People often ask my advice on how they can break into the sports business. I tell them, "Be 7-3. Look how it's worked for Randy Breuer." Unfortunately, not everyone can follow this advice. So for those of you built a little closer to the ground, I urge you to:

Get a telephone.

All you need is a phone, and you too can have a lucrative career in sports television. You can break into the growth industry of the sports business. You can be . . . an "Insider."

You've seen them on TV on the weekend studio shows and on draft day, rating players and spreading gossip. "I just talked to George Steinbrenner on his car phone. Though he's not supposed to have anything to do with running the Yankees anymore, he's totally disenchanted with Don Mattingly. Right now, he's driving to Mickey Mantle's house in Dallas to try to talk Mickey into a comeback as a DH."


Or, "I just talked to my source with the Vikings. He says they're going to fire Jerry Burns this weekend, and their top choice to replace him is Hayden Fox, the coach of Minnesota State on the TV series 'Coach.' Fox would be an unorthodox move, but my source says Herschel Walker is all for it."


Being an Insider allows you to say these things unchallenged. And the great news is that anyone can become an Insider. You don't just have to be some big shot GM such as Bob Ferry or Bobby Beathard. Friends of mine, good print reporters such as Ralph Wiley and Pete Vecsey, did it. People nobody has ever heard of, such as Fred "If I Got Any More Wrong I'd Be On Radio" Edelstein and Mel Kiper Jr., do it too. They get big money, big exposure and long limousines. (Don't you think Mel Kiper Sr. is kicking himself for not doing it? He's stuck out in some trailer park and his kid is a star.)

Sounds great, Tony. How do I become an Insider?

Get a telephone.

(This is why Larry King was a classic Insider. Who's on the phone more than him? "Tacoma, Washington, you're on with Carrie Fisher. . . . Topeka, Kansas. . . . ")

Because the trick is to be on the phone when the host asks you a question. He'll say something like: "Big news out of Buffalo this week, where Jim Kelly's cast was removed -- and the orthopedist had mistakenly grafted Kelly's pancreas to his shin bone. How will that affect the Bills' chances in the playoffs, Will?"

This is your cue. It's imperative that you are holding the phone up against your ear, like you're actually on a call. You mumble something and quickly hang up. Then you turn to the camera and say, "Well, I just talked to Marv Levy, and he said Kelly was surprised, but he's in great spirits, and if they can fit him in a soft cast to protect the pancreas, he could be ready to take some snaps by Wednesday."


And do people really believe this?

Not everyone. Not more than 25 million. But hey, there were a few Doubting Thomases when Columbus said the world was round. ("Chris, sweetheart, what are ya, nuts? You'll sail off the edge of the earth, and then who's gonna make the payments on these boats?")

And was he actually on the phone with Marv Levy?

Ten minutes before kickoff? What do you think? ("Coach, it's the Insiders. I told them you were going over last-minute changes in the game plan, but they said to ask you 'pretty please with a cherry on top.' ") In all likelihood the phone isn't even plugged in, or if it is, it goes to the control room. It's a prop. That's why you never hear anybody say: "Uh, Bob, I'm on hold here while Coach Smith is in the bathroom. Can you come back to me later in the show?" At one time I thought whoever was on the phone was calling Domino's, but I don't think so now, because if they were, they'd have asked Tom Monaghan how he could have let that gasbag, know-nothing meany Bo Schembechler fire Ernie Harwell.

Personally, I prefer the concept of the Insider to the sideline reporter. I love the phone bit; I'm hoping Vecsey will recycle the Chevy Chase routine from the old "Saturday Night Live" news, and let the camera catch him with the phone in his ear, whispering, "Sure I liked it, but you didn't say the whipped cream would be so cold, and . . . oops, gotta go, bye." Sideline reporters are wearing me out. Any schmo with a blazer can stick a microphone in a player's face and go: "Tyrone, 45 yards straight up the gut, awesome. Your thoughts." Half the time when they cut to these guys, we miss a touchdown. They're all camera hogs. They launch into a dissertation about a sprained ankle like they're Sir Richard Attenborough: "I'm here, knee deep in mud by the Clemson bench, pondering what the limits of human endurance might be. This man, this swift, mercurial runner, has just been stung by one of fate's cruel darts . . . " and blah-blah-blah. How many plays will he miss, bozo? Is he out for the game? Tim Brant used to drive me wild. Every single report, football or basketball, began the same way, with a breathless Brant saying, "I just spoke to {the trainer} and he said, 'Timmy, I gotta tell ya, we're flat ready to play.' " Or, "I just spoke to {the injured cornerback} and he said, 'Timmy, I gotta tell ya, it's my hamstring.' " Timmy! I haven't heard that name so much since "Lassie." How come everybody's on a first name basis with this guy? He must have the most recognizable face in America. Tim Brant and Bart Simpson. What's next, his own rap dance?

I used to want to be a sideline reporter. Not anymore. Now, I'm practicing holding the phone. The future's not on the sideline. It's inside. I just talked to Terry O'Neil, and he told me so.