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A letter to the Junior High Sports Guy

Bill Simmons writes a letter to himself in 1982 to attempt to explain why everyone is up in arms over watching one lousy NFL game. Story

If Bill Gates and Paul Allen created a software program that allowed us to send e-mails 25 years into the past, here’s the first missive I would send to eighth-grader Billy Simmons right now:

Dear Billy,

Please put down the Intellivision controller and read this note.

It’s Nov. 30, 2007, and I’m contacting you from the future. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those corny self-letters like the one that Dane Cook wrote to himself during the final “Tourgasm” episode. (Oh, wait, you don’t know who Dane Cook is yet. Probably for the best.) Consider this Part 1 of a 25-part series preparing you for the life you’ll be leading in 25 years. We’ll call this one, “Why you should be extremely excited about your life as a sports fan in 2007.”
Dane Cook
(FYI: Future parts of the series include, “Why you should apply only to warm weather colleges,” “Why making any girl a mix tape is a terrible idea,” “Why you’re not gonna believe what’s about to happen with video games, gambling and porn,” “Why you shouldn’t go to Tom Demas’ house to watch Game 6 of the 1986 World Series,” “Why you shouldn’t get married until you’re 45,” “Why it’s a good idea to turn on John Cougar right now and beat the crowd,” and “Why you have to hitchhike to Maryland on June 23, 1986, and kidnap Lenny Bias for two weeks.” Stay tuned.)

Since this is Part 1, I have some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news: You didn’t end up playing for the Celtics. Or any NBA team. Or any college team. In fact, you barely played in high school. I don’t know what the hell happened. You peaked in the ninth grade. You were a bigger disappointment than the “Tron” movie.

Now, the good news: You know that goofy cable sports network that shows highlights and college basketball and bowling? ESPN? Well, ESPN has evolved into a superpower — they have four channels and the rights to every sport but the NHL, but that’s OK because the NHL was destroyed by a guy named Gary Bettman in the mid-’90s. (Important note: I know this sounds crazy, but I want you to bail on the Bruins as soon as someone named Ulf Samuelsson does something terrible to someone named Cam Neely. Just trust me.) ESPN has an all-sports radio network, a magazine, a book department … basically, they’ve swallowed up the entire city of Bristol, Conn. They also have something called a Web site that everyone can read on their computers. It’s a 24/7 newspaper that’s updated constantly and has about 30,000 writers and columnists writing for it. Incredibly, you’re one of them. That’s right, we get paid to write about sports for a living.

I had to tell you what’s going on in sports right now. Right now, you’re trapped in 1982 — you just got cable and have about 10 decent channels to watch. In the year 2007, you’ll have more than a hundred decent channels to watch. I’m not kidding. My cable box goes up to 950 and my satellite dish goes to 700. (Why do I have both? Because I get paid to watch sports for a living! I told you that one, right?) These days you can watch nearly every sporting event no matter where you are. You can watch 10 NFL games at the same time. You can watch every Red Sox game even if you’re living in California or Canada. You can subscribe to a package that provides you with every televised NBA game. It’s mind boggling. You will pass out.

The technology currently at our disposal is unfathomable. You can follow games on the computer as they’re happening. You can read box scores and relevant stories right after the game ends, then watch video highlights of the same game. Thanks to a device called HD, television pictures are so clear that you could see every hair on Joe Walton’s index finger as he’s picking his nose on the Jets’ sideline. Another device called TiVo allows you to record games, then fast-forward through them at warp speed and skip all the commercials. (You can even record one game while you’re watching another!) We have various wireless phones and devices that allow you to catch up on scores no matter where you are, whether it’s an airplane, a wedding or whatever else. We have all-sports channels that show highlights at every point of the day. We have entire shows devoted to highlights for specific sports. If you want, you can even watch sportswriters have contrived screaming matches with a clock ticking down next to them.

Hey, you know how you’re in that fantasy baseball league right now in which the only categories are batting average and home runs? In the mid-’90s, a fantasy boom for baseball, football and basketball led to leagues with complicated statistics, multiple categories and everything else. Best of all, you can manage your lineups on the Internet (the place that connects everyone’s computers) and make changes every day, and you can make fun of other guys in your league through group “e-mails” (instant letters to your friends that they can read right away on their computer). It’s extremely addictive and not even remotely dorky. ESPN even has guys who are paid to go on TV to dispense advice on fantasy sports and nobody even makes fun of them.

Amazing, right? You’re going nuts, right?

Well, I have some more bad news: Eventually, you’re going to take these advances for granted. Nobody has to leave their house to follow sports anymore. Everything is right there at our fingertips. And you’d think we would be eternally grateful about this development, right? Nope. In the year 2007, sports fans (including you) will complain about the following things:
A. If you live on the West Coast and root for an East Coast team, you won’t be able to watch them on certain Sundays because Fox blacks out their East Coast telecasts on the West Coast. You might miss 8-10 games a year. Out of 162. You will complain about this.

B. ESPN’s Web site doesn’t put all the baseball and basketball box scores on one page like a newspaper does, so every night, you have to click on each individual game to see the scores. You will complain about this.

C. CBS doesn’t show every NFL game in HD, just most of them. You will complain about this.

D. When you set your TiVo to record a sporting event and that event spills over the allotted time, the recording will cut off unless you take 20 extra seconds to manually extend the length of the recording. You will complain about this.

E. When you buy the package to watch every NBA or baseball game, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get your own team’s announcers for every game. Half the time, you get the other team’s announcers. You will complain about this.

F. Sometimes on Sundays, when you’re checking your up-to-the-minute fantasy scores on whatever Web site you’re using, so many people are checking at the same time that the site will load slowly. You will complain about this.

G. There are two satellite radio stations (XM and Sirius) that you can get for your car, but you can only pick one of them. One has rights to every NBA and NFL game, one has rights to every MLB game. They haven’t merged yet. You will complain about this.

H. In 2006, the NFL launched its own network and decided to keep eight Thursday night games for itself, even though most cable systems weren’t carrying the NFL Network at the time. A bitter war ensued that was never resolved, leading to the week after Thanksgiving 2007, when the 10-1 Cowboys were hosting the 10-1 Packers — the first game between two 10-1 teams since 1990 — and half of America couldn’t watch the game from the comfort of home.

Did the “older you” complain about this particular slight? Actually, no. You happened to be working in New York City that day; once you discovered that your hotel room didn’t offer the NFL Network, you got off your ass, met up with some friends and watched the game in a crowded sports bar that was screaming on every big play. Ironically, it turned out to be a more entertaining night than just sitting at home (or in this case, a hotel room) and watching the NFL Network. Is it a bad thing to get off your ass every once in awhile? Probably not. Everyone’s incessant whining about “missing” NFL Network games made you realize that too much time was spent complaining about stupid stuff and far too little time appreciating everything that’s happened for sports fans over the past 25 years. If traveling 5-10 minutes to a sports bar or a neighbor’s house to watch the Packers-Cowboys game is our biggest dilemma of the sports week, then we must be in pretty good shape in 2007, right?

So that’s all you need to know in Part 1. I’ll shoot you another e-mail next week to prepare you for what happened in Boston sports since 1982. Here’s a hint: the Red Sox turned the tables on the Yankees; Pat Patriot and the Garden were brutally murdered; the Celtics have cheerleaders; Fenway Park has Monster seats; the Patriots evolved into the most successful and despised football team of the decade, there was an eight-week stretch of Sports Illustrateds this fall in which a Boston team appeared on the cover six times; and a guy behind the counter in a hardware store noticed your Boston shirt last week and said, “I hate Boston, you guys win everything.”

You’re going to enjoy 2007. Immensely. Details to come.

2007 Bill

PS: I’m including these Week 13 picks because you’re not going to believe the spread for the Monday night game. Again, you’re going to love 2007.

PPS: When you get to the bottom, ignore your crummy record for the 2007 season and ignore The Sports Gal’s excellent record. We’ll cover this in Part 13, which is tentatively titled, “Why You Shouldn’t Repeatedly Challenge Your Wife to an NFL Picks Contest In a Public Forum.” Thanks for reading.

Home teams in caps.


The Sports Gal promises to come back to ranting next week, even though she promised this two weeks ago. Here are her Week 13 picks: Rams -3; Wash -5.5; Det +3.5; Tenn -4; Indy -6.5; NYJ +1; KC +5.5; Philly -3; SF +3; TB +3; Cle +0; Den -3.5; NYG -1.5; Pitt -7; Pats -20.5.

This week: 1-0
Last Week: 9-7
Season: 93-75-9

VIKINGS (-3.5) over God’s Team
Could Minnesota run the slate with a healthy Adrian Peterson and potentially end up with a 5-seed? They get the freefalling Lions this week, followed by a road game in San Fran, home games against Chicago and Washington and a Week 17 finale in Denver. It’s not inconceivable, right? Even the mere possibility of wagering against Tarvaris Jackson in a road playoff game gives me the shakes.

(Adrian Peterson note of the week: On my nearly unbeatable West Coast fantasy team, I now have both Petersons, which means I’m going to be checking my team’s roster 200 times a week during the playoffs to make sure I started Great Adrian instead of Mediocre Adrian. Shouldn’t one of them be forced to go with a middle initial, like how the Vanessa Williams dispute was resolved in the mid-’90s? Seems only fair.)

RAMS (-3) over Falcons
Frerotte! Harrington! It’s the NFL on Fox! They should switch teams at halftime and see if we can tell the difference. By the way, if you think Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli aren’t calling this game, you’re fooling yourself.

Texans (+4) over TITANS
Remember when Vince Young just won football games? Now he’s Vince Young, the guy with a 61.4 QB rating who’s thrown five TDs and 13 interceptions but doesn’t get properly skewered on pregame shows because he hates to lose so much. I kinda miss the old Vince — that was a better gimmick. Meanwhile, congratulations to Ron Dayne for breaking the career record for “most times added or dropped in a fantasy league” last week. We’ve all had him at least three times, right? Ron Dayne gets passed around so much that his nickname should be “The Bong.”

Jets (+1) over DOLPHINS
While we’re passing out congrats, kudos to Ricky Williams for staging the worst comeback since Screech’s porn video. Anyway, can you think of any situation in which an 0-11 team should be favored unless it’s playing a team fighting a roster-wide case of mononucleosis or something? Is this the lowest moment in Jets history? They’re getting points from an 0-11 team! That’s almost worse than being an 0-11 team, isn’t it?

REDSKINS (-5.5) over Bills
If you wager on this game, you’re basically announcing, “I’ll bet on anything.”

CHIEFS (+5.5) over Chargers
So wait, LaDainian Tomlinson waited until Week 11 to call a players-only Chargers meeting and I’m supposed to admire him for this? Week 11??? It’s too bad we can’t digitally insert him onto the Titanic right as the boat is capsizing. Wait, everyone, hold on, it’s LT. We gotta stick togeth- whooooooooooooooooaa!


32. Miami

31. NY Jets
30. San Fran
29. Atlanta
28. Carolina
27. St. Louis
26. Oakland
25. Baltimore
24. Kansas City

23. Buffalo
22. Detroit

21. Arizona
20. Houston
19. Denver

18. Washington
17. Cincinnati
16. Chicago
15. Tennessee

14. N.Y. Giants

13. New Orleans
12. Philly
11. Minnesota

10. San Diego
9. Seattle
8. Tampa Bay

7. Cleveland

6. Jacksonville
5. Pittsburgh
4. Green Bay
3. Indianapolis
2. Dallas

1. New England

Jaguars (+6.5) over COLTS
If I were Jack Del Rio right now, I’d be wearing a David Garrard jersey everywhere around Jacksonville and asking random people, “HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW????” Meanwhile, the Jags could absolutely topple Indy, opening the door for an insane playoff scenario: The Colts landing the top wild-card spot and hosting the Browns for a wildly entertaining shootout in the first round, then heading to Foxborough, Mass., for another war against the still-undefeated Patriots (if they’re still undefeated). Colts-Browns and Colts-Pats in back-to-back weeks???? Come on, Jags!!!!

Seahawks (+3) over EAGLES
The bad news for Seahawks fans? D.J. Hackett turned out to be such a tease that he’s joining the cast of “Gossip Girl” next week. The good news for Seahawks fans? After an inspired performance against the Pats, A.J. Feeley heads back to the bench so a gimpy Donovan McNabb can get lustily booed for another home game.

Niners (+3) over PANTHERS
Vinny Testaverde is so old he’s not even listed as questionable this week with a deep bruise or a herniated disc. Nope, his back is just “stiff.” That’s excellent. I love seeing geriatric injuries like “stiff back” on an NFL injury report. Before the end of the season, I hope Vinny gives us “Questionable: Constipated.”

(Speaking of old people, some buddies and I had a great argument last night: Who’s the oldest celebrity you’d be excited to have sex with? The consensus? Sophia Loren. She’s like 77. I voted for her as well, although Mona from “Who’s the Boss?” is a close second. See, these are the things that happen when you get off your butt because you don’t have the NFL Network.)
Bruce Gradkowski
Bucs (+3) over SAINTS
There’s nothing like wagering on the Bucs, not seeing the game and finding out later that you won even though Bruce Gradkowski was prominently involved. It’s like gaining an extra seven minutes of your life. Hey, are you prepared for a world in which Jeff Garcia and the 2007 Tampa Bay Bucs are clearly the third-best team in the NFC? Because we’re almost there. We’re minutes away. Start preparing yourself emotionally.

Browns (PK) over CARDS
My favorite game on the board and my single favorite pick of the season other than the Pats over the Chargers in Week 2. In fact, I’m making this my Alcoa Gambling Lock of the Year. The Browns are going to win and cover. Jump in now before the line drifts to “Browns by 3.”

(That noise you just heard was everyone who planned on banging Cleveland suddenly shrieking, “Noooooooooo! I loved the Browns! Now Simmons likes them! Noooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooooooo! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”)

RAIDERS (+3.5) over Broncos
Congratulations to Luke in Ann Arbor, Mich., for being the one-millionth reader to e-mail me the question, “Doesn’t Mike Shanahan know that he shouldn’t kick off to Devin Hester?” last Sunday. In Mike’s defense, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on coaching the team when you look like you’re passing out a kidney stone while getting circumcised at the same time.

Giants (-1.5) over BEARS
Mike from Metuchen, N.J., writes, “I’m the same college kid who appeared in your mailbag previously with my Weather Channel/Skinemax music question. My new question involves how drunk you would have to be playing Madden to have a game comparable to how terrible Eli Manning played against Minnesota. I’m currently testing the theory and I’ve come to the conclusion you could be passed out and randomly roll over on the controller pressing buttons and probably be better off than good ol’ Eli.”

My favorite part of that question was that Mike introduced himself as the kid from the Weather Channel/Skinemax music question. Anyway, I don’t think you’d have to be passed out, but you’d definitely have to be “Mel Gibson wobbling out of Moonshadows”-level drunk. Regardless, the Bears and Giants are the Parisa and Tricia of the NFL: You can’t trust them, you can’t root for them, you can’t predict what will happen next … you can only hope they fight to the death.

Bengals (+7) over STEELERS
You might remember my 2005 crusade against the TV networks for refusing to play music that was made after 1980 during an NFL game, or my 2006 crusade against Al Michaels for starting the trend in which every announcer would say “out with a knee” or “out with a groin.” Well, I finally have a 2007 crusade: I want to stop the disturbing trend in which every play-by-play guy lovingly calls Ben Roethlisberger “Ben” throughout the game, as in, “Here’s Ben back to pass on third down … he’s got all kinds of time … now Ben is gonna take off … and Ben gets the first down!”

Since when did we decide that Ben Roethlisberger was Brazilian and his last name could be dumped? Should he just pull a Nene and drop his last name altogether, then wear “BEN” on his jersey? And when did this annoying trend start exactly? I blame Jim Nantz. There’s blood on his hands. I know he did this.

Patriots (-20.5) over RAVENS
The best part of these nationally televised Ravens games? When they show Ray Lewis doing his elaborate pregame entrance at home — he always looks like one of those washed-up WWE wrestlers holding onto the same entrance gimmick they had from 12 years ago when they were still popular. It’s like seeing Hacksaw Jim Duggan carrying the American flag or something. Stick a fork in the Ravens.

(I have to admit, I’m already looking ahead to the Steelers and Jets. What if the Pats left Chris Hanson inactive for the Jets game and played without a punter? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate slap in the face? Know this going in, Mangini … we’re not punting. Can you think of a better psychological ploy? It’s one thing to go 19-0; it’s another thing to be the team that intentionally scratched their punter before a game for the first-ever Eff You Transaction. Now I know what I want for Christmas.)

This week: 1-0
Last week: 8-8
Season: 83-85-9

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.

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Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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