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Monday, February 14, 2005; Page D02

Joel McHale, the host of E!'s "The Soup," has run a marathon in 3 hours 6 minutes and recently completed an eight-mile run in just over 40 minutes. But McHale's athletic accomplishments at the University of Washington were somewhat more difficult to quantify. "The Soup," a satirical weekly wrap-up of reality television and entertainment news, airs Fridays at 10 p.m.

How did you wind up on the Washington football team?

Well this is a good story. I was recruited to row, because I'm like 6-4. No one watches rowing and no one cares, so you have to make up for this by being huge jerks. So I didn't push a chair in properly or I stepped over some line that the senior rowing crew was eating on, so they cleared the table and surrounded me and actually hit me. So I thought it's going to be 10 on 1, I'm probably not going to win this fight. So after that I thought I probably can't go back to rowing. So my friend Chico Fraley said why don't you go out for football, so I went out for football not really knowing a lot about football, but I was a big, huge guy at that point. The football players weren't jerks because they were worried about winning a national championship instead of rowing under the appropriate bridge. So I spent two years on the team.

Did you ever play?

No, I was horrible. I basically lied to get on the team. It was practically almost a dare: Come out for football. The coach was asking me all these questions, like, 'So, where you'd play.' -- 'Oh, at my high school.' I played freshman football. They didn't ever figure it out. I became big enough and fast enough that I was able to fool them. My 40-yard dash got to 4.6, and they were happy with that. I was 250, I looked and acted like a football player. . . . It just shows you; if you have a dream, just lie about it. Lie your way unto your dreams. I kind of did it on a whim, and it ended up taking two years of my life, but I got a Rose Bowl ring and a Rose Bowl jersey.

What was the most glorious moment of your college football career?

Sadly, the most glorious moment was skit night, when they made the freshmen do skits for the seniors. That was as far as initiation went. The rowers, they would shave the heads of all the freshmen, some would have their eyebrows shaved off, and they would put their hair into a pillow. That was another reason I quit. But the football players were like, 'You do skits!' so I did an impression of our team doctor. And that went over so much better than anything I had done on the field that I thought, 'Hmmm, maybe I should pay attention to that.' So after two years I hung up my jock.

Did you know Mark Brunell pretty well?

Yeah, he was the nicest man in the world, and a scarily talented athlete. You just couldn't believe his skill at throwing the ball, and the nicest guy in the world. He's a great leader and a great guy. . . . When you hear [criticism], it's like, you're blaming him for being paid so much? You're the ones who gave him the contract, you morons. And I think that guy will go on to be a great coach, too.

So the Washington men's basketball is off to its best start in 29 years. Is Seattle turning into a college basketball town?

Any sport in Seattle is like having a really hot, unpredictable girlfriend. Meaning they're sometimes almost pretty good, but they will always disappoint you. The Seahawks are probably the most egregious. But now, it's here we go again, with Washington being great. We will become a college basketball town this year; next year, if they're bad, we go right back to being a Mariners town. But Nate Robinson is so much frickin' fun to watch, and if they play as a team they can beat anyone. If we get to the Final Four somehow, then there's a very good chance these are the end times that are predicted in the Bible, and people should start packing it up and heading for the hills.

Did you ever thinking of trying out for basketball instead of football?

No, that would have been a huge mistake. That was the sport I played a lot in high school, and I was just good enough to be on the team and just big enough to be put out there to take people out. The coach would look at me and kind of go, 'McHale, you know what to do.'

What about Rick Neuheisel? Is his continuing lawsuit a proud moment for former Huskies?

Huskies football is kind of the one thing the city can rely on, and it's been a sad, sad, slow death in the last few years. He's going to be one frickin' great NFL scout or NFL coach, because there's no rules to that. And he looks like the dentist from 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' so you've got to love that.

Do ESPN's reality shows ever offer good material for you guys?

You know, we did not make too much fun of "Dream Job," because it wasn't bad. That was not so egregious, as, say, 'Who's Your Daddy' or 'The Simple Life' or 'The Bachelorette,' these contrived shows. That was similar to "American Idol," not 'Celebutantes work in a sausage factory for an episode and hilarity ensues.'

Your bio calls you "one of the whitest and most depressed television hosts around." Were you one of the whitest and most depressed college football players?

Well, we were in Seattle, so everyone was white and depressed. Except the black guys, who were black and depressed. And then the Samoans, who I guess were Samoan and depressed. There's nothing better than practicing in the rain for 30 days a row.

-- Dan Steinberg

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