If you could only watch two regular season college basketball games on TV all year, they should be Duke at North Carolina, and North Carolina at Duke. It doesn't even matter if you like one school or not, the game is always filled with high drama, despite which team is having the better year. You also know when you turn on ESPN to see the game, you are going to get analyst Dick Vitale at his Dick Vitaliest. But not this year.
Vitale has been the face and voice of college basketball for over 35 years. He's been with ESPN since its inception in 1979. You know all about his P-T-Pers, Diaper Dandies, Slam Jam Bam, and Dipsy Do Dunkeroo. You know he's way over the top at times, but you also know he knows the game and every player and coach in it, and you count on him to be at all the big ones—especially in Chapel Hill and Cameron Indoor Stadium.
This year, the two meetings between Duke and Carolina were only two-and-a-half weeks apart. I taped the February 18 game and watched it when I got home from work. There was play-by-play man Dan Shulman and analyst Jay Bilas, but no Vitale. Legendary Carolina coach Dean Smith had recently passed away, and I figured funeral services were right around that time, and that must have had something to do with it. Saturday, when the two teams met again, there were Shulman and Bilas, but again, no Dick Vitale.
I became concerned at this point. Vitale must be ill if he missed both games, I thought. So I did some research (which of course these days means Google). Richard Deitsch of SI.com wrote that ESPN didn't assign Vitale to either game. As Deitsch points out, Bilas is the lead analyst now and has signed a contract through 2022. Vitale's deal was extended through 2017, but the point of the SI.com piece is that the 75 year-old Vitale is no longer the top guy.
In his piece, Deitsch was calling for ESPN to give Vitale one more Duke-North Carolina game. That's nonsense. Vitale should get all of the Duke-Carolina games, even if that means a three-man booth with Shulman and Bilas. The three of them have worked together before, and it would add to the craziness and fun that the rivalry between the two schools already has. I could be wrong, but I don't believe Vitale has ever not done a Duke-Carolina game that was on ESPN (CBS gets a game or two every once in awhile).
Deitsch doesn't want you to feel sorry for Vitale, but after 35-plus years, Vitale really should get to make his own assignments. ESPN telling Vitale he can't do Duke-North Carolina, would be like the Dodgers telling Vin Scully he's not allowed to do the World Series (or playoffs, or Sundays, or anything). ESPN seems to be phasing out its older broadcasters, which is a shame. The network pulled Brent Musberger off of prime time college football for Chris Fowler. That's one thing, but the 'Worldwide Leader' also then assigned Musberger to the SEC Network, which is only seen in a handful of homes in comparison to ESPN or ABC.
It looks like Dick Enberg was right. When the venerable one left CBS in 2009, he said he “wanted to get out before they kicked me out.” Enberg, by the way, now 80, has been doing San Diego Padres games since 2010, and will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster this summer. For Vitale, we know he's no diaper dandy any more, but he's definitely the network's P-T-Per (Prime Time Performer). Are you serious? Are you serious? He should be back in the booth baby, especially for both editions of Duke-North Carolina.
Baseball's back, baby: Not too many people know this, but Vitale is a huge baseball fan. Could you imagine him as a baseball analyst? He could talk about Mike Trout for two innings straight, but I don't think he could pause long enough to tell you where the pitch was. Vitale lives in Sarasota, Florida, and is a big Tampa Bay Rays fan, and can often be seen (there aren't usually too many other people there) at the games.
Yes baseball is back: I didn't mean to get carried away with Dickie V (it just sort of happens with him), but other than Duke-North Carolina, there was spring training baseball on the tube over the weekend. The Giants televised their Saturday game against San Diego, and the A's televised the Sunday game against the White Sox. The A's won't televise another game until the Bay Bridge series next month, but the Giants have two more telecasts in March—Thursday March 26 against the A's in Scottsdale, and March 29 vs. the Dodgers. ESPN has five spring training games—four of them from Florida March 19, 24, 27, and April 2. They'll also have the Angels and Cubs from Mesa, Arizona March 26.
That's apple pie, right?: Speaking earlier of Enberg, my mom sent me a column by Los Angeles Times feature writer Chris Erskine on the 80 year-old, who is not only getting ready for baseball, but has also written a short play about his late friend and college basketball broadcast partner Al McGuire. The best line isn't about Enberg, though. Erskine mentions many great announcers, including “noted scoundrel Harry Caray, who approached a ballgame the way Prince Fielder approaches pie.”