O'Donnell: Four decades later, Dick Vitale is still keeping an eye on DePaul
FORTY YEARS AGO this week, an unemployed basketball coach walked into DePaul's Alumni Hall to call his first game on a three month-old cable TV sports network.
"I thought 'ESPN' was a disease," Dick Vitale told The Daily Herald.
"When Scotty Connal called me and asked if I wanted to give it a shot, I had to ask him to repeat -- what the hell is 'ESPN'?"
DePaul -- already reloaded after a Final Four appearance that spring -- beat Wes Matthews and Wisconsin on a night when Mark Aguirre starred and Blue Demons including Bernard Randolph, Teddy Grubbs and Terry Cummings contributed.
"The game was good and when it was over, all I knew was that we had gotten it done," Vitale said.
"But I had no idea what was to come."
What was to come was a remarkable run of celebrity from courtside to silver screen to books to the Naismith Hall of Fame.
And now, at age 80, the bounce goes on for Vitale, who continues in his roles as venerable analyst, indefatigable philanthropist and a remarkably good and grateful guy.
Vitale will work more than 60 games for ESPN this winter with only one concession to Father Time:
Whenever possible, immediately after a broadcast, he flies via personally chartered jet back to wife Lorraine and their home in Florida.
"I'm good on that pretty much up to Boston and as far west as Lawrence (Kansas) and Lubbock (Texas Tech)," Vitale said.
"The travel is what wears you down. Sleeping in our own bed is the one way I've been rewarding myself."
Rewards of a different sort have come through his notable charity initiatives.
He has raised millions for The V Foundation, to assist in cancer research and honor the life and legacy of close friend and colleague Jimmy Valvano.
Vitale's latest charitable obsession is Kids Battling Cancer, an offshoot of The V Foundation focusing on pediatric research.
"If you plug one thing, plug the 'Kids Battling Cancer.'
"Along with 'The V,' we've raised $29.5 million and counting and every penny from my new book -- 'The Mount Rushmores of College Basketball' -- goes to it.
The book is available for $29.99 through dickvitaleonline.com and every copy purchased will be personally signed by the one-man nuclear power plant.
And, coach, what about the current 9-0 DePaul?
"You could be sitting on somethin' big in Chicago and I mean big -- Sinatra big!
"I haven't seen 'em in person yet but I know Dave Leitao is a quality coach and I know Charlie Moore simply needed the right sort of opportunity to showcase his talents.
"The Big East is a big question mark this year.
"The preseason polls said Seton Hall and that makes sense on paper," the Seton Hall grad said.
"But 9-0 with wins at Iowa and Boston College and over Texas Tech -- that says something.
"They play defense and as they showed against Texas Tech and Central Michigan they can take a punch.
"Now they've got to continue to believe and catch the sort of breaks you've gotta catch to win basketball games at the level they want to be at.
"I think it's a great time to be a fan of DePaul basketball!"
Just as it was a great time 40 years ago to be an aspiring college basketball analyst at Alumni Hall.
STREET-BEATIN': DePaul tries to make it 10-0 Sunday against visiting Buffalo (FS1, AM-1160, 4 p.m.). The Bulls (5-3) have lost to Dartmouth, UConn and most recently Scotty Pippen Jr. and Vanderbilt. ... The CFP selection committee needs to follow only one guideline down in Grapevine, TX: Football America wants to see Joe Burrow and LSU vs. Justin Fields and Ohio State in the national championship game even if it takes an NFL officiating crew to get it done. (All else is moonshine.) ... ESPN stacks a bunch of back benchers on its "Selection Sunday" show topped by the propofoling Rece Davis starting at 11 a.m. (Molly McGrath will be in Grapevine.) ... Speaking of lost in space, it's the same old song at sleepy WFLD-Channel 32 Sunday as the Fox o-and-o passes on the Jimmy Garoppolo/San Francisco sizzler at New Orleans in favor of Washington-Green Bay. Close to 55% of the nation gets Jimmy G; 18% gets to find a good sports bar with the full NFL package. ... The Forty-Niners will be operating at NO without veteran radio analyst Tim Ryan -- the ex-Bears DT (1990-93). Ryan is serving a one-game suspension after unfortunate word crafting in suggesting that part of Lamar Jackson's extraordinary wizardry as a magic-handed QB is because of the dark football against his dark uniform and dark skin. (Visually, he may be right but Ryan might also want to read about the abrupt career ends of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder and Al Campanis.) ... Brian Musburger and Bill Adee have upped the ante at Vegas Stats and Info (vsin.com) with the addition of Derek Van Nostran as their first chief marketing officer. He's a veteran of Sinclair Digital, CNN and The Weather Channel. ... The boys in the desert also report that at major Vegas books, close to 80 percent of all bets on the Bears-Dallas were on the Cowboys minus-3 but 50 percent of all money was on the Bears. That means "the sharps" were on the Bears, the line barely burped from open to close and the smarties cashed. ... Impossible to believe that Steve Stone won't be back in the White Sox booth next season. Also hard to believe that the ambitious Kent State grinder never got a chance to general manage a MLB team, especially after his Mach-3 broadcast launch on ABC's old "Monday Night Baseball" back in 1982. ... And irrepressible Phil Mushnick, on the growing third rails in American life, quipped: "Bowing to student protests over gender exclusion, Butler University will soon change its name to 'Home Service Providers' or 'HSPU.' "
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.