Out Loud: Dick Vitale
Dickie V Set for Duke-N.C. Return

by Ed Sherman, Chicago Tribune

After undergoing throat surgery Dec. 18, Dick Vitale will return to his favorite spot Wednesday, Feb. 6, behind the microphone for ESPN's coverage of the Duke-North Carolina game. Tribune sports media reporter Ed Sherman visited Vitale at his favorite local hangout, the Broken Egg restaurant in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. As always, Vitale talked candidly about his ordeal.

”I've been doing games 29 years. Never missed a game. I'm never sick. All these years, my voice makes what I am. And now it almost does me in.

”I'm 68 years old. I know all things come to an end. But I didn't want it to end because of some physical problem.

“For the three years, my voice has sounded raspy. I couldn't figure it out. I was frustrated. I went to three doctors and they all said you have reflux, which is nothing more than acid flowing into the throat.

”Three days before the season started, I went to see Dr. [Daniel] Deems (A throat specialist in Sarasota). He said, 'I see something I don't like.' He wanted me to see a throat specialist in Boston. I was nervous. The night before the appointment, I did a doubleheader in New York. I really struggled to get through the games.

”Dr. [Steven] Zeitels, man, he's the Tom Brady in the world of voice. He told me, 'You have ulcerated lesions on your vocal chords that must come out because they could be cancer.' Cancer? I got so scared, so afraid. For several weeks, I was a basket case. I'm thinking about more than my career. I'm thinking about my wife, my family. When I came back home on the plane, I cried for three hours.

”My friend John Saunders came up for the surgery. We worked out an arrangement where he would give me thumbs up if it wasn't cancer. Afterward, when I woke up, I saw John. He has a big smile and he's giving me the thumbs up. I felt a lot better.

”It was a lot tougher than I anticipated. [A few days later] I wound up back in the hospital for three days because of a bladder problem. For 4? weeks, I wore a catheter. It hurts and it pulls on you. Then in January, I had an infection and was back in the hospital for another three or four days. I got shingles from the antibiotics. Eventually, I had a [non cancer-related] prostate procedure. Man, I went for throat surgery and all these other things happen to me.

”I couldn't talk for three weeks. Bob Knight sent a note saying, 'Lorraine (Vitale's wife), enjoy these 3? weeks because they will be the greatest 3? weeks of your life.'

”I went to see Dr. Zeitels [in mid-January]. He said, 'Talk.' I couldn't get anything out. I was afraid. You hear stories about people's voice changing. The doctor said, 'Count to 10 real fast.' I started counting to 10. I was crying like a little baby. I was so elated I could talk again.

”I have to be careful. One of my problems is I never say no to anybody. I don't care if it's Sports Illustrated or the local school paper. The doctor told me I have to prioritize. I have to take care of my voice like a player takes care of his knees and ankles. I've been assigned a voice coach to teach me the basics, like breathing from the diaphragm. It's so tough at my age to make the transition, but I have to try to do it.

”Everyone has been great. I could open the Dickie V. Flower and Card shop. I got one letter that said, 'You don't know me, Dick, but I went to your camp. You changed my life. I was 4-11, and the kids were teasing and humiliating me. You took me aside and you told me how I could be what I want to be and don't let these kids try to intimidate you. You look in the mirror and say, 'I want to be somebody.' I want you to know I went on to be an outstanding high school and college coach, and I always attribute it to the confidence you gave me.' You don't know who you've touched until something like this happens.

”When the doctor said I could come back in February, I looked on the schedule and saw Duke-Carolina. Oh my God. All the ESPN executives are coming down. I'm going to be honest, there's going to be some anxiety. I told Mike Patrick (Vitale's broadcast partner Wednesday), 'I hope I don't ruin our opening by having tears run down my face.' I can't wait.

”The doctors said I have the body of a 40-year old. They said there's no reason why I can't work until my mid-70s. I want my career to end when I don't have the energy or spirit anymore. I will know that. But right now, I have more spirit and energy than 25 years ago. I feel so alive. I'm so excited about these games.”