Soars With Cable Network
Vitale joined ESPN for the 1979-80 season, shortly after the Bristol, Connecticut-based network went on air. He worked its first college basketball telecast, DePaul's 90-77 victory over Wisconsin in Chicago. His stock rose as the network's did. ESPN in the early-to-mid 1980s carried the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, thus widening Vitale's exposure. (CBS got exclusive rights to the tournament in the late 1980s.) "The cable network, the home of early-round tournament games since 1980, developed a cult following of sorts and many believe the increased exposure given Cinderella teams helped revolutionize recruiting, making it easier for coaches at lesser-known schools to lure high school prospects," Mike Duchant wrote in CBS Sports Line. Vitale now also calls games for ABC, which shares an ownership with ESPN.
In addition to its game telecasts, ESPN introduced Sports Center, its one-hour nightly sports newscast. Sports Center freed TV sports news from ESPN Senior Vice President John Walsh once called "the five minute ghetto" on the local 11 p.m. news.
Vitale maintains his "V-Speak" glossary on the Internet. "While his knowledge, preparation and enthusiasm are unparalleled, his 'Vitale-isms' have unwittingly taken on a life of their own," ESPN wrote on its Web site. A Vitale arrival for a telecast is often a happening in itself. Mike Krzyzewski, coach of powerhouse Duke and a good friend of Vitale's, good-naturedly needled the announcer on air for not coming to a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium until January of the 2002-03 season.
Vitale, though, is unabashed in his admiration for Duke's program-and building. "Oh, man. I think everyone out there is trying to emulate what goes on at Cameron Indoor Stadium," he wrote in an e-mail response to a fan at his "Dickie V" Web site. "You certainly have to say that at any school with a big program, you have super, super fans. The (Maryland) Terp fans at Comcast Center … the Cameron Crazies down at Duke … Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk out at Kansas … the fans in Lexington (Kentucky) at Rupp Arena. When programs are winning, it breeds that special environment. The Pittsburgh fans at the new Peterson Events Center are into it because the team is faring so well. There are so many special places in college basketball today."
In another fan response, Vitale railed at trash talking in sports. "The sports scene plays a pivotal role in developing youngsters in a positive way," he said. "I think it has lots of good potential for developing the kinds of attitudes needed in a competitive world. I was recently with several leading executives who were former athletes, and they said sports played an important part in their growth."