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YOU SAID A MOUTHFUL, DICK, BABY
Mark Fischetti
March 19, 1990
Preacher: The price of tickets is just absolutely too high. Thirty dollars for every ticket in the place. It's not fair to Joe Fan, who wants to come out with his kids.
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March 19, 1990

You Said A Mouthful, Dick, Baby

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BROADCASTERS' SCOREBOARD

VITALE*

BRANDO*

PACKER**

BROWN**

Total words

7,706

5,360

5,487

4,614

Longest run
(Uninterrupted words)

133

90

118

90

Three-pointers
(Runs exceeding 50 words)

31

13

20

8

Touch passes
(One-word sentences)

9

83

4

31

"And" sentences
(Percentage beginning with "and")

7%

38%

17%

30%

*Stats from Georgetown vs. North Carolina, on ESPN, Dec. 7, 1989.
**Stats from DePaul vs. North Carolina, on CBS, Dec. 16, 1989.

Preacher: The price of tickets is just absolutely too high. Thirty dollars for every ticket in the place. It's not fair to Joe Fan, who wants to come out with his kids.

Teacher: System plus athletes plus coaches equals W.

Screecher: Look at Rice's speed! A little shake 'n' bake. Showtime! Party time! Here he comes. He converts! He finishes! He finalizes!

Whether you love him or hate him, and it seems that almost everyone either loves him or hates him, Dick Vitale has become the voice of college basketball. So much so that, while clicking through TV channels one night earlier in the season, I stopped upon hearing his voice, figuring that whatever game was on must be important. The final matchup of the ACC-Big East Challenge, between Georgetown and North Carolina, was just getting under way on ESPN.

I turned on the VCR, cranked up the sound and began puttering around the house. What began as background noise soon caught my attention. I became enthralled by the strange and wonderful language of basketball color and play-by-play.

Calling a football game is one thing; after virtually every play there are 20 or 30 seconds of dead air to fill, leaving plenty of time for John Madden to scribble all over his Telestrator and for Dan Dierdorf to wax eloquent about how wonderful it is to hear the grunting in the pit. You would think the nonstop action of a basketball game, being described in rapid, staccato fashion by the play-by-play man, would leave little time for the color guy to get a word in edgewise.

Or rather you would if that guy wasn't Vitale. Having become so captivated by his routine, I decided to analyze it, a job that required transcribing the entire broadcast of the Georgetown-North Carolina game. During the game Vitale got in 7,706 words, and each time he took over the microphone, I discovered, he uttered an average of 26 words.

When you add to Vitale's words the 5,360 spoken by the game's play-by-play man, Tim Brando, you come up with a pretty impressive figure of speech. In a single two-hour broadcast they rattled off enough verbiage to fill 12 solid pages of text in this magazine. And that doesn't include the duo's pregame, postgame or halftime numbers.

Were Vitale and Brando an anomaly? I wondered. Driven by an obsession with language, shaped in my years as a writer and editor, I looked for a comparison. The next week CBS aired its first college game of the season, between DePaul and North Carolina. On went the VCR. During the game James Brown and Billy Packer combined for 10,101 words—not quite up there with Vitale and Brando, but plenty of chat just the same.

Everyone jokes about the silly things television broadcasters sometimes say. But have you ever really listened to them? Granted, it's not easy to ad-lib continuously for two hours. Yet the strategy, it seems, is to just keep talking.

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