Say something. Anything. Just do the very thing that made him famous.
But Dick Vitale couldn't. Tears welled up in his eyes as he imagined his beloved career crashing to an end.
Then the doctor suggested he count to 10. And with the simplest of words, Vitale heard his own voice again for the first time in weeks.
ESPN's hyperkinetic college basketball announcer will call his first game in more than two months Wednesday after recovering from throat surgery. It was the cruelest of ailments for the man who yelled his way to becoming a household name. His treatment? A ban on speaking.
``There was a moment there I thought I'd never be behind a microphone again,'' Vitale said Monday on a conference call, sounding a bit subdued but very much like himself.
Told he could return to the air in early February, Vitale checked the schedule and found some serendipitous timing: He could make his comeback on the biggest of stages, the Duke-North Carolina game.
t. And when he got the long-awaited go-ahead, he opened his mouth and nothing came out.
``I guess I was afraid of what I was going to sound like,'' he said. ``I'd heard rumors that your voice may not sound similar.''
Viewers might not have noticed anything the last few years, but the 68-year-old Vitale conceded he was ``bluffing'' his way through games.
``I'm going to tell you, every game I was a worried, nervous wreck about what was coming out of my throat,'' he said.
He was always hoarse; his throat was constantly sore. After many a game, he was on the phone with his boss at ESPN, Dan Steir, crying.
``That's how really down I was,'' Vitale said. ``I can't go to the game and just enjoy doing the game and be excited about doing the game and not worried about my damn throat.''
He went to several physicians, who said his problem was caused by acid reflux. Vitale finally got an appointment with Dr. Steven Zeitels of Massachusetts General Hospital, a specialist who has treated Julie Andrews and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler.
Zeitels found ulcers on his left vocal cord and said there was a chance they were cancerous.
``That word scares the life out of anyone,'' Vitale said.
al ailment.
Vitale communicated by scribbling notes to his wife, who had to try to decipher his ``horrendous'' handwriting.
``I went through so many pens, it was unbelievable,'' he said.
Doctors told him it wasn't a coincidence that somebody who puts so much strain on his vocal cords developed problems. Vitale is working with a voice coach to learn to speak more from his diaphragm. ESPN will adjust his schedule so he won't call doubleheaders or games on back-to-back days.
Vitale is conscious of avoiding traps like talking loudly to try to be heard over the din at a noisy restaurant. His doctors will attend Saturday's Georgetown-Louisville game so they can use a device that measures exactly how much of a strain Vitale is putting on his vocal cords.
But what's going to happen Wednesday if a player goes soaring in for a dunk in the final seconds to send the game to overtime?
``I'm going to be myself,'' Vitale said.
Himself with the volume turned down slightly.
``I think I'm going to try to let the microphone do more work,'' he said.
For anybody wondering how Vitale will sound Wednesday, he noted he never was as smooth as a play-by-play guy to begin with.
``I've always been raspy,'' he said. ``Heck, Rod Stewart's raspy, and he makes millions of dollars.''

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