Monday, December 3, 2012

The 1979 debut of Dick Vitale as an ESPN college basketball analyst

<UPDATED 12/5/2019 to accurately label this telecast as one of the first on ESPN>

This week marks the 33rd anniversary of one of the first college basketball games televised by ESPN. On 12/5/1979, the 3-month old cable network aired a game between Wisconsin and DePaul at 9 pm ET. The analyst for this contest was Dick Vitale who ESPN had recently hired for $150 a game. Vitale was making his television debut after being fired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons in November. Joe Boyle who had a background as a hockey announcer handled the play-by-play that evening. Here is the opening to that inaugural telecast with both broadcasters in 3-piece suits:

Right off the bat, Vitale exhibits his trademarked motormouth style by talking essentially non-stop from the 0:47 mark to the 2:24 mark. Notice the facial expressions of Boyle while Vitale rambles on before finally turning things back to his broadcast partner. I counted 10 times that Vitale used some variation of his classic phrase "we talk about" during this intro.

ESPN eventually paired Vitale on a regular basis with former NBC broadcaster Jim Simpson and this duo called many college hoop contests during the early years of the fledgling network. Vitale went on to work with many other play-by-play partners on ESPN including Tim Brando, Mike Patrick, Brad Nessler, and Dan Shulman.

Ironically, this historic telecast was the only college basketball game that Boyle ever called for ESPN. Contrastingly, the analyst ESPN assigned to this event remains in the same role 33 years later. In a book published in 2006, Vitale reflected back on that first telecast and stated that he had never seen Boyle since that night.

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