By ROGER MOONEY
Dick Vitale picked North Carolina to meet Connecticut in the NCAA title game before the college basketball season began, and he expects nothing to change during Saturday’s Final Four.
“Chalk city, baby, chalk city,” Vitale said Monday morning.
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ESPN’s biggest voice was on the phone, talking about the ultimate bracket-buster, and, no, it wasn’t a Michigan State-Villanova matchup in Monday’s finals.
“Cancer,” Vitale said and he said it with all the hate he could muster.
“Vicious,” Vitale said. “That disease is absolutely vicious. I’m going to fight and fight and fight until they put me in my grave.”
You’ve heard this before.
If you’ve ever had breakfast at the Broken Egg in Lakewood Ranch, there is a good chance you’ve heard Vitale make his pitch to raise money for his crusade against cancer. Vitale, who lives nearby the restaurant, is there every morning when he is in town.
Vitale will talk and talk and talk about his fight until they put him in his grave.
“I’d love to someday see a headline that says, ‘The Rays win the World Series,’ ” Vitale said. “That would be great. But even greater would be seeing a headline that said, ‘Cure for Cancer Found.’ It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen. We’re going to beat this disease.”
Say this about Vitale: He fights the fight.
Vitale raised more than a million dollars in one night last May in the name of Payton Wright, the 5-year-old from Lakewood Ranch, who lost her fight in May 2007 to Medulloepithelioma, a rare form of brain cancer.
Vitale is out to raise more than a million this May for pediatric cancer and lung cancer.
His game plan is simple: Call all the big names in college basketball and ESPN to the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota and tell them to bring their check books.
It’s called the Dick Vitale Gala, and this year’s event is scheduled for May 15, a Friday night. Florida coach Billy Donovan and Lousiville coach Rick Pitino will be the honored guests.
It is open to the public for a price. A steep price, Vitale knows, but the money is going to the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Tables go for as much as $25,000 and includes a meet-and-greet for 10. Other tables go for $15,000 with two passes to the meet-and-greet. Individual tickets are $1,000.
Go to dickvitaleonline.com for all the details.
Those meet-and-greets, by the way, enable someone to meet and greet Pitino, Donovan, Jay Wright, Tom Izzo, Digger Phelps, Urban Meyer, Erin Andrews and more. A lot more.
The price? Yeah, steep, and Vitale sounds apologetic when the conversation comes around to that. Fighting cancer is not cheap, he said.
“I know the economy is tough,” Vitale said. “But cancer doesn’t care about the economy. It will strike at any moment.”
Vitale mentions Andrew Giddens, who will be a guest at the gala with his family. The 13-year-old from Bradenton is winning his fight with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It shows medical research does work,” Vitale said.
Victories, Vitale said. Victories that lead to more victories that can someday lead to the ultimate victory. Can, if Vitale has his way.
‘Cure for Cancer Found!’
“We worry about winning games, and that’s fine. That’s fun. That’s great,” Vitale said. “But this is the real world, and I’m obsessed with fighting cancer.”