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