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Grasping for Air
Steve Rushin
August 04, 2003
Like Jeff Van Gundy's makeup artist or Anna Nicole Smith's implant surgeon, concrete salesman Andy Mariani says the worst part of his job is, without question, "lifting 90-pound bags."
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August 04, 2003

Grasping For Air

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Like Jeff Van Gundy's makeup artist or Anna Nicole Smith's implant surgeon, concrete salesman Andy Mariani says the worst part of his job is, without question, "lifting 90-pound bags."

Which is why the 46-year-old from San Pedro, Calif., paid his own way last week to New York City, where he and nearly 100 other aspirants auditioned, in an open casting call, for a single undetermined on-air position at College Sports TV, whose executives were looking to put a fresh young face on their new network. "No offense to Lee Corso," said Sid Rosenberg, a WFAN radio personality brought in to help judge the hopefuls, "but he looks like he last played college football 90 years ago."

And so they came, the unemployed and the unemployable, beer vendors and bartenders, those with too much lipstick and those with too much hip shriek. " Bob Costas was a nobody before someone put him on the air," said Tim Pernetti, programming vice president of CSTV and a former Rutgers tight end. And, just as Pernetti had hoped, his studio began to fill with a veritable Who's Who of "Who's he?"

Among those competing to win this broadcast lottery was lottery spokeswoman Kim Beatty, 31, of New York City. "My dream job," she said of sportscasting, while acknowledging that she's already on TV, describing the movement of various balls, with her own signature phrase known to millions. Said Beatty, "It's 'Welcome to New York Lottery's Take Five drawing!' "

Nearby, Sam Wolloch—22 and newly graduated from Texas-wore a Longhorns football jersey and spoke fondly of his undergraduate days, when he did play-by-play of UT basketball games on the student radio station. "Once, this player busted off a spin move, and I said, 'He's got more spins than my washer on Sundays,' " recalled Wolloch, reverentially, as if reciting the Gettysburg Address. "I still don't know where the line came from. But I had just done my laundry."

On the immaculate set, these men and women did 30 seconds of play-by-play to taped games as if they were happening live. An auditioner praised Miami's "ternacious [sic] D," another called a whirling-dervish fullback a "whirlish dervy," while a third began channeling Jack Buck, shouting, "I can't believe I just saw that!"

A brief silence, broken by crickets, often ensued, after which each aspirant gathered his or her personal effects and shambled offstage into a crowded green room. "This is the worst craft-services table in the history of television," said a member of the CSTV crew, examining the buffet's only item, a dismal bean salad, untouched in its Tupperware tomb.

It scarcely mattered to the unsinkable Alanna Rizzo, 27, who flew in from Denver via Dallas and Atlanta, where she slept overnight in a chair at Hartsfield before finally connecting to JFK. There, she learned her luggage had been lost. And so she showed up for her audition, undaunted, in jeans and a Colorado Buffs T-shirt. "I see myself on Monday Night Football" said Rizzo, an office manager by day. "But in better clothes."

Sara Sokolic called the final frantic seconds of an Arizona- Cincinnati basketball game while nearly in labor, something only Dick Vitale has done before. "I'm a huge sports fan," said Sokolic, speaking metaphorically, though the 31-year-old actress is eight months pregnant and appearing in an Off Off Broadway production—set in a trailer park—called Smoking Newports and Eating French Fries, in which she plays a pregnant teen named Tiffany Dawn.

Had she made the cut, Sokolic would have become the first actress to flee the stifling New York stage for the bright lights of Boise. Instead, like nearly 90 others, she was told by Pernetti, "Thanks. And be sure to grab a CSTV hat on your way out."

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