(Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

I was going to make a ‘Rags to Riches’ Tony Bennett joke in Monday’s NCAA tournament special section, but then I realized that Tracee Hamilton made a ‘Left My Heart In San Francisco’ Tony Bennett joke in our 2012 NCAA tournament special section. Crooner jokes usually slay, but maybe that one’s close to finished.

Anyhow, wouldn’t you know it, Dick Vitale went on ESPN Sunday night with a great story about Tony Bennett the singer, Tony Bennett the coach and a stripper.

“TONY BENNETT WAS THE PERFECT CHOICE FOR VIRGINIA,” Vitale said, and then continued shouting, although I will now lay off the all caps. “If you can win 69 games — hear what I’m saying? — 69 games in Pullman, Washington? Are you kidding? They should put a statue up there for him. And he’s not Tony Bennett, by the way, the singer, even though he met him. He told me he met him at the airport. And somebody said — are you ready for this? — they said have you ever met another Tony Bennett, to Tony Bennett. He said yes. I met a stripper. Her name was with an i, not a y.”

There was a long pause.

“In an effort to make sure I save my career, I will refrain from comment,” Rece Davis then said in studio. “And of course Dick Vitale would know all three Tony Bennetts, now wouldn’t he?”

This seemed apocryphal to me. Like, a great story, but it never actually happened. I was wrong.

This incident actually happened more than two decades ago, and got some press attention at the time, possibly because the meeting was arranged by a Green Bay newspaper. Via the AP in 1991:

Will the real Tony Bennett please stand up?

When the “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” singer passed through Green Bay on Saturday on his way to performances in Manitowoc, there was a surprise waiting for him at the airport: two more Tony Bennetts.

Bennett was greeted by Bennett, the pass-rushing linebacker of the Green Bay Packers, and Bennett, the star guard of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay basketball team. The Green Bay Press-Gazette arranged the gathering.

The Green Bay Bennetts wouldn’t sing and the singer wasn’t asked to try a jump shot or sack a quarterback.

But the singer said he would pay closer attention to the careers of the two athletes.

It wasn’t the first time in his 40-year career he met someone famous who shared his name.

“She was a stripper,” Bennett said. “She spelled it Toni.”

That’s a good anecdote. Well done, Vitale.

(Via The Big Lead)