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WILLARD SCOTT: BELOVED FOR HIS BULK, BULL, BIRTHDAY WISHES

Willard Scott slid into his limo and...stuck. The velour upholstery made it tough for a person of average weight to slide across the seat, impossible for a person of Scott's, er, stature.

Scott was amused by his velour entrapment. "I like leather." He lifted an eyebrow. "And whips and chains." This was a typical Willard joke: It was bawdy, it made no sense and it was about Willard. The NBC "Today" show weatherman, beloved for his bulk, his bull and his birthday wishes to 100-year-olds, loves everybody back, especially himself.In Detroit earlier this year to do his cornball weather segments from Hart Plaza, Scott, calmed by his usual 6:40 a.m. valium (half a 5-milligram tablet, for his public-speaking phobia), was his usual vivacious self. People gave him roses, coffee and food ("Hey, Willard, how about a piece of that baklava?").

Willard gave himself. "Love, love, love, love," he described his job. "That's the worst picture," he said admiringly, gazing at a Polaroid of himself in a cap shaped like Michigan Wolverine snout, making a pig-like expression and holding a Pistons flag.

He kissed women and babies and bald men. At one point, he stood amid a crowd of admirers, phone stuffed in one ear, bandana stuffed in the other, doing yet another radio interview while the multitude - dozens, anyway, in the rain - waited to shake his hand.

He talked local culture ("Lake&hh! I love 'em! With a little butter!"). He signed his latest book ("America Is My Neighborhood"). He displayed no discernible talent, and yet he mesmerized. He mentioned that he recently built himself a room. "It's awful for me to call it a museum." We suggested egorarium. "Yeah. I wallow in it."

So if Willard Scott's trophy room is the size of a museum, how big is Bryant Gumbel's trophy room? This is an important question as Americans choose between the amiable commercialism of Scott and the slick perfection of Gumbel.

Actually, we have already chosen. The "Today" host's famous memo about his co-worker - "He holds the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste," Gumbel wrote of Scott - turned the weather clown into the martyr of the middlebrow.

Now Scott fires off his non-opinions ("USA Today is the Library of Congress, it's the Louvre . . .") with more enthusiasm than ever. Controversy has been good to Willard.

"It was an ordeal of fire," Scott said of the memo. "I'm not sure it was worth the emotion."

The job definitely is. Scott has a five-year, $5 million contract with NBC, plus perks, speaker's fees and commercial endorsements, including the Maxwell House coffee commercial that sullied the reputation of newswoman Linda Ellerbee.