Athens, GA (Dec 19, 2007) - "All I need for the game is a couple of lemons cut in eighths," Dick Vitale said before a University of Kentucky-University of Georgia (UGA) game some years ago at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA. As far as talent requests go, this was one of the more bizarre ones I have had to fill over the years. And if you have ever tried to find lemons in a basketball arena an hour before tip-off, you can understand the challenge. But this request was for Dickie V., and I was more than happy to oblige the man.
Why? Because he IS college basketball and one of the most enthusiastic, energetic color analysts I have ever worked for in 26+ years of working in television sports. Unlike another big-name analyst, who, in my experience, has got to be one of the most miserable, sexist people to wear a basketball announcer's headset, Vitale exudes a genuine, child-like enthusiasm for the game that cannot be matched. To watch him jump up and lead the University of Georgia pep band is one of the most enjoyable moments I have experienced at a game. This is the type of man you would climb Mount Everest for to get those lemons.
Photograph Courtesy of Zach Klein
Unfortunately, his voice has been silenced until at least February. For a man who has never missed an assigned game in 29 years on the air, this has to be the biggest psychological challenge he has had to face as a broadcaster. ESPN, in a release issued yesterday, said
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale had successful surgery today to treat ulcers on his left vocal chord. Vitale plans to return to the air in early February. He will continue to provide his college basketball observations on ESPN.com and dickvitaleonline.com while he recuperates.
"College basketball fans will miss Dick's enthusiasm in the coming weeks. But we are delighted to learn his surgery was a success and we all wish him a speedy recovery," said ESPN President George Bodenheimer.
No broadcast analyst connects with the crowd better or in a more genuine way than Dick Vitale.
Photograph Copyright ESPN, All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.
Besides the knowledge and history carried in the brain, the voice is the most valuable asset an announcer brings to the game. When he as with CBS Sports, I observed John Madden's ritual with bemused amusement. His stage manager carefully laid out what Madden needed for the game in a precise order: cigars, honey, and lemons. Being young and naive, I asked why the honey and lemons. The answer was to protect his voice during the game. So when Vitale made the request, I knew why. In one of those "other tasks as required" statements in a job description, UGA Sports Information Director Claude Felton and Associate SID for Men's Basketball Tim Hix, going well above and beyond the call of duty, helped me out and we got the lemons.
On his website, Vitale wrote his fans:
During the past month and a half, I have had a very difficult time with discomfort in my throat. Personally, I want to apologize to all of the fans and all of the beautiful people at ESPN who have been fantastic to me during my 29 years working at the network.
I have been blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people, especially my current teammates, Dan Shulman, Doris Burke, coordinating producer Dan Steir and director Doug Holmes, whom have all been so understanding and supportive.
Vitale has never asked for anything from his fans except to share his love for college basketball. As Dick Vitale lit a votive candle, offering a prayer, at the Notre Dame Grotto (picture left), we at Eye on Sports Media say a prayer for his speedy recovery and look forward to his return. Without Vitale, college basketball viewing just has a sour taste that is so...so wrong.
Notre Dame Grotto Photograph courtesy of Dick Vitale Online.