“That might be one of the greatest teams that never won a championship,” Vitale said. “I remember they made T-shirts with my picture on it and the Flyin’ Illini nickname. They were fun to watch. I’m not shocked that he is in the world of television. He is a great person, great talent and is doing a fabulous job.”
Television analyst is a job many college and professional athletes look to as a second career after their playing days.
For Bardo, a member of the Illinois team from 1986-90 — including the 1988-89 Final Four squad — it was a dream job. Even as a collegian, Bardo was so confident he would reach his goal, he “warned” the Hall of Famer, he was coming for Vitale’s seat!
Bardo, a native of Carbondale, Illinois, who joined ESPN in 2005 as a men’s college basketball analyst, recalled the circumstances surrounding an inspiring conversation with Vitale nearly 25 years ago and an assist from a former ABC Sports President.
How were you able to tell Vitale you were coming after his job?
It was my sophomore year at Illinois and we had played well. I did an interview on an ESPN Radio affiliate in St. Louis with Dick Vitale and my coach Lou Henson. At the end of the interview, Dickie V said ‘Man, Bardo, you did really well in the interview, what would you like to do when college ball is done?’ And I told him ‘I want your job.’ I think he and Lou thought I was joking but I wasn’t. I was serious.
How did he influence your announcing career?
As a broadcast major in college, I really looked up to him. Dick Vitale brings something different to the game and is a huge part in the growth and a big reason it really took off at that time. It is very difficult to emulate anything he does because it is so unique.
I learned from Dick to find your own voice. He trusted himself and his voice and that really stuck out to me. I could pick up different pieces from broadcasters, but I had to find my own voice.
So what’s been the path to your current position with ESPN?
I’ve been very fortunate to have people open some doors for me. Following that radio interview, my dad told me to write a letter to ESPN thanking them for having me on. The letter reached former ABC Sports President Dennis Swanson, who is also an Illinois grad. He listened to a recording of the interview, felt I had talent and wrote me a letter about a month later. I met with him during an Illinois-USC football game the fall of my junior year.
He took an interest in me and helped open doors for me. Without him hearing me on that show, I don’t think I would be on national television right now. I tell that story and the importance of networking in every motivational speech I do.
— by Mike Humes.
ICYMI: Highlights from the past week on Front Row
• Go inside ESPN Audio’s full lineup of MLB podcasts including the debut of Behind The Dish with Keith Law.
• Former college and professional basketball standout Malcolm Huckaby was no stranger to ESPN prior to joining the company as a college hoops analyst this season. Huckaby grew up less than a quarter mile from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters.
• Actor and comedian Steve Carell stopped by ESPN on Thursday for a Car Wash to promote his new movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. He talked with Front Row about his sportscaster catchphrase, his ideal SportsCenter co-host and more.
• ESPN wrestling analysts Tim Johnson and Anthony Robles shared their thoughts on the IOC’s recommendation to drop the sport from the 2020 Olympic Games.
Row of Four
Our favorites from across ESPN over the past week
•ESPN The Mag: 15 Years (1999) – Columbine HS football team is out to set the record straight after shootings
• From Grantland by Rafe Bartholomew: Will boxing ever forgive Timothy Bradley for beating Manny Pacquiao?
• Enjoy an array of photos in this gallery from ESPN Images.