape. During the Purdue game, Vitale had this to say about Indiana's 7-foot center, Todd Lindeman: "He's not a real true 7-footer. He may be 7-foot in size, but he's also got that big, big, like, the neck and the head, and therefore he loses a couple of inches versus a true 7-footer with the long arms." Beep.
Norm Crosby would like Vitale. Here's Dicky Vee on....
•The rich atmosphere of Allen Fieldhouse: "I mean, you can practically reek the tradition."
•His plans for his next trip to Las Vegas: "I really want to see that whaddyacallit, that magic act, Sigmund and Freud."
•His routine on the afternoon of a game: "I like to go up to the room and just make some mental reservations about the game."
Basically, Vitale is a former C-plus student with a very large mouth and an even larger heart who swallowed a microphone and therefore cannot be turned off. And Vitale knows it.
"I break all the rules," he says. "I never went to broadcasting school. I'm not blond and good-looking. I'm ugly. I'm not polished, and I talk too much. But I must be doing something right, baby, because the phone rings off the hook. Knock wood."