"Don't worry about it," said SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt. "A lot of the people watching you will be in bars, drunk, with no sound. They'll think you're great!"
I rehearsed again on Friday and was worse. I kept saying, "Now watch this!" as if people were suddenly going to start staring at the hat rack instead of the TV. I yelped a dunk line—"Somebody get us a new peach basket!"—when we were already into the Detroit Red Wings highlights. I gave three scores, two of them wrong. "Where'd you go to school again?" asked my senior coordinating producer, Barry Sacks.
I had nightmares about sitting at the desk, pantsless, as someone was saying in my ear, "O.K., the Serbian all-star hockey game. In 3, 2, 1.... "
Still, it was cool to be living inside a SportsCenter ad. George Karl was shoehorned into a tiny cubicle. Digger Phelps fumbled for change ahead of me in the cafeteria line. Stuart Scott was changing in the men's room. "Just don't be one of those guys with 25 ways to say dunk" said Scott.
"No way!" I said, hiding my list of 25 ways to say dunk.
But when midnight struck, something serendipitous happened. Maybe the last of my ephedra kicked in. For no good reason, everything went right!
On a splendid floater by Carmelo Anthony: "You had me at Mel-lo." On a long trey by Tracy McGrady (singing): "We're goin' to Sizzler!" On the five goals that beat St. Louis Blues goalie Rein-hard Divis: "Hey, Reinhard, we'll keep the light on for you!"
Verrett was laughing, so I kept firing. One shooter was "hotter than a $3 pistol!" A hole in one was "allergic to daylight!" And John Daly just set a record—"the 117th straight day he didn't marry anybody!"
O.K., so I still got behind on some highlights. And, true, I said a hockey game was in the "first half," and then, instead of letting it go to Pluto, recoiled at the horror of my gaff and blurted, "second quarter—I mean, second period"
And, yes, perhaps it was wrong, when asked on-air by Verrett if I was nervous, to say, "You know, I had a fifth of Scotch right before the show, so I feel pretty good."