When top-ranked Connecticut takes on Louisville inside Freedom Hall this Monday evening, one of the men calling the game for ESPN will be College Basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale.
A little over two years ago, the rankings of the Cardinals and Huskies weren't nearly as lofty, but the situation was nearly identical. Big Monday. Freedom Hall. Raucous crowd. Vitale in the house.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the "White Out" that night and witness the Cards pull away in the second half for a 14-point win that officially signified the team was headed in the right direction after a disappointing 10-5 start. Excited, hungry and completely unwilling to begin work on a paper due the next morning, I decided to heat up some sort of grub and relive the magic of Louisville's win via Tivo.
It was fairly on in a first half that was admittedly poorly played when I noticed that Vitale - whose inability to focus on and discuss the game he's being paid heartily to focus on and discuss had already been well documented by many - was having even more difficulty controlling his CCADD (CC = color commentary) than usual. The man was talking about the Colts, the Yankees, Maria Sharapova; basically anything and everything besides the Connecticut Huskies and the Louisville Cardinals.
Initially, I started jotting down the most obscure people, places and things coming out of his mouth with the intention of posting them as a small tidbit on the game recap. But as I listened on and realized just how little this man was talking about the game being played five feet in front of him, I became increasingly ambitious.
This paper was not going to be handed in on time.
After restarting the game, heating up more food, and having to pause the TV several times in order to jot down steady streams of irrelevancies, I had an extensive "list of teams and people that Dick Vitale talked about Monday night that had absolutely nothing to do with the Louisville/Connecticut game he was calling."
Deadspin picked the post up the next morning, and life on this little blog of ours would never be the same.
The list was linked ubiquitously on the Internet for the next couple of days, resulting in a thrashing of the site's previous high of six visitors on the day after Louisville won the Orange Bowl. Then, just when it appeared things had settled down, the list was became the focus of both a Bob Hill column in The Courier-Journal and a Marc Katz column in the Dayton Daily News.
Some guy named Mike was a star.
With the list in such high circulation, some guy named Mike couldn't help but wonder if its inspiration, its initiator, had seen, um, it.
The answer was unearthed when The University Daily Kansan sports columnist Travis Robinett sat down with Vitale to talk about a previous column he'd written in which he had interviewed me and focused on the announcer and the list.
Turns out Dickie V. had indeed visited Card Chronicle, and he hadn't particularly enjoyed his stay.
"Am I guilty of (name dropping) at times," Vitale said. "Probably so, but first of all that game was not a good game. It was ugly in the first half, so what you try to do is keep people there. I mean, there are reasons you do some of the things you do.
"I've been doing this for 28 years and if I weren't doing it in a positive way, would I get the reaction I do from people? Plus, the coaches, players, they come to me all the time and say 'Dickie V, we love your spirit, your enthusiasm.' I mean, am I going to be perfect? Nobody's perfect. I make mistakes. I get upset at myself at times and ask myself, 'Why did you say that?' or 'Why did you do that?' I'm my biggest critic."
Vitale and I, who first met and formed a deep friendship during a Hawley-Cooke book signing in 1994, have still not spoken since. So would we call this a celebrity feud? Yes, that's exactly what we would call it, because I'm the one in charge of the semantics.
I wrote this after Vitale's comments came out, and can't think of a better way to put it today:
Truth is I like Vitale, I like him a lot. Everyone who knows him or has met him in passing speaks extremely highly of his character, I think his overall impact on college basketball has been positive, and his efforts with regards to Cancer research have been extremely noble. I actually still have an autographed Vitale mini-ball that I got as a gift many years ago.
I just hate that he's allowed himself to become this cartoon character. His excitement is fantastic when used appropriately, and when he was at his best years ago it merely served as the perfect accent to the wealth of intelligent insight he brought to the table. But he's let this thing get out of hand, and somewhere along the line he became nothing more than a parody of himself.
And now it's spreading.
Commentators and other TV personalities desperate to distinguish themselves are mimicking Vitale with the hope that it will make them famous. I think it's a safe bet that the success of Vitale has played a large part in the evolution of the monster that has become Lee Corso. We seem to be about a decade away from having Gilbert Gottfried behind the CBS News Desk.
Eight years ago Vitale wrote a book subtitled Why the Game I Love is Breaking My Heart. Vitale is now the one breaking hearts by letting himself become something that is detrimental to the overall state of a game that myself, and many others around these parts, believe is the best in the world.
Tonight's a big deal, Dick, let's go ahead and treat it as such.