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Grasping for Air

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 shtick. "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

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."

Ten Skippy-smooth survivors returned for a second day of
auditions, doing more play-by-play, plus a newscast. The two
finalists also conducted on-air interviews. Among the 10 was
24-year-old Laura Downhour, who works at a Starbucks in Lansing,
Mich., while also doing weekend weather on local TV. Her
white-knuckle teleprompter readings, of her own well-written
scripts, were strangely riveting. "She's like an ice skater who
falls but keeps getting up to finish the routine," marveled Brian
Baldinger, a 13-year NFL veteran and Fox sportscaster, on hand as
a "celebrity judge."

Likewise destined for a blue blazer someday is 23-year-old Matt
Rodewald, who currently makes $150 a night in Bud-sodden singles
as a minor league beer vendor in suburban Chicago. "I've wanted
to broadcast since I was nine, babbling into a rolled-up program
at high school games," he said.

But for the moment he and Downhour and the others must bow down
before the winner: 22-year-old Rutgers alumna Kathryn Tappen, a
striking blonde middle-distance runner from Morristown, N.J., who
gave hope to viewers everywhere when she said that the one
question she will never ask an athlete, in her new role on CSTV,
is this: "How are you feeling right now?"

We like her already.


So they came, the unemployed and the unemployable, beer vendors
and bartenders, to an audition for a CSTV on-air position.