As a kid I never wanted to be Joe Namath or Jerry West or even Jim Murray. All I wanted to be was Curt Gowdy, sports announcer and god.
Sadly, upon puberty's pummeling, I abandoned the dream. Sportscasters were dashing baritones. None had a tin voice whining through a can-opener nose under a forehead tall enough to fit a 72-point MAN WALKS ON MOON!
But then ESPN gave us Dream Job—its reality show that had 10,000 amateurs vying for one spot at the SportsCenter desk. It's down to 11 this week, and a few of the finalists look like mooks you'd use to fill a police lineup, Brillo-haired and neckless.
My hopes rose. I begged ESPN for a tryout, just to see what the Dream Job guys were up against. "Sure," said ESPN senior vice president and executive editor John Walsh. "We put ugly people on TV all the time!"
He gave me a shot last Friday night, in the much-desired midnight-to-12:30 a.m. slot on ESPNEWS. Perfect. So few people would be watching, it might as well be E-SPAN. Yet it would be live. The ESPN guys suggested that I come to network headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and train for two weeks. I suggested two days. I mean, how hard could it be?
The first guy I talked to when I got there on Wednesday was Chris Berman. "You're going to make a million mistakes," he said. "Just remember: They're off to Pluto. Let 'em go and move on."
Then I met the anchor who would be my partner for the half hour, Stan Verrett, who said our audience would be about 500,000 (gulp). On Thursday he let me sit just off-camera during one of his telecasts. Somehow, while directors yelled into his earphone, Verrett seamlessly called highlights he hadn't seen before, involving hockey players whose names looked like a spilled Scrabble box.
When I tried just a seven-minute rehearsal—with nobody in my ear—I fell behind twice, used the same stupid "Take that, Lex Luthor!" on all eight dunks I called, and covered the desk in spittle.
I sincerely missed my DELETE key.