ESPN not bad start for Hall

Tuesday, March 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:41 a.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

When I first met Mike Hall back in February, I said he had everything it would take to win ESPN’s “Dream Job.”

I don’t mean to toot my horn, but I was right. The dream has turned into reality for Hall.

Hall watched 11 other contestants walk away on the brink of tears over a six-week span, earning a one-year contract as a “SportsCenter” anchor and a new Mazda 3 and then boosting his salary from $70,000 to $95,000 by correctly answering five sports trivia questions.

That’s a nice haul for a 22-year-old kid who is six weeks away from graduating from the University of Missouri.

Hall had to watch his best buddy from “Dream Job,” Zach Sellwyn, and his supposed fling, Maggie Haskins, walk away from the dream at halftime of Sunday’s final episode.

No sooner could Hall say goodbye to his newfound friends than he was swept into a mano a mano duel for the ultimate prize against none other than Aaron Levine, the kid from Stanford University who turned 22 on Saturday.

Levine was the favorite, according to USA Today’s odds. Hall was something of a long shot.

In the “Pardon The Interruption” segment of the show, Levine told Tony Kornheiser every good story needs a villain. He was talking about the Yankees, but in this story, Levine had suddenly become the villain. I know people who voted against Levine every week since the second week of the show because they were scared of this matchup in the end. They got it anyway, and it didn’t matter.

Levine stomped Hall in the sports quiz show segment, mostly because he was quicker on the buzzer, and neither was decidedly better than the other in the “My SportsCenter” segment. It didn’t matter, though; most of the votes had been cast. The viewers, who had voted to make Hall the first cut of the show, voted to make him a “SportsCenter” anchor.

When I was preparing for my first interview with Hall, a mutual friend told me “nary a nicer man” would I meet. He was right. In an act of kindness you can always expect from Hall, he told Levine to keep his head up when they embraced after the announcement that Levine had been cut.

“Good things are coming to you, you know that,” Hall said. “You know that.”

Until Hall and Levine squared off in the final, I thought it would be neat to be on “Dream Job,” and I thought I would do OK. Yeah, right. When I saw the way those guys handled the teleprompter going out, breaking news in the middle of a highlight and finding out a new story had been added to the script during an interview with a sports star, all of which they learned from a producer through an earpiece, I gave up my dreaming for that job. They can have it because they deserve it.

Now, Hall gets to make like a real-life version of his TV idols, Casey and Dan from “Sports Night.” For years they have stared at Hall from the picture that he thought they had autographed when he bought it on eBay. He has watched them countless times in prime time, in syndication and on DVD.

Now he’s one of them.

When Missouri alumnus John Anderson took the air for “SportsCenter” immediately after Hall had been named the winner, the beaming smile on his face was hard to miss. It reminded me of the photo of Hall and Anderson that hangs above Hall’s desk in his East Campus apartment. There will be plenty more where that came from.

Hall and Anderson are colleagues.

The rest of us toil through years at mediocre jobs, trying to claw our way to the top of our field, but Hall gets to make the leap from college graduate to his dream job. He has three shows under his belt.

I won’t pretend for a second that Hall hasn’t earned everything that has come to him, but I’m still a little jealous.

I’m extremely happy for Hall, and I rooted for him all the way, but I’m still a little jealous.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, but I’m still a little jealous.

Above all, though, Hall is a nice guy. And nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they win.

Justin Jarrett’s columns appear


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