Life Lessons From the 42-Year-Old Intern

Life Lessons From the 42-Year-Old Intern
 

Seven years ago, Andrew Brill was more or less your average American guy. He had a job he didn’t love, but it paid the bills and supported his family. The New York native grew up loving sports and even once dreamed of making a living in that world. But, like many boys who grow up to become men, it just didn’t happen.

In college, Brill majored in business, but by the time he graduated he still had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. “As a kid, you think 20 is really old, and that you have time to think about what you’re going to do,” he says, looking back. “What you don’t realize is that it goes really fast and you have to figure things out pretty quickly.”

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So when Brill’s father offered him a job as operations manager of the family business—an office coffee and refreshment service—he took it. Suddenly, Brill found himself in charge of inventory, trucks, drivers, and all the moving parts that ensured that a vast constellation of office kitchens and break areas across the five boroughs of New York City were stocked. A few years later, after his father died, Brill became the sole owner of the business, one he had no passion for. “All the worries were on my shoulders,” he says. “It was a struggle. The business was fine; it just didn’t make me happy.”

By the early ’90s, Brill had gotten married and decided to take control of his career. He chose medical school, going back to college at night to fulfill the pre-req courses. He was intrigued by the idea of becoming an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports injuries. He was also still working days at the office refreshment company, so it took him more than 2∏ years to finish. At 31, he faced a difficult choice: stick with the refreshment business and start a family, or embark on six or seven more years of long hours and low pay in a medical residency. “We ended up starting a family, so I just stayed in the business,” Brill says.

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As the years passed, Brill’s wife could tell her husband wasn’t happy; she also knew his unhappiness wasn’t bad just for him, it was also bad for the entire family. His misery was evident even to his friends.

Then Brill had his epiphany. “When you wake up and dread going to work, thinking, ‘I can’t do this for another second,’ it’s time to change,” he says. “Nobody should live that way.” Though he worried what others would say, in the end, everyone rallied around him as he decided to make a change. “In the end, people understand that no one deserves to enter into old age and be totally unfulfilled.”

So Brill did something very few Americans do: He hit the reset button on his career and, more importantly, on his childhood dreams. Brill decided to pursue his first love, sports. What exactly that meant, he had no idea.

CHANGING CAREERS LATE IN LIFE HAS its advantages. Years of life experience as well as business experience helped Brill quickly identify a path toward achieving what most would consider a pipe dream. He decided journalism would allow him to work his way up in the sports world as a reporter. Ironically, his age and experience also meant he was wise enough to know he’d have to start at the bottom.

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Brill enrolled in college for the third time in his life. And though that meant taking more classes, that wasn’t the real goal. He’d made a few phone calls and learned that the only way to get an internship in TV was to be eligible for college credit. Brill picked the Borough of Manhattan Community College, specifically because he knew it had an internship center that could help him line up grunt work with local TV stations.

After being shot down by several networks, in 2008, at age 42, Brill joined the sports desk at WABC-TV New York when the news director decided he was willing to give him a shot. He was nervous on his first day, so he dressed in the most comfortable way he knew how—like the manager of an office coffee and refreshment business. The other interns were amused, but the higher-ups felt his age was a refreshing change. Evening news anchor and local legend Bill Ritter said Brill’s story “resonated” with him: “He was taking the unsafe road, and I liked him a lot.” Longtime ABC-7 sportscaster Scott Clark introduced himself and asked Brill where he went to school. Brill launched into his story, but the anchor cut him off. “I don’t want to know,” he said. “Welcome. Don’t fuck up.”

Several days a week, Brill would go to the station straight from working a full shift at the family business and stay until after the 11 p.m. newscast, in case Clark wanted to discuss the show. He spent his time logging games for the evening broadcast, sitting in a dark edit room searching for the two or three highlights the sportscaster would actually show on the news. In December, that meant basketball and hockey, often four games a night. The hours didn’t phase him a bit: “I was watching sports, at work!” he says.

It’s the happiest his wife had seen him in years, she says, and his kids picked up on it, too. When he turned in one of his required college papers, the teacher gave it an A-plus. “He told me, ‘You wrote this as if it were a life-changing experience,’” Brill recalls. “That’s because it was.”

IN THE SPRING OF 2009, Brill got what would turn out to be his big break. As ABC converted to digital and high-definition, producers and directors took to learning new systems and equipment by having stand-ins read the news. Brill volunteered. For the first time in his life, he sat in a TV anchor’s chair, faced the cameras, and read sports from the teleprompters. One day an executive happened to see the feed and pulled him aside. “You’re pretty good at this,” he told Brill. “Ever think about doing this for real?” Only every day, Brill thought.

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As the No. 1 station in the country’s largest market, ABC-7 didn’t have an actual job for Brill, but the encouragement was all he needed to convince himself he was, for the first time in his adult life, on the right track. That summer, he sold the family business.

He began to take meetings, speak with agents and reporters, and contact every network in town. By February, he’d finally found a job, with News 12 Bronx, a hyperlocal station with no real budget to speak of.

But sometimes, a low budget presents opportunity. “It lets you be what they call a one-man band,” Brill explains. “You shoot, edit, and write all your own stuff.” News 12 Bronx didn’t have an opening in sports but was looking for someone to cover local breaking news. Brill was brought on as a freelancer and put on the street. His wife bought him a computer with editing software, he took a few courses at the Apple Store, and soon he was producing his own segments.

Four days after he started, there was a blizzard, and because he was one of the few reporters with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, he was sent out to do a piece on kids sledding. “That was my first on-air experience, and it got me all geeked up,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I really did that!’”

A few months into the job, the station’s sports anchor was let go, and Brill saw an opportunity. There were local sports stories worthy of coverage—in particular at colleges like St. Francis and Long Island University—so he told the sports producer he’d love the chance to start covering them. The producer began to use him nearly every day, and within months he had enough sports footage to make himself a demo reel.

STILL BEING FREELANCE, BRILL KEPT his eye out for staff positions; one day early in 2011, he came across a listing for a sports anchor—but it was in Albany. Brill had only practiced reading the news at that point. Yet, after one interview, he was offered a job as the sole sportscaster for one of the largest TV markets in the U.S.

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It was his dream job, but could he take it? Albany was a two-hour drive away, on a good day. With traffic, it could be twice that. Before he even started his drive home post-interview, he called his wife.

“I got the job,” he told her. “Now I just have to figure out if I’m going to take it.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“It’s in Albany,” he told her. He’d switched careers to be happier—but with three kids, ages 11, 9, and 4, at home, time with his family wasn’t something he was willing to sacrifice. His wife assured him they’d find a way to make it work.

Brill’s determination—and the support of his family—were what made it all work. Brill lived in an apartment in Albany during the week, and went home to see his wife and kids on weekends. He’d get in his car right after the 11 p.m. show and be there when the kids woke up Saturday morning. They still missed him, but if he had to work a weekend, the family would come up to Albany and sleep on the couch. “It was actually fun,” Brill says. “My kids thought it was an adventure. ‘Let’s go visit Dad!’”

Anchoring the evening sports was a dream come true for Brill, and for 2 and a half years he loved every minute of it. “If that job had been in the city, I’d have done it the rest of my life,” he says.

When his first contract came up in March ’13, the station was so happy with his work, they offered him a two-year extension. Again Brill faced a big decision, one that would greatly affect not just his career but also his family. He decided family came first, and hoped the rest would fall into place. “My oldest was almost 14, so it was time to have Dad around a bit more.” He decided to say no.

But before he’d told the station, he got a call—from ESPN Radio. “I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m working for ESPN!’ ” Brill says. Sure, it wasn’t TV, but it was sports, and it was with, well, only the biggest, most revered sports outlet of them all.

AT THE TIME, ESPN NY radio was the broadcast station for the New York Jets and to this point didn’t have a reporter covering the New York Giants. But that was about to change. Brill had a history of covering the Giants when the team had training camp in Albany (it’s since moved down to the practice facility in New Jersey), and now he was charged with covering the Giants—his favorite football team since he was a kid.

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Brill spent most of his time out on the paved swamps of the Meadowlands with all the other reporters at the Giants practice facility, jockeying for tape recorder space around Eli Manning’s locker. Just as he did during his internship, Brill faced some nervousness at first. He’d finally be up-close and personal with his heroes—and being a good beat reporter requires earning the trust of the team, the coaches, and the PR folks. Brill didn’t talk much at first, preferring to just put his recorder out there and record answers to the questions other reporters were asking. “But after a year, I started asking my own,” he says.

Last winter, ESPN, clearly impressed, handed Brill a second beat, covering the Brooklyn Nets. When the Super Bowl came to town, he was assigned the Seahawks, and when the Rangers made the Stanley Cup Final, he covered their opponent, the L.A. Kings. True to form, he jumped at every chance he was given.

And it paid off—in spades.

After filling in as guest host on ESPN’s Mother’s Day radio show this spring, Brill received some unexpected news: Once the Brooklyn Nets’ playoff run came to an end, he’d be named co-host of a new nightly radio show called ESPN New York Tonight.

“It’s validating and overwhelming at the same time,” he says. “It makes me humble that I’m able to do something I truly enjoy.”

It’s a job with perks that thrill both the man and the boy in him. At the end of last summer’s off-season camp for returning players, Brill’s boss dispatched him to a New Jersey Dunkin’ Donuts to watch Eli Manning announce the winner of a contest who would join the star QB in a future ad. It was the last time Brill would see Manning before training camp, so after a short interview, he said, “Have a good summer, Eli.”

The two-time Super Bowl MVP smiled. “You too, Andrew,” he replied. “See you in about a month.”