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The Real Dream Job

March 22, 2004
March 22, 2004

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March 22, 2004

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The Real Dream Job

Being Grant Paulsen is more than just shoulder chucks from MJ and
bear hugs from LL Cool J and red carpets that lead to green rooms
that he'll share with the stars of Sex and the City.

This is an article from the March 22, 2004 issue Original Layout

It isn't just interviewing the Godfather of Soul on your own
national talk show or being interviewed by the other James Brown
for an HBO Real Sports profile. It gets better than long talks
with Cal Ripken Jr. and short walks with Deion Sanders, two Super
Bowl telecasts and five visits to Letterman.

No, the best thing by far about being Grant Paulsen is next Aug.
20, when you're finally old enough to drive and your parents no
longer have to ferry you to FedEx Field every time you want to
kick it with your homey, Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington.

When I grow down, I want to be Grant Paulsen, the 5'6" high
school sophomore from King George, Va., who has his own national
sports show (on XM Satellite Radio), his own weekly newspaper
column (in the Fredericksburg, Va., Free-Lance Star) and Kwame
Brown on speed-dial.

Like Brown or LeBron James, Grant has enough game to go straight
from high school to the pros. He's a prodigy with a
microphone--Doogie Howser, emcee--who talks shop with Bob Costas
and rides buses with Brian Billick. What stands between him and
his dream job, calling games on Monday Night Football, is less Al
Michaels than Algebra II.

"My parents have always set my priorities straight," Grant says
in his bedroom, with its poster of the Olsen twins and a
champagne cork from the Patriots' first Super Bowl celebration.
"If I want to do my show on Saturday or cover the Redskins on
Sunday, I better do my homework tonight."

At age five Grant wore down the buttons on his bedroom TV and had
to poke a pencil inside the set to switch between ESPN and The
Deuce. At nine he was phoning in football predictions to his
uncle Scott's radio show on WDVE in Pittsburgh before catching
the school bus. At 10 he was a newspaper columnist and a TV
sports reporter for WUSA in Washington, D.C. "He was always
announcing imaginary games in the backseat of the car," says his
mother, Janine.

When Letterman first invited Grant on his show three years ago,
the Paulsens--Mom, dad Dennis, older brothers Ryan and Sean and
younger sister Nicole--all piled into their blue Aerostar and
drove straight to the swankest hotel they'd ever seen. "My sister
and I kept spinning and spinning in that thing that goes around
in a circle," Grant says of the hotel's revolving door.

"It was The Clampetts Go to New York," Dennis says, sighing.

"A limousine took us to the Ed Sullivan Theater, and I was
pushing buttons inside and glasses were coming out of a panel,"
says Grant. "When we got there, fans were holding magazines that
they wanted autographed. My brother Ryan was the first one out of
the limo, and you just heard this big sigh--'Oh, nooo'--because
everyone was waiting for Kristin Davis from Sex and the City."

With his impressive sports acumen and his preternatural charm,
Grant killed on Letterman, who sent him to Super Bowl XXXVI in
New Orleans. When he met Joe Montana and Franco Harris there, he
couldn't help but blurt, "How 'bout an autograph?" The two said,
"Sure." And so Grant produced a pen and notepad and said
innocently, "Who should I make it out to?" He was 13. ("I don't
really ask for autographs," he says of the gag. "It's
unprofessional.")

The next year ABC sent him to San Diego for the Super Bowl
pregame show. But his real sports reporter's rite of passage had
come years earlier, when he was blown off by Albert Belle. "He
was eating pudding in the Orioles' locker room," says Grant, "and
he just started flapping his hand at me to go away."

Everyone else in sports seeks him out. When Grant was 11, his
father, a contractor who goes to games with him, couldn't find
Grant at Camden Yards. "I walked into the Orioles' clubhouse,"
recalls Dennis, "and there's my son, sitting in a chair, talking
baseball with Cal Ripken Jr."

Whenever Grant was unable to see around a throng of reporters at
Deion Sanders's locker, Prime Time would part the sea of cameras
in the Redskins' locker room and pull the kid to his side before
entertaining questions.

"Whaddya got for me, buddy?" Michael Jordan asked Grant, gently
grabbing his shoulder in a postgame press scrum in Washington.
The kid's perceptive question--was MJ inspired by the attendance
of his children that night?--elicited a thoughtful reply from
Jordan that began, "I was hoping someone would ask me that."

Now athletes are eager to appear on Grant's weekly two-hour radio
show, which he does live every Saturday from an XM studio in
Washington. When Grant came home from school last week to see
that linebacker Micheal Barrow had been released by the Giants,
he recalled what four-time guest Michael Strahan once told him:
that teammates call Barrow "Powdered Donuts" because his face
becomes spangled with spittle when he talks, as if sprinkled with
confectioner's sugar.

Which is to say, Grant Paulsen already has a better Rolodex, job,
voice, vocabulary and career than most of us, which raises the
question: Where does he go from here? "Journalism II, Biology,
Theater and Math," he says. It is, after all, a school day.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

A high school sophomore, Paulsen talks shop with Bob Costas and
has Kwame Brown on speed-dial.