KU alum vies for ESPN job

Reality show offering 'SportsCenter' anchor position

Kelly Milligan's true dream job?

"If I had my choice, I would want to succeed Denny Matthews -- I would love nothing better than to see 162 Royals games a year and describe it all to the folks out there on the radio," said Milligan, who grew up in Nebraska and Topeka. "Play-by-play is always what I'd wanted to do when I was a kid. And I may be better suited for that than 'SportsCenter.'

"Um, I guess we'll find out ..."

Oh yeah. First things first.

Milligan -- a Kansas University graduate, former student body vice president and current labor attorney in Dallas -- is one of 12 finalists vying for a spot on the most popular sports show on the planet.

As a contestant on ESPN's "Dream Job," he'll have a chance to win a one-year contract as a "SportsCenter" anchor. When the show's eight-episode run starts Feb. 22, he'll face off against the remaining contestants by tackling responsibilities that are part of the job, from writing scripts to conducting live interviews.

Watching will be at least three judges -- including Tony Kornheiser of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" and ESPN Radio -- and perhaps millions of people on live TV, who together will vote off contestants until a winner is named March 28.

It's a long way to go for an attorney who helps companies fight unions during the workweek, a profession he found only after coming to KU, joining a fraternity, winning campus office, lobbying legislators, interning for U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, being named a Hilltopper and grabbing a seat at Chancellor Gene Budig's piano on Commencement day 1989.

Since then he's dabbled in radio -- a longtime Nebraska football fan, he is paid to get his own Huskers' preview show aired on AM radio in north Texas -- and climbed to the top of more than 10,000 aspiring sportscasters in 29 cities trying to get on "Dream Job."

Casting for 'calling'

Carol Silver, creator and co-producer of "Dream Job," said Milligan already stood out because of his writing skills, voice, sports knowledge and "intense background," with the law degree and creation of his own radio show.

"We set out to find people who missed their calling," Silver said. "And when you think of that statement, you think of Kelly Milligan. We found him on our last stop on our 29-city tour, and we're glad we did."

Milligan gives himself a pretty good shot of winning. Contestants will be judged on everything from screen presence to writing ability to sports knowledge, and everything in between.

The contestants include a T.J. Maxx manager from Alabama, a comedian from New York and a senior studying broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri.

"Everybody they've got in this group has a good line and a good voice, and a quick wit and a good sense of humor," Milligan said. "There are some of them that I think are stronger on fundamental sports knowledge than others. I mean, we have a couple of college students in the game, and while they're very able and talented, they weren't even born when I started watching baseball and football.

"I kinda actually remember when Bart Starr and Joe Namath played ball.

"I actually saw Carlton Fisk waving that home run fair.

"I watched (Hank) Aaron's 715th (home run) ... all that stuff. I got to see Ali before he was what we know him today.

"That has to help. And I think that the other people that have that breadth of sports knowledge will be well served by it."

Playing to win

If that sounds like Milligan's building a case for victory, it doesn't surprise Maureen Moore, one of his law partners in Dallas. She's been working with Milligan since he came to Dallas in 1996, and knows better than to take his arguments lightly.

"Since I've known him, he hasn't lost a case," said Moore, whose firm represents businesses dealing with labor issues. "I don't know that he's ever lost one. We don't expect to see him practicing law here again, because he's going to win this, too. This really is Kelly's first love."

Even so, the revelation that Milligan would be on a reality TV show caught one of his former fraternity brothers off guard.

Jon Hofer, owner of Prairie Graphics in Lawrence, remembers his fellow Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother getting the best of folks in arguments -- not a surprise, given Milligan's success as a high school debater in Topeka and at KU.

"But no one knew that he was a closet sportscaster," Hofer said. "But he's very, very intelligent. He's got a lot of vocabulary. A lot of words. And he's very quick on his feet, and a very spontaneous person. So it's kind of a good fit."

Milligan sure hopes so. He has no plans for going back to law.

"After 12 years, I've just made the decision that I don't want to spend the rest of my life fighting with people," he said. "I go in in the morning, I put on my bastard hat, and I spend a lot of my day making things unpleasant for people. I really don't derive a lot of psychic income from that."

As an ESPN anchor, Milligan would earn a salary commensurate to that offered to other anchors joining the network.

Milligan doesn't know whether that would be a pay raise or a pay cut -- "I mean, I've had years as an attorney where I've made more money than I ever imagined I would see," he said -- but he knows the investment will be worth it.

Even if it means he has to join a union to take the job.

"There will be the irony," Milligan said. "Here I am, as a management labor relations attorney -- I've been working to help clients avoid unions -- and if I win this, I'm joining one, probably. Fly the flag of convenience."

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