March Madness 2016 ends soon (Monday, April 4, 2016) in Houston. This blogger has retrieved his belt and shoelaces after the itmes were confiscated after Michigan States' first-round loss to Middle Tennessee State that destroyed the blogger's bracket in the pool ("Dave's NCAA Extravaganza") operated by the blogger's son-in-law. The blogger is Charlie Brown to his son-in-law;s Lucy van Pelt; every year for the past two decades, the blogger has run to be the pool-winner and every year, Lucy van Pelt jerks the prize away. That does it. This blogger has sworn an oath to himself that there will be no more madness in his March. Middle Tennessee State destroyed something for all time. If this is (fair & balanced) disillusionment, so be it.
Dick Vitale's Bracket Is Busted, And He's Loving It
By Jack Holmes
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
It's a familiar voice, like that of an old friend, or of that fun uncle who would always come and sit at the kids' table at family gatherings. It has been the soundtrack for college basketball for 37 years, a constant presence from December to March on ESPN. It has provided the dynamic, zany, breathlessly enthusiastic color commentary at Cameron Indoor Stadium and Rupp Arena and almost everywhere else, a guide and companion through upsets and rivalries and the madness of March. It has trumpeted the virtues of "diaper dandies"—and ended a sizeable percentage of sentences with "baby"—from courtside at more than 1,000 games. It is the voice of Dick Vitale.
But the man they call "Dickie V" is not only on the horn with me to talk about basketball. Sure, he's got his take on the best games and the biggest upsets—it is still the height of March Madness, after all, as we chat during the lull between the Elite Eight and Final Four. He's also here to discuss weightier things. He's competing in the Allstate March Mayhem challenge for the fourth consecutive year, this time against legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin, to benefit a cause dear to his heart: the V Foundation for Cancer Research. The disease took his dear friend Jim Valvano—the foundation's namesake—and fighting it has become, in his words, his "obsession."
He wants to raise awareness, and to ask for help. But he is also more than happy to talk about ESPN's early days, the state of his bracket, and the time he watched, sitting next to Bill Walton, as a 17-year-old LeBron James announced himself to the sporting world.
How's your bracket looking?
It was destroyed when Michigan State and Kentucky both went bye-bye early. Michigan State really let me down losing to Middle Tennessee State. I think it's one of the most shocking surprises ever in my 37 years at ESPN. I picked them to win the whole thing. Saying all that, though, I'm having a great deal of fun. Buzz Aldrin's an American icon, and All-State March Madness challenge is always fun to be part of.
But most of all, we're all winners. They're donating money in Buzz's name to the Houston Space Center, and donating money in my name to the V Foundation, and to kids battling cancer. So we win either way. But right now I've been told that I'm one game behind Buzz going into the Final Four. I need Oklahoma to beat Villanova for me to tie him.
What's been your favorite game of the tournament so far?
It was the shock of Michigan State getting beat. Many, many people have been projecting them to win a national title. So the loss to Middle Tennessee State was a total shock. The Northern Iowa scenario was also a stunner, to be up 12 with 44 seconds left and lose the game. My heart broke for those kids, and what a gutsy comeback by Texas A&M.
But saying all that, I think what most shocked me—because of what was at stake, a trip to the Final Four—was Virginia and Syracuse. Virginia was up 16 in the second half, and we did research on this. Tony Bennet, in seven years as a coach at Virginia, has never, ever lost a double-figure lead in the second half. Usually, they're lethal. Usually, if they've got a lead—because they handle the ball so well, and they've got great free throw shooters, and they've got a tremendous star in Malcolm Brogdon, who usually makes big plays to bail them out whenever they got in trouble—normally, you'd say that with a 16-point lead they're home free. So for Syracuse to come back—Brogdon went two for 14, Syracuse went on an incredible run, and a star was born in the kid Malachi Richardson, a freshman who scores 21 points in the second half—it was just one of those magical moments. That's why we call it March Madness.
You've been coaching and watching and commentating for four decades. Does it still amaze you that there's something new every year to talk about?
March Madness is an incredible three weeks. I firmly believe it's the greatest three weeks in sports. You have the Super Bowl, you have the World Series. But nothing captivates America for a three-week period, where grandma, grandpa, people that don't even follow basketball, people in office pools, people all over are getting involved, picking their team, riding the shoulders of that team. It's so exciting.
And part of it is that after one bad night, the party's over. You and I know that, in a four-out-of-seven situation, a Yale doesn't beat a Baylor, a Little Rock doesn't beat a Purdue. In the NBA, four-out-of-seven, usually the crème de la crème is gonna come out on top. But in college basketball, you have that one night—you think Middle Tennessee State could beat Michigan State four out of seven? In no way, shape, or form! But for that one night, they were better. And that's what makes the tournament so unique and so special.
You joined ESPN when it was a fledgling network. Did it feel like a risk at the time?
Let me tell you this: ESPN changed my life. I thought 1979 was the end of the world. My career had been on an incredible run from the sixth grade classroom to coaching at a high school in East Rutherford New Jersey. We won back-to-back state championships. I went to Rutgers, we had a lot of success recruiting. I moved on to Detroit, went to the NCAA tournament, and then I became a pro coach [with the Detroit Pistons]. Then I got fired—November 8, 1979. And all of a sudden I got a call, two weeks later, about doing a game on ESPN. And I truly said—Scotty Connal, the head of ESPN production at the time, was the guy that called me—I said "Man, ESPN sounds like a disease. What is ESPN? I know nothing about it, never heard of it."
And I will go to my grave knowing that I did the very first game in the history of ESPN college basketball: DePaul and Wisconsin, in 1979. We had this little trailer in Bristol at the time, and today when I go there, it's like a college campus. It's unbelievable. To see the growth first hand—there's nothing like it. And they have treated me like royalty. I've been on shows, you name 'em. From David Letterman's Top Ten Lists, "Naked Gun," "He's Got Game," cameos in all those movies. It's been an incredible run. Commercials, speaking engagements. I pinch myself every day. I've been so blessed, so lucky.
Someone asked me the other day, "Where do you get this energy?" I'm 76 years old, and I act like I'm about 12. When I sit courtside this Saturday and Monday to call the Final Four and the championship game for ESPN International, I'll be like a little 12-year-old kid.
Where does Duke-UNC rank among the rivalries in sports for you? And is Cameron Indoor the greatest place to watch a game?
There's no question it is, to me, because of what's usually at stake. Louisville-Kentucky is special as well, but North Carolina and Duke is unique because it's also within league competition. It usually has a bearing on who's going to win the championship or the league or a tournament. And whether it be at Cameron or at the Dean Dome [Dean Smith Center], it's just so unique. The fans are so passionate, so energetic. It's very special. I think it's the greatest rivalry in college sports.
You mentioned the V Foundation. Obviously Jimmy V.[Valvano] meant a lot to you.
We all remember him cutting the nets down, shocking America when he beat Phi Slama Jama and Houston. But really, his legacy is going to be a different one. I'm on the board of directors for the organization, which has so far has raised over $150 million for cancer research. To me, Jimmy is affecting lives for generation after generation. And that is as special as it gets.
My concentration now is kids—pediatrics. A lot of people don't know this, but only four cents of every dollar raised for cancer research goes to pediatrics. And that is a crime. That is a tragedy. So we're on the 11th year of the Dick Vitale Gala. This year it will be May 13th at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota. We'll be honoring Urban Meyer, Ohio State football head coach, and Bo Ryan, [former] basketball coach at Wisconsin. And we're honoring the great—and I mean great—Robin Roberts, who's an inspirational story to many, from "Good Morning America."
Our goal this year—and it's going to be tough—I need help from the people: to go to dickvitaleonline.com and make a donation. I'm hoping to announce that we've raised $2.5 million for research on the night of the gala. We've done a lot so far, but it's not nearly enough. As I'm talking to you, I'm looking at pictures of twelve kids that have been at my gala over the last ten years who are no longer here. Peyton Wright, Lacey Holsworth. Adrian Littlejohn, whose funeral I spoke at. I've given speeches all over the country, at all kinds of events—that one was the toughest I've ever given. Dylan Simmons, Austin Schrader, Luke Kelly. All of them are gone, all lost their lives. And maybe if we had money, maybe if we had the dollars for research, they would be here today. I always tell people that a donation—any donation—could help big time. They could be saving the life of someone they know and love.
Just one more question: In 2002, you called a Saint Mary's-St. Vincent's High School game featuring a young LeBron James. Did you see greatness in him even then?
I'll tell you this: When I did that game, I got criticized the next day. TV critics came after me for overhyping LeBron. A lot of people don't know this, but I didn't want to do the game. I told ESPN, "We're making this kid into something special." I always follow orders, whatever my people want me to do. I said, "Guys, I'll do whatever you want. But I really..." And then they put me on the game with Bill Walton. I said, "If both of us walk in there, we're making this game the biggest thing ever—about a 17-year-old kid! He can't be as good as they're saying!"
But when the game started, I couldn't believe what I was watching. I turned to Bill, and I remember saying this on the air: "My friend, I'm telling you up and down: This kid is better than advertised. Better. He will be an instant star." And it's been unbelievable watching him go, and he's just been off the charts. Ω
[Jack Holmes has been an editorial assistant at Esquire magazine since August 2015. He also has been a media intern for New York magazine and The Daily Beast. Homes received a BA (political science) from Vanderbilt University.]
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