The genuineness of Dick Vitale's crusade against pediatric cancer could be quantified in myriad ways Friday night: tears, testimonials, dollars, dignitaries.
But arguably nothing conveyed the sincerity of his quest more than the scene that played out roughly an hour before his ninth gala to raise money for pediatric cancer research got rolling. At a small news conference at the end of a Ritz-Carlton hallway, Vitale started singling out the eight cancer survivors seated before him.
With neither a cheat sheet nor prompter, America's best-known college basketball analyst/ambassador spoke about each of them. He knew where they lived, the precise type of cancer they had, even their hobbies.
"I'd like to go to battle with these kids," he said. "They have such heart, such toughness."
So commenced the Dick Vitale Gala, benefiting the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Dozens of sports celebrities, all of whom paid their own expenses, converged at the waterfront hotel to lend their voices and money to Vitale's foremost passion: obliterating pediatric cancer.
"Basketball's secondary to this man now," Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo told the audience inside a sold-out Ritz-Carlton ballroom. "He's on a way bigger mission."
Husker in the house
Among the pediatric cancer patients in attendance was 8-year-old Jack Hoffman, a lifelong Nebraska football fan whose ESPY-winning 69-yard "touchdown" run in the Huskers' 2013 spring game has nearly 81/2 million YouTube views.
Jack's thoughts during the TD run: "Don't drop the ball, don't trip, don't fumble, don't run out of bounds."
Speaking of dropping the ball, Jack's dad said the federal government and large pharmaceutical companies have done just that when it comes to funding pediatric cancer research. Using the festivities as a platform for the plight of his son and others like him, Andy Hoffman — and Vitale — said only 4 percent of money raised for cancer research goes to pediatrics.
"It's not good business for a pharmaceutical company to invest in research because there's not enough patients," Andy Hoffman said. "Same with the federal government: Not enough votes. … We don't have a voice. It takes a Dick Vitale."
Bucs, Bulls and Bolts
On Friday's guest list were some of the Tampa Bay area's biggest sports names. Spotted were Bucs coach Lovie Smith, general manager Jason Licht, executive vice president Bryan Glazer and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy; Lightning coach Jon Cooper; USF football coach Willie Taggart, and former Rays owner Vince Naimoli. Smith had a younger sister die from pancreatic cancer in 2012.
Most touching moment
During his news conference, Vitale cried — more like bawled — when recalling a letter a father had written to his daughter the day after her funeral. The dad reached out to Vitale after hearing him speak about pediatric cancer on TV. "It just breaks my heart," Vitale said. "You get emotionally attached because I'm just like these guys — a father, a husband, a grandfather. And I can't even imagine some of the pain that some of you have gone through."
By the numbers
$2M What Vitale was seeking to raise at the gala. He said on Twitter on Saturday at least that much was raised.
$50,000 Amount reportedly donated by Alabama football coach Nick Saban to the V Foundation. Saban's charity, the Nick's Kids Fund, has benefited a variety of organizations for more than a dozen years.
$100,000 Amount donated to the V Foundation by musician Taylor Swift. Swift's dad heard Vitale give a speech and encouraged her to donate.
$250,000 Amount of two pediatric cancer research grants presented through the V Foundation in the names of 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth and 5-year-old Eddie "Superman" Livingston, both of whom died of cancer within the past six months. Lacey became an inspirational figure for Michigan State's basketball team.
83 Age of Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey's dad, Paul, a malignant melanoma survivor who attended Friday's event. Brey's younger brother Shane, an assistant athletic director at UCF, has a brain tumor, Mike Brey said.