Even at 74, Dick Vitale keeps going and going and going for ESPN -- and in his fight against pediatric cancer.
LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WDRB) – This was not only the usual quadruple espresso Dick Vitale, the one pounding the table with his fist while talking about Rick Pitino and John Calipari, kicking pediatric cancer's rear end, hugging his wife, two daughters and five grandchildren, opening every inch of his spectacular 12,700-square foot home to the local boys' and girls' club or chiding himself for cutting too many classes in high school.
That Dick Vitale is still there all right, as vibrant and irrepressible as ever.
But this was another Vitale, a guy as driven as he's ever been to keep going and going, determined to outrun the clock.
Vitale and his wife, Lorraine, opened their home to WDRB, and he was eager to discuss what he has already achieved (spots in 12 different Hall of Fames) as well as what he remains determined to achieve (finding a cure for pediatric cancer.)
Network television rarely features personalities closing in on their 75th birthday. Even guys like John Madden and Brent Musburger have felt the nudge to step away or at least slow down. Not Vitale. He remains as indispensable to ESPN's college basketball as he was the first time he signed on -- Dec. 5, 1979.
"There's something about it," Vitale said. "I'm addicted to it. I'm going to be honest with you … When the day's over, I can't hide that, when that day comes and I have to make a call or they make the call to me and say it's over, it's going to tear my heart out because I can't imagine living without it.
"The clock ultimately gets us all. The clock's finished – BANG! It's over. When it happens, I have no idea. But that's not close. I pray it's not."
Not soon. No way. Vitale was in Rupp Arena for the Florida-Kentucky game Saturday. He'll be in Chapel Hill Thursday when Duke visits North Carolina. Then in Durham Saturday when Syracuse visits Duke. Then expect him to dive into the next student cheering section, pose for every picture and sign every autograph.
He might even bring some of his five grandchildren – boys Jake and Connor Krug (11) and Ryan Sforzo (10); girls Sydney Sforzo (12) and Ava Krug (8). Of course, that's if they're not stroking tennis balls, shooting the basketball or swinging a bat or lacrosse stick. They're just like their Papa. They never stop.
"Sometimes I wonder if they're doing too much," Vitale said. Take a deep breath and consider the irony of that statement.
Ask Jake and Connor, 11-year-old twins, about the day at Wimbledon where they met Roger Federer. Listen to Sydney remind Papa not to miss the ceremony at her school where she was recognized for straight As. Watch Ava ask her grandfather to pay attention as she whistles another winner into the corner of the clay court tennis surface.
"Number One, I love being with my family," Vitale said. "I think it's my number one priority. My family is everything to me. I always put in a couple of hours with my grandkids."
"Dick's as energetic and enthusiastic at 74 as he was at 64," said Dan Shulman, his long-time broadcast partner on ESPN. "Maybe more so. He's an upbeat, caring and passionate as he's ever been. And his family is absolutely everything to him."
That is the essential Dick Vitale. But there are still days when even Lorraine, his wife and best friend for the last 42 years, sometimes wonders what stirs all this adrenaline inside her husband. Nobody does passion like Vitale.
"When I came home from the (first) Syracuse-Duke game, I was flying high," Vitale said. "My wife says to me, 'Rich, I can't believe it. It's like the first game you ever did. That's all you're talking about.
"I said, 'Hon, you don't get it. Unless you sit there and feel that electricity and feel that unbelievable emotion and intensity.'"
That's the Dick Vitale way – with basketball and everything else on his XX-Large To-Do List.
He watched his friend, Jim Valvano, die of cancer 20 years ago and determined that if he couldn't save Valvano he needed to try to save somebody else. Nine years ago Dick and Lorraine organized their first gala to benefit The V Foundation.
"I think he had a former major-league baseball player, a NASCAR driver and a rabbi as the hosts," said Bob Valvano, Jim's younger brother.
Now every top college basketball coach in the country has volunteered to help Vitale with the cause – and this year Alabama football coach Nick Saban is teaming with Tom Crean of Indiana and Notre Dame's Mike Brey to host the event. Vitale said they've already raised more than $10 million.
Valvano said he has never seen anybody raise money the way Dick Vitale can raise money. Every year ESPN Radio schedules a marathon session to benefit The V Foundation. Teams like the Lakers, Yankees and Cowboys participate by donating items. Everything is scripted.
Until Vitale flips the script.
He called in from the Florida Gulf Coast for his segment. He made an offer. A visit to his house. Breakfast at the Broken Egg, his favorite local hangout. Tickets to attend a Tampa Rays game -- $10,000 for the experience.
Vitale was not finished. If somebody was willing to match that bid, Vitale and Lorraine would do it a second time.
"So basically he raised $20,000 in less than nine minutes," Valvano said. "That's strong."
"I have dedicated myself to my last breath to raise as many dollars as I can to battle pediatric cancer," Vitale said. "We've raised over $10 million, but it's obviously not enough because if it was enough, little Eddie (Livingston, a child in his neighborhood) wouldn't have passed."
So Vitale will keep pushing, passing out his fliers at every arena, asking coaches to contribute to his silent auction, directing people to his website, DickVitaleOnline.com, encouraging everybody he sees that cancer must be defeated.