Rick Reilly, Loving Limbo

Rick Reilly on his impending move to ESPN, being directed by George Clooney, and the joys of doing absolutely nothing.

In a backhanded way, Comen also inspired Reilly's move to ESPN. The network did its own version of the student's story, winning an Emmy for its efforts, and scored another trophy after tackling a Reilly column about a handicapped football fan whom athletes at Middlebury College in Vermont transported to games. "That's one of the reasons I took this job," Reilly says. "I kind of got tired of them taking my column ideas and winning Emmys with them. ABC News was really good at it, too, sometimes ripping off whole sentences and not giving me credit. The hardest thing to do is find the great story that nobody is writing, so it was depressing to see these stories on ESPN and ABC, where they'd just wholesale lift things."

Now, of course, Reilly will be able to write the columns, as he'll do for the biweekly ESPN The Magazine, and collect any awards their broadcast adaptations garner. As for his other duties, he's got a plan: "I think I'm going to do televised commentary on SportsCenter — about 25 a year — and televised essays on ABC's golf coverage of majors: the U.S. Open, the British Open. I'll be like Jack Whitaker without the pocket square, except not nearly as elegant or as good. And I don't know if it will come off, but I'd like to do my own interview show — the kind of thing Bob Costas did on Later."

Meanwhile, Reilly's preparing for the April 4 release of Leatherheads, a George Clooney-Renée Zellweger vehicle about the early days of professional football that he co-wrote with Duncan Brantley — his first produced screenplay after "about 900 close calls," he says. He cameos in the film as a reporter who does a double take when Zellweger enters the press box, an all-male bastion at the time. Clooney, who also directed the film, ran through multiple takes of the sequence, and on about number sixteen, Reilly asked if he should be doing something differently. "He said, 'It's great when you clear. Keep doing that,'" Reilly remembers. "So I turned to that little stapler guy from Office Space" — Stephen Root, who plays a fellow reporter — "and said, 'What's that mean, "clear"?' And he said, 'That's when you get out of the shot.'"

Rick Reilly enjoys the sporting life between jobs at Sports Illustrated and ESPN.
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Rick Reilly enjoys the sporting life between jobs at Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

With hopes for a career in acting looking dim, Reilly hopes to get back in Hollywood's good graces with a script he's written with his friend J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar — but they can't start pitching it until the writers' strike wraps. Even so, he'll do plenty of hanging around in Los Angeles, where ESPN is building a new studio. Once his ESPN career begins in earnest, he expects to spend "about a third of my time in Denver, a third on the road, and a third on the beach."

Until then, Reilly is "reading all the books I ditched out on in high school — like Nabokov, who I'd never read before" and adding to his frequent-flier miles. He'll continue doing so for the better part of four months, all the while collecting a massive salary simply for being him.


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