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Giving Up The Life
Rick Reilly
December 03, 2007
I was born the youngest of four, an attention-seeking missile, half boy, half caffeine and a leading cause of teachers' facial tics. But I always had one clear dream--to work at SI.
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December 03, 2007

Giving Up The Life

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I was born the youngest of four, an attention-seeking missile, half boy, half caffeine and a leading cause of teachers' facial tics. But I always had one clear dream--to work at SI.

So why now, after 23 years, am I quitting?

I mean, we're talking more than 850 bylines--which is funny, because I never thought I'd get to 10.

I came to this job 100 feet over my head and with no snorkel. I was 27 and terrified of being fired. I'd gobble aspirins and down them with coffee until my stomach blew out and dumped me into the hospital. Twice.

I learned to control my fears with biofeedback--making one giant breath last 30 seconds, puffing my cheeks out on the exhale until I turned slightly purple. I looked like a nauseated puffer fish. When I made my first TV appearance, on a SportsCenter segment in 1988, my stomach was all knives. We were supposed to go live from my living room in two minutes, enough time to take a couple of 30-second breaths to calm down. I was in the middle of my second when my then wife ran in, horrified.

"You're on the air!"

My earpiece had failed. The host had asked, "Rick, is your book an indictment of college football?" Cut to me, peering into the camera and suddenly inhaling mightily. But the host thought I was thinking hard about his question, so he waited. Then the slooooow exhale. Still waiting. Purple. Surely, the answer was coming now? Nope. Another suck-in.

"Well," the host deadpanned, "we know he's alive. We can see him breathing."

Eventually, I switched to decaf and realized how much fun this job could be. I got to smoosh cars in a monster truck, mush dogs in Alaska, crush balls with Tiger, chase Lance, face Ryan and race everything from a blimp to Indy cars.

One time I picked up the phone and heard, "Hold for the President, please." One of my pals, no doubt. "The president of what, the Kiwanis?" I sneered. Only to hear a gravelly voice on the other end go, "What? No, it's Bill. Bill Clinton. We're just laughin' our asses off over here over whatchu wrote!"

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