Requiem for the Sports Guy

I am writing this as a piece not to knock the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, but it is a tribute to someone who has given me plenty of enjoyment in my life.  I am just asking him to take a break. In terms of sports writing exclusively on the Internet, Bill was one of the first.  He is a very talented writer, and since he came well before we knew what a Blogger was; he is a columnist, and I know he would like to be called that. He’s a Hall of Famer in my book. I just want him to concentrate on what he does best, which is write.  The podcasts are ok, but I really don’t give a crap about Cousin Sal every NFL week, and could care less if Johnny is worried yet.  Sometimes it feels like you are just listening in on their phone calls.  Bill has a voice made for writing.  When I see him post a diary, the ramblings or have an online chat it makes me feel like Old-Timers Day is at ESPN.  Years ago, many teams had Old-Timers Day, today it is just done by the Yankees.  I always enjoyed the event, even though I am a Met fan.  It is always cool to say, “Look, Yogi still can wear the uniform,” or “Wow, Whitey Ford can still reach the plate!”  Reading Bill’s columns now has that effect on me.

We are both Patriots’ fans and that is how I found him. I live in New Jersey.  Back in the 90’s, when AOL had an overwhelming share of the at-home Internet market, the out-of-town sports fan did not have too many options.  Newspaper websites were far from what they are today.  Some of those papers actually charged to read their content!  Personal websites were very minor and this whole social networking phenomenon was limited to chat rooms, AOL Instant Messaging, and if anyone knew how to create a Geocities page, where it would take an hour to load your 3 pictures.  Those who had dial up remember these days well.  And those of you who were too young to remember these days, you didn’t miss much at all.  Digitalcity.bostonsportsguy.com was the first sports website that I found that was informative and made me laugh as well.

His move to ESPN was not the end of the world. It was the start of something new.  This was an unbelievable jump for someone who used to write me when I made a comment on his site.  I was happy for him like I would have been happy for him if he was my brother.  He brought a lot of his days as the BSG over to ESPN, and for those who thought his columns would suffer by making the jump to tWWL (the WorldWide Leader) in 2001 (God, it’s been almost eight years already!) were mistaken.  He became more polished.  While he did not really keep track of and rate other sports columns anymore, his columns were better.  Using movie lines and songs to correlate to sports was terrific stuff that kept us wanting more.  I would take lunch late at work to wait for his article to come out and print it, so I could read during lunch or on the bowl.

My favorite article of all time is when he wrote about the Pats winning their first Super Bowl, on February 3, 2002.  He must have stayed up all night to write this.  It was a masterpiece.  He had to have been drunk as well while writing it, which makes even more impressive. It may be more of a masterpiece to me because it was a moment of shared joy for him, myself, and so many other long-time Patriot fans.  I knew Bill had made it to the big time when the Chairman of the company that I work for, brought me in to his office, two days after Super Bowl XXXVI.  The Chairman knew I was a big Patriot fan, and the only one in our New Jersey office. He talked to me about this article he received from a friend of his.  His friend is the President of another company who was up in Massachusetts, and when he gave me the print out of the article and I saw the title and Bill’s name; I knew he had really made it.

Later on in 2002, he signed on to be a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.   We did not hear too much from him in 2003, and I was surprised that he left Jimmy’s show and worked full-time at ESPN.  Maybe, it was contract related, or ESPN’s viewership went down and offered him a better deal.  I think his downfall in terms of his sportswriting, comes from a few things, his move to Hollywood, having two children, and other projects have truly hampered him in terms of what he does best, which is column writing.  But, hey that’s life and you cannot fault anyone for that.

I narrowed my elegy to four things that caused me to write this:

1 – The Book, Now I Can Die in Peace: How ESPN’s Sports Guy Found Salvation, with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank and the 2004 Boston Red Sox

I initially thought it was great that Bill was writing a book about the Sox amazing year.  Then, I opened it at Borders.  I was shocked to see that book was just a compilation of his columns as ESPN.  He never spoke about this when he referenced the book.  It was a total let down to people who have read him for the last five years.

Here was my review that can be found under the 2-star rating:

“Bill Simmons cleans out his hard drive and calls it a day and now a book. (Sorry, it had to be said). Anyone who has read the Boston Sports Guy could have just saved his articles and added their own commentary.

Bill is a very talented and original writer but I would have rather read something that is new. I know he has a new daughter and we all need to make a buck, so I can’t blame him.  The columns are as a good as it gets about the Sox and sports, but you may have read this before.

I wish the title was a better one. First, there are a few more important things that I would like to see happen in my life than a baseball team who could care less about me (except my wallet) win a World Series. Second, the title is a complete rip-off from 1994 when a fan had made that sign at Madison Square Garden after the NY Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Adding to the non-originality of the book.”

I hope his NBA book that comes out this fall is original, I doubt I will buy it, but I hope he uses original writing.

2 – He Cannot Relate to New England Anymore

Now, every once in a while, Bill can still bring it, like in this column on the demise of home-field advantage in the NFL.  He made it work with ideas that were given to him by some of his compatriots in the Blogosphere.  But, I also noticed in his column something that really pissed me off:  “I’ve attended three Pats games in the Gillette Mausoleum.” His distance from the Boston sports fan really showed up in that sentence.   I do not care who your friends are who go, and what you hear, what websites or podcasts you read or hear, if you are not personally there, you truly cannot relate and are not qualified to comment.

He has only attended 3 Pats games at Gillette Stadium?  How is that possible?  The Stadium just finished its 7th season.  I am not saying you have to be a season ticket holder to be a diehard fan, you don’t, and you don’t have to go to any games at all.  But, let me get this straight: You write for ESPN, who would probably pay you to go to Foxborough, and you have only been there once every two years?   Even if you do not like the stadium, how do you not get out to see one of the greatest era’s of your team in your lifetime.  Yet, he is not afraid to wax poetic about Foxboro Stadium.  I, myself, have attended over 10 Pats games at Gillette, driving 4 hours to and from Northern New Jersey, and I was one of about 1,000 Patriot fans that went to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville.   I have also attended every Patriots-Jets game at the Meadowlands since 1993, but that is another story.  I am not from New England either, but I do follow the Pats religiously and follow the team on a daily basis, and see them as often as I can.  I do have friends in the area, but it does not make me an expert on what the pulse of the fans truly is.

Here are a couple of facts from a fan who has been to both many times:

A – Foxboro Stadium always was a dump. My high school stadium where I played football had more amenities.  What Bill didn’t mention about Foxboro Stadium, was that the traffic used to be the slow road to China, be prepared for a 3 hour ride home, it is better now, not great, but better.  You prayed for your car and for your bones when parking at Foxboro, most of the parking lots were unpaved, there were just mounds of dirt and rocks in the parking areas.  Oh, and if you went during a night game, leave a paper trail on how to find your car because there were about two working lights in the parking area and a million bottles you could trip over on the way back.  Those days may have been fun when you are in college, but as you cross the 30 yard line in terms of years, it blows for the most part.

The fans who sit by the field have the same enthusiasm for the most part as those up in the 300’s.  While it will never be what Foxboro Stadium was in terms of its closeness, the closeness to the field from the upper level is the only thing I miss about Foxboro Stadium.  Being squeezed in on metal benches was lousy, there was one TV monitor, one scoreboard, a sound system that looked my old 8-track system complete with ropes tying up the speakers!

B – Gillette is not perfect. Unfortunately, and I agree with Bill on how the noise goes straight up instead of directing the noise on the field.  There is a wine-and-cheese crowd, luckily, most of them are in their precious Club area.  Patriot Place is amazing, but you cannot believe that you are walking into stores, restaurants, and a theatre on a place that you used to have hold on to someone else to make it over a dirt hill to get to the stadium.  It does take away from the team a little.  But, it sure beats what we had.

C – Winning breeds complacency. When your team has had as much success as the Patriots have had in this decade, you lose a little bit of that hunger to stand and yell on every down.  But, unlike the Atlanta Braves, the Pats still sell out every game and have a wait list over 50,000 fans, something we never had at Foxboro.  The fans still show up in droves no matter what the weather.  I have sat in about every possible location at Gillette Stadium, I’m still amazed by the Pats fans I sit next to during the games.  Most are very knowledgeable about today’s team.  Their memories are short and some of them would fail to recognize who used to wear #11 for the Pats, let alone know who Hugh Millen or Tommy Hodson were.  If he lived in the area or went to more games, he would know this.  You can strip him of the Boston in Boston Sports Guy.

3 – The Machine Named ESPN (hiding behind Disney) Ate Him Alive

ESPN is owned by this little mouse with ears named Disney.  That mouse has huge ears and those ears have executives with eyes that do not like when content done by one of the mercenaries, oops, I mean employees, can cross the line.  I am still amazed that the Tuesday Morning Quarterback was brought back on to ESPN’s Page 2.  You don’t create your own Blogspot page called Sportsguy Unplugged with a picture of Andy Dufresne, if you are happy about the work you are doing and the company you represent.  You know the editors at ESPN have cut his columns limb from limb in terms of censorship. I know in this past year that he couldn’t stand that ESPN was giving Rick Reilly, $3 million a year, for 800 words per column and that Reilly thought of him as a Blogger and not a columnist.  I also know that he will take his anger towards tWWL about how they screwed him over on having then Senator Obama on his podcast.  His contract is signed until 2010, this must feel like the longest year in his life.  His column does not allow comments, now I am not sure if that decision is his, or if it is made by tWWL, but it would be cool to see what others are saying.

4 – Most of Us Did Not Watch the Same Things as You or Constantly Talk About Our Friends In Our Writing

I may have watched Beverly Hills 90210, and seen the first three Karate Kids, but I do not discuss them.  I have been waiting for a Guiding Light reference someday.  Also, I do not see anyone else who mentions their personal friends, like JackO, J-Bug, and Blueboy constantly.  Seriously, who has a friend named Blueboy?  And why would you want to be named after a gay porn mag? Maybe, these guys get a piece of the action.  Mentioning your parents, or your wife and kids is fine, but I guess Bill will keep trying until he can land them a job at ESPNEWS or something.   If he ever wonders why people call him a Blogger; it is precisely there.

Competition came along as every network, newspaper and team put in these people called Bloggers, that would give fans instant access to their teams.  This was followed by thousands of fans’ posting their own columns and then came the other side of sports websites like Deadspin, SportsbyBrooks, Awful Announcing, Kissing Suzy Kolber, and too many other good ones to mention.

The need for a 10,000 word column went out of fashion.  There is just too much information that is presented in front of our faces to occupy our time anymore. By the way, if you are still reading this, thank you. You run out of hours in the day when you try read and listen to all of what you want, oh, and do your job at work, too.  In 1999, there were no iPods, cell phones were just that phones, the Internet was fledgling and 75% of the people did not know how to go online, and video games were just games, not consoles that bring so much more to the table. Time moves on, and Bill moved on to Hollywood and drifting away from sports to the world of glitz and glamour.

Rest well, Sports Guy, we will be there for you when you come back.  If you are under 40 and you write about sports, you know you have taken some lessons from him.  Thanks for some great columns and for paving the way for so much more to come since the days of my 56K modem.  I hope I am there to witness you receiving your Lifetime Achievement Webby Award.  I would like a picture.  I will put next to my picture of me and some of my friends that we took at Old Timers Day.

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2 Responses to Requiem for the Sports Guy

  1. Hal says:

    Great post. I like how you criticized him without absolutely crushing him (something I’m finding increasingly difficult to do).

  2. thegrenade says:

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I can’t crush the Sports Guy because I have enjoyed him more than he has upset me. It is a shame to see what his writing has become these days and this was my way of saying thanks and goodbye.

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