| ||Monday, September 6|
|Dick Vitale joined ESPN just after the network's September 1979 launch. At
that time, Vitale was a 40-year-old, out-of-work coach looking to find
another team to lead. Now, after 20 television seasons, Vitale is a
Vitale made his debut on ESPN's national college basketball game - the Wisconsin Badgers against the DePaul Blue Demons on Dec. 5, 1979 (DePaul won 90-77). Since then, he has called over 1,000 games for ESPN, including several NBA contests. Although Vitale is well known for his phrases such as "Awesome Baby" and "Diaper Dandy," he was also awarded the Basketball Hall of Fame's prestigious Curt Gowdy Media Award, the Hall's highest honor for a journalist outside of enshrinement.
Vitale reflects on ESPN as the 20th anniversary approaches:
Q: What was your mindset when you came to ESPN?
A: "I had just gotten fired by the Pistons in 1979 and didn't know where my life was headed. Then ESPN executive producer Scotty Connal called me and asked if I would mind doing the commentary for the upcoming basketball game on ESPN. I said to him, 'ESPN? What is that -- a disease or something?' I had never heard of nor seen ESPN and I really didn't know what it was. I agreed to do it because of my passion and love for college basketball, but I didn't know what to expect."
Q: Who were some of the people you worked with in your early days at ESPN?
A: "When I started, there were guys picking me up and driving me to the studio. One of my drivers was Fred Gaudelli, who is now senior coordinating producer for the NFL. I have also seen the growth of the entry level guys who I worked with in production like Steve Anderson (current: executive vice president of production and technical operations) , John Wildhack (senior vice president of programming), Mo Davenport (senior coordinating producer), and Dave Miller (senior coordinating producer). To see all these guys today as corporate superstars just blows my mind. George Bodenheimer, the President of ESPN, used to pick me up at the airport and say , 'Dickie V, I went to Denison University and I just graduated last year. I got my degree, and here I am picking you up at the airport. Where am I going with my career?' I could see that he had something special about him and told him, 'George if you are patient something good will happen for you.' Today he is the President of ESPN. I left a message for him when he was named president earlier this year, and I said, 'George, remember you used to pick me up wondering where you were going? Man, look at you now. You are the president of ESPN; don't forget about me.'
"The one thing I love about being associated with ESPN is that a lot of people with unbelievable dreams and goals really work so diligently in pursuit of their goals. They have so much ambition, so much creativity, so much innovative ability, to see all of that and to see these people grow has just been amazing to me."
Q: What is your impression of the typical ESPN viewer?
A: "They are probably like I am. They eat, drink, and sleep sports. I learn a great deal from them. Fans hear my terms and a lot of times suggest certain phrases and sometimes I use them. I am always looking to steal; imitation is a sign of flattery. Fans made me what I am. There is no question they have been my greatest booster. The typical fan, just like I do, wants to know what's happening in the world of sports and with ESPN you are going to get that all day long. If there is a breaking story, ESPN breaks into programming and gives you the latest information. They go right to a live spot if there is a great moment happening in the world of sports. As a sports fanatic I want that."
Q: What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
A: "I think I would be coaching on the college level, which is something I love. Now, however, there is not a college job in the country that they could offer to me that could take me away from the TV booth. I like being undefeated, having never lost a game in 20 years! I like having the freedom when the season ends of being on vacation. I just love what I am doing."
Q: What is your most memorable game while working for ESPN?
A: "The one that stands out the most was with Michael Jordan, who was absolutely sensational as a sophomore, going head to head with the player of the year in college basketball, Ralph Sampson. It was the #1 Cavaliers against the #2 Tar Heels and the place was rocking. North Carolina was getting beat with a little over two minutes to go in the game and it looked like it was all over for the Tar Heels. Then all of a sudden it was the 'Michael the Magnificent Show.' I remember at the end of the game saying, 'pound for pound, inch for inch, the best player in the United States is Michael Jordan.' I was so excited to be a part of that."
Q: Would you like to say something to your audience upon ESPN's 20th Anniversary?
A: "I would simply say that we have all been blessed as sports fans, to have ESPN constantly providing entertainment, especially SportsCenter which offers instant coverage of what's happening in the world of sports. For a sports fanatic like me this is just terrific. I am so proud to be a little spoke in the big tire which is ESPN today. Believe me, I know as much as anyone how big ESPN has become. ESPN has grown so big that it has really affected me and my family's life in a very positive way. For example, the growth of ESPN -- from the early days to the vast audience today -- can be reflected very simply: I can't go anywhere without somebody saying 'Aren't you Dickie V? Wow, I see you on ESPN."
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