I didn’t last one day in the World Series of Poker. So there you go. Details to come in the next magazine column. But since the tournament doubled as a Vegas weekend, here are some lingering thoughts:
• There’s hell, there’s burning hell, and then there’s the airport cab line in Vegas. What’s worse than landing in Sin City, getting excited to start gambling … then waiting 20 minutes for your bags and another 45 minutes in a cab line that zigzags back and forth like the line for an amusement park ride, so you get to walk by the same chain-smoking lowlifes every eight minutes? Doesn’t exactly kick you into the “Vegas, baby! Vegas!” frame of mind.
• Begrudgingly — and that’s an understatement — I stayed at Rio because this year’s WSOP was being held there. Back in the late-’90s, Rio emerged as THE hot place — it had the best breakfast buffet, chicest club (Voodoo Lounge) and most lively gambling scene (my group stayed there twice). Then Hard Rock, Mandalay and the Palms blew it out of the water, followed by a saddening three-year stretch when Rio became White Trash Central. And since it’s off the strip, everyone forgot about it. But now? They cleaned it up and offer $15 blackjack tables, friendly dealers, old-fashioned eight deck shoots (not the ones where machines spit out cards), cocktail waitresses who actually seem motivated to fetch drinks, two coffee shops right near the tables, a serviceable sports book and the aforementioned buffet. So if you’re keeping track, Rio went from “underrated” to “overrated” to “depressing” to “underrated” in the span of seven years. Basically, it’s the Shane Mosley of casinos.
• Three of my friends stayed at Venezia, the new wing in the Venetian that offers beautiful, gigantic suites (suites so big they even have a step down to a second “level”). Unfortunately, they couldn’t figure out a way to stop our buddy Bish from snoring, which caused major dissension during the weekend and led to the group decision that Bish is no longer allowed to have roommates on Vegas trips. You hate to see it come to that.
• One thing that always kills me about Vegas: Perusing the giant billboards on the Strip, it’s uncanny how the entertainer performing at a casino invariably matches the appeal (or lack of appeal) of that same casino. For instance, performing at Excalibur, Mr. Louie Anderson! Headlining the Orleans Casino, Mr. Jon Lovitz! And get ready to laugh at the Luxor … that’s right, it’s Carrot Top! I feel like they go after these names intentionally — it’s like when the ugliest guy in the room goes after the ugliest girl at a party.
• Forget about women not wearing bras anymore … the new thing on the West Coast is women who wear bras AS THEIR SHIRTS. Where are we headed? What line is left to cross? By the time my daughter is 18, she’ll be heading out for dates wearing Band-Aids on her nipples as her blouse. Kill me now. I’m serious. Shoot me in the head.
(Note: According to one of my buddies, the new Wynn Casino offers a topless pool that’s available only to people staying there. Apparently everyone keeps their tops on in the morning and late-morning, but once the booze start flowing around lunchtime and everyone gets a couple of drinks in them, in my buddy’s words, “Those tops start whipping around like rubber bands!” I feel like you need to know these things. By the way, I think I just increased the Wynn’s third quarter earnings by $20 million.
• Speaking of the ladies, back in the late-’90s, the male-female ratio on a typical weekend in Vegas was somewhere in the 85/15 or 90/10 range. Now? We’re probably closer to 65/35. Looks like those “Whatever happens in Vegas … ” ad campaigns are working. Right around dinnertime at Rio on Saturday night, I was nearly stampeded by a bachelorette party group of screaming women, culminating in the wobbly bachelorette whacking me on the head with a 10-foot, inflatable … uh, male body part, as everyone cheered. I’m not sure if this was the highlight of my weekend or the lowlight. Maybe a little of both.
Still, I continue to worry that Vegas has turned into Amateur Hour: Too many people, too many crummy gamblers, too much of a cliché. The number of dopes who (A) play blackjack without having a clue, and (B) know just enough to annoy everyone with dumb comments like, “Man, if you had split those twos against the 10, we would have won that hand” has reached epidemic proportions; on Saturday night, an increasingly belligerent Hopper berated two gamblers in separate incidents, stormed from two other tables and was last seen toiling away at a $50 table by himself in the wee hours, practically growling like a pit bull at anyone who wanted to join him. Even KG seemed happier during the last T-Wolves season.
Which brings me to my point: Vegas is like one of those homey neighborhood Italian restaurants that a privileged few loved … and then it became inundated by non-Italians and customers who ask questions like “What’s penne?” Well, you know what happens with those restaurants? The die-hards stop coming. And I feel like that could happen to Vegas soon. If you’re looking for a male bonding trip that includes the basics (gambling, golf, drinking, nudity, more gambling), you’re almost better off scheduling a golf trip in the Carolinas, making the pilgrimage to New Orleans or getting creative with a hidden gem like Montreal or Palm Springs. In the meantime, Vegas needs to start building a casino that’s shaped like a shark.
Onto the mailbag … as always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers:
Q: Let’s see, in the past two months, you embraced soccer, created an Us Weekly fantasy league for women, were called a “hero” by Mark Cuban and complained about two American institutions: fantasy football and Vegas. What day is your surgical procedure that officially makes you a woman? I want to make sure I send you a card.
— Bill Simmons, Los Angeles
SG: Just wanted to beat you guys to the punch.
Q: Who was the greatest pro wrestler you ever saw and why?
— D Nice, Bronx, N.Y.
SG: I have to go with Randy Savage. For 10 reasons …
1. During his WWF days, his matches were always excellent — tons of moves, tons of bumps and a consistently high quality. His battle against Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania III was the first great modern wrestling match, the prototype for most of the matches today (it still holds up almost 20 years later). He was so good, he could even drag a decent match out of Hulk Hogan.
2. Nobody had a better nickname than “The Macho Man,” with the possible exception of the “The Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase. Plus, he shrewdly avoided the obvious “Macho Man”/Village People link with his entrance song, which could have killed his career coming out of the gate.
3. Not only were his interviews phenomenally bizarre and entertaining, he was one of the first wrestlers to refer to himself almost entirely in the third person. The Macho Man was like the Rickey Henderson of wrestling, right down to the fact that you never knew what the hell he was talking about. And nobody was more fun to imitate. Ohhhhhhh … yeah!!!!
4. He was the first mainstream wrestler to travel with a female manager (the gorgeous Miss Elizabeth), which was a godsend for horny wrestling fans in the ’80s and eventually opened the door to Missy Hyatt, Sable, Sunny and all the female managers and wrestlers now. Let’s face it — wrestling was like a sausage party from college until Miss Elizabeth showed up. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that nobody thought, “hey, our sport revolves around male wrestlers rolling around in tights in front of a a predominantly male audience … maybe we should bring some attractive ladies in here to mix it up!”
5. On the Unintentional Comedy Scale, his beard was a solid 8.6, his thinning hair (eventually covered by a bandanna) was a 7.8, his voice was a 9.5, and his interviews were a 9.9. Warrants mentioning.
6. He wasn’t opposed to wrestling with his sunglasses on. A lost art, really.
7. He was brothers with Leaping Lanny Poffo, a charter member of the “Fredo Hall of Fame” with Don Swayze, Prince Harry, Ashlee Simpson, Brett Gretzky, Frank Stallone, Jeremy Giambi, the Shula siblings, the Schottenheimer brothers, Eric Roberts, Jimmy Baio, Steve Sanders’ half-brothers, Ozzie Canseco, Clint Howard, Eddie Bird and everyone in Snoop Dogg’s family.
8. Looking back, his original WWF gimmick was unbelievable — the Macho Man wasn’t just a bad guy, he was also a jealous boyfriend who always threatened to pull a Brett Myers on his girlfriend (Miss Elizabeth) in front of sold-out stadiums. Invariably, she would screw up his match and he would pull her by her hair into the ring, and as everyone was screaming at him not to whack her, one of the good guys would run in and save the day. (Note: He never actually whacked her. Even the WWF didn’t cross that line.) I’m not condoning this angle, just pointing out that when you can rally back from being the “mean-spirited boyfriend who might hit his lady at any time” and somehow parlay this into eventually becoming a good guy … I mean, that’s when you KNOW you have talent. Anyway, that was the first and last domestic violence angle in pro wrestling. Thank God.
9. He had one of the first great off-the-rope finishing moves: The flying elbow from the top rope. Doesn’t seem like a big deal now … HUGE deal at the time. Like Doctor J dunking on someone for the first time.
10. Macho Man was a centerpiece of the greatest wrestling angle of the ’80s, when he became a good guy and teamed up with Hulk Hogan as the Mega-Powers, then things started falling apart when the Macho Man thought Hulk had eyes for Elizabeth, culminating in the Macho Man refusing to accept Hulk’s tag during a Saturday Night Main Event (they ended up losing), followed by a screaming match in the locker room in which Savage yelled things like “You got jealous eyes! Oh, yeah … you got jealous eyes!” before finally sneak-attacking Hogan as Elizabeth screamed in horror. As far as the defining buddy-turning-on-buddy events of the last 25 years, this was right up there with Crockett shooting Tubbs, The Game calling out 50 Cent, T.O. ripping McNabb, Kobe ratting out Shaq to the Colorado police, Shawn Michaels kicking Marty Jannetty through the window and Brandon sleeping with Dylan’s girlfriend. And yes, my buddy Birdman and I reenacted this entire scene at 3 a.m. after about 45 beers apiece, with our pal Nick Aieta playing Miss Elizabeth. Fortunately, no videotape exists.
Q: I need your help! People here in Cincy have been calling the Bengals the “Cincinnati Jail Blazers” but that just doesn’t do it for me. They need a name all to themselves. No one down in these parts is as creative as you. Come on Sports Guy, the entire city is counting on you.
— Elena, Cincinnati
SG: Well, the “Bad News Bengals” is too easy. Hmmmm. What about the “Cinmates”? Does that work?
Q: Are you aware that T-Mobile offers a ringtone that’s the radio call of the Red Sox winning the World Series? Please try to stay on top of things, seriously.
— Ben, D.C.
SG: In the words of Johnny Carson, I did not know that! That’s wild! That’s wild, wacky stuff! But I’m glad you brought this up — I can’t wait for the day when everything is available as a ringtone. And I mean, EVERYTHING. I want to download a ringtone of Cosell screaming, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” for 30 straight seconds. Can we make this happen, People In Charge Of Coming Up With Ringtones? Please?
Q: Atlanta has a problem with homeless people — so I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Hawks allowing the homeless in for free on game nights to make it look like they have a fan base. Sort of like, “We’ll let you stay inside but you must watch the team ‘play’ in return.”
— David, Atlanta
SG: Ladies and gentleman, your 2007 Atlanta Hawks! Feel the excitement!
Q: Have you been watching the World Series of Pop Culture on VH1? Who would you have as your teammates and do you think you could take it?
— Sean, Charlotte, N.C.
SG: You’ve been reading me for five-plus years at this point … do you really think there’s a chance that I haven’t been watching the World Series of Pop Culture? Come on. I would pick Chuck Klosterman as one of my teammates, and since we wouldn’t need a third teammate — seriously, is there any team on the planet that could defeat me and Klosterman, in a million years? — I’d go with Dikembe Mutombo as our third teammate. You know, just for his reactions after every one of our correct answers. It would be like the 1998 Slam Dunk Contest all over again.
Q: After watching the ESPYS, how do they not kill off Jack Bauer and replace him with a Venus Williams-inspired heroine? She towered over him! I think Vegas had Venus over Kiefer at 5-3 odds in a bare-knuckle match! Also, how does Kiefer’s agent allow that to happen?!!!
— Jon, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.
SG: The best part was the look on Kiefer’s face as he walked out, like he had just spent the last 20 minutes screaming at his PR person, “I thought I was walking out with Danica Patrick! I told you, nobody over 5-foot-3! WE TALKED ABOUT THIS!” That killed me. How has “24” not hired Danny DeVito and Joe Pesci as terrorist masterminds yet?
Q: Didn’t the guy crying after he got dumped on “The Hills” have to be one of the most pathetic moments in reality TV? This guy will hate himself forever once he sees this. Can you imagine this guy going out to bars in L.A. now? Getting dumped sucks but to cry on TV and whimper?
— Eamon, Chicago
SG: I thought the exact same thing. Imagine being friends with this guy? Any insult he ever comes up with would just be trumped by, “Yeah, good one, why don’t you whimper and sob while your girlfriend dumps you on national TV again?” Just find a new group of friends at that point.
(Reminds me of the time we came home from a party in college and found one of my roommates passed out, on the bowl, and let’s just say that he pulled a Najeh Davenport on the floor and in his own pants. Then, as we were videotaping the entire scene — which really doubled as a CSI crime scene — he woke up long enough to throw up in a garbage bucket. Not only was this the most fantastic chain of events any of us had in college, not only would this have been the greatest YouTube clip of all-time if I didn’t destroy it a few years ago for everyone’s sake, but we had ball-busting immunity over this guy for the rest of college: Any comeback was trumped by a “Why don’t you crap on the floor again?” joke. That’s right, college … $21,000 a year at the time.)
Wait, I have two more comments about “The Hills”:
1. First, while watching last week’s episode on vacation with family (including the Sports Gal and my cousin Kristin), I realized that “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills” have evolved into this decade’s “90210” and “Melrose Place” in terms of “Best Show to Watch With Catty Women in the Room Providing a Running Commentary And Ripping Everyone in Sight.” In fact, there should be a spin-off show where they have five sarcastic women watching “The Hills” on MTV2, kinda like “Mystery Science Theater” crossed with “Mean Girls.” I would watch this. You haven’t really lived until you’ve been in a room where girls are gleefully teaming up against Audrina for reasons like “how could she give relationship advice, she just said she’s never had a boyfriend?” and “no wonder she’s single, she doesn’t have an upper lip.”
2. With all the hullabaloo about the 25th anniversary of MTV, I’m demanding that LC’s birthday date is included in any “Greatest MTV Moments” feature from now on. Here’s a rough transcript:
(We see Lauren and her degenerate, unemployed, filthy-rich boyfriend, Jason, having a fancy dinner in an L.A. hotel room that he purchased for the night.)
— Jason (touching his nose frantically): “So what do you want to do tonight?”
— Lauren: “I just want to be with you.”
— Jason (confused, touches his nose 20 more times): “So you just want to stay here?”
— Lauren: “Yeah, let’s get a movie or something.”
— Jason (now pawing at his nose like a bear killing a camper): “So, you don’t want to go out?”
— Lauren: “Why, do you?”
— Jason (slowly realizing that he’s about to spend the night with someone who has no discernable personality): “I dunno … only if you want to … you know, we could go out.”
— Lauren: “Well, I’d rather stay here and get a movie.”
— Jason (checking to see if blood is pouring from his nose): “Okay, that’s cool … so you don’t want to go out?”
— Lauren (upset now): “Jason, I just told you, I don’t want to go out!”
— Jason (while debating if he should empty the salt shaker and snort whatever comes out): “All right, all right. So what do you want to do?”
(I’m telling you, this was the new “Who’s on First?”, only if Abbott and Costello had just shared an eight-ball. Phenomenal TV. Let’s move on.)
Q: Thank you for telling me to pick up Howie Kendrick. I love you.
— Brian M, New York
SG: I love you, too. And while we’re here, I’d like to formally welcome Howie to the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars. Big day.
Q: Yet another face for the Pantheon: The Eric Wedge nervous twitch/tic face where he is constantly blinking, twitching his nose, etc. The frequency of his ticks rises and falls depending on the game situation. As a Sox fan living in Cleveland, I’ve seen him do this for a couple of years now. I’m hoping that you’ve enjoyed the show firsthand against the Sox this week during the closer meltdowns. We’re waiting for him to swallow his tongue one of these days.
— Alan, Cleveland
SG: Glad someone mentioned this: During both of Carmona’s meltdowns, I kept imagining what Wedge would be capable of during a tense moment in a playoff game, or even better, a World Series game, you really might see Wedge have some sort of Great Cornholio-level seizure in the dugout. I want to play poker at the same table with him and Flip Saunders. Just once.
(One more note on this: It’s hard to do justice to Carmona’s double meltdown at Fenway this week, but to put it in perspective, my buddy Hench e-mailed me right afterward to joke, “If Wedge sends him out there to close another game, he should be investigated for a human rights violation.” He wasn’t kidding.)
Q: I mean, really, it’s either stay a Sonics fan no matter where they are or give up on the whole concept of rooting for any f—— team, right? What’s the f—— point? Or should I just pick a different team like you’re picking a Premier League team? You know, throw a dart and, that’s right, I’m a f—— Indiana Pacer fan. Hey, those Atlanta F—— Hawks might turn it around this year. For f—— sake, how about those Winnipeg Blue Bombers? What the f—? There is no God.
— Dave, Seattle
SG: Should we be worried that there’s a serial killer on the loose in Seattle in the two weeks since I received this e-mail?
Q: OK, I got one for you SportsGuy, my mom just ran over my dog. What’s the (bleeping) sports equivalent to that?
— Rob Ramsey, Nacogdoches, Texas
SG: You’re a diehard Knicks fan who also happens to be one of Isiah Thomas’s brothers? Speaking of Isiah …
Q: If Isiah and Matt Millen were in the same fantasy league (any sport), what would be the end result? Is it even possible to mutually lose to each other? Would this bring the world to a sudden and violent end?
— Chris Lang, Stevens Point, Wis.
SG: Are you kidding? Isiah would KILL Matt Millen. Other than his complete disregard for the salary cap and luxury tax and lack of a discernable long-term plan, Isiah has one major flaw as a GM: He runs the Knicks like they’re a real-life fantasy team and tries to accumulate as much talent as possible without giving any thought to how that talent might mesh together. For a fantasy league? That’s perfect, right?
Meanwhile, Matt Millen has been a complete disaster in every possible sense: he hires the wrong coaches, drafts the wrong players, signs the wrong free agents, screws up the cap, builds around the wrong guys, turns on his own players, doesn’t have any semblance of a master plan … you could make the case that he doesn’t have a single strength as a sports executive. At least Isiah had some decent drafts and targeted players with talent (Marbury, Curry, etc.); he’d be a good fantasy GM as long as it wasn’t a keeper league. Matt Millen would be terrible in any scenario. The only way the Matt Millen Era would be worse in Detroit is if he were announcing the games as well.
Q: My god that was an awesome article on the Larry-Papi debate. Good stuff. I swear you are like the Lindsay Lohan of sports writers, some days you are phenomenal and others it seems like you were out all night snorting coke and taking shots of pure gasoline. But I love ya.
— Brad Dolick, Torrance, Calif.
SG: That was the “Backhanded Compliment of the Month.” Hey, speaking of Lindsay …
Q: You asked in the Papi/Bird column: “Who would you rather see topless, Scarlett Johansson or Lindsay Lohan?” You’re not thinking this through. You need to qualify statements like that. Are we talking Lindsay “The second coming of Ann-Margret” Lohan, or Lindsay “Nicole Ritchie Jr.” Lohan?
— Chris, Prairie Village Kans.
SG: See, I’m still holding onto the Ann-Margret Jr. Era and refusing to admit defeat with the Nicole Richie Jr. Era … despite mounting photographic evidence that the Margret possibilities are long gone. I’m in denial. I’m like the Eagles fans trying to talk themselves into another year of McNabb and Reid. It’s not happening. And yet, I find myself thumbing through Us Weekly last week and read that her new boyfriend doesn’t drink or smoke (by the way, only Lindsay Lohan would date the guy who created the Pink Taco franchises) and immediately think, “Wait, he doesn’t drink or smoke, this is good for her! She might put on some weight!”
Q: So my friend Rich and I were talking tonight about different stuff in sports, then he posed the question, “How much would you pay to have Keith Jackson broadcast a day in your life?” I decided that if there was a guaranteed hookup with a girl during the day, I’d give up a semester’s worth of tuition to make this happen. Imagine: “Simmons is really in a groove today. Wait a second, he’s standing up and WHOA NELLIE!” Come on. You know you’d love it.
— Peter H., Gastonia, N.C.
Q: Who should be the first 12 picks in everyone’s Fantasy Football Draft?
— Drew, New York
SG: Right now my board looks like this: (1) Larry Johnson; (2) Ladainian Tomlinson; (3) Shaun Alexander; (4) I can’t believe Tiki Barber, Clinton Portis, Edge James, Stephen Jackson could be the fourth pick in my upcoming fantasy football draft; (8) Peyton Manning; (9) Steve Smith; (10) Chad Johnson; (11) Ronnie Brown; (12) Cadillac Williams. But seriously … what could be worse than having the No. 4 pick this year? We need to make a collective push toward the auction format. It’s time.
Q: Much like your columns over the past two years, you’ve embraced mediocrity with your choice of Spurs. Welcome to the EPL.
— Derek A., San Francisco
SG: Thank you! Great to be here.
Q: Can we nominate the Jake Gyllenhaal “Just make the f—— Brokeback joke already” face at the ESPYS for induction into the faces pantheon?
— Natan, Cleveland
SG: As long as we can induct it with the Jake Gyllenhaal “Not only am I NOT gay, I’ll show you how straight I am right now, baby! Want to do it in the coat room? What about behind the bar? You name the place, I’ll deliver the goods!” Face at the post-ESPYS party. Let’s make it a tandem induction. That reminds me, congratulations to Lance Bass for doing the impossible — after a nine-month run, he blew Brokeback out of the water and became the go-to gay celebrity joke. And now the list of least shocking “I’m gay!” celebrity announcements looks like this:
1. The kid from “Who’s the Boss?”
2. Boy George
3. Rosie O’Donnell
4. Lance Bass
5. George Michael
6. Ellen DeGeneres
7. Greg Louganis
(Two important notes: First … and I’m ashamed to admit this … I was stunned when George Michael came out. After the “Freedom” and “I Want Your Sex” videos, he had me fooled. What can I tell you? And second, Morrissey deserves special mention for announcing in the late-’80s that he was “pansexual,” which apparently meant that he was celibate, but if he did have sex, he would have sex with everything. And he meant, EVERYTHING: Plants, electric sockets, donkeys, you name it. Let’s just move on before I get fired.)
Q: It is 10:20 EST and “Just One of the Guys” just started on Comedy Central. Thought you should know. By the way, I’m single. I know you’re not, but if you know anyone just like you (bonus if he’s Catholic and knows his 90210), ages 25-35 in the Boston area, please let me know.
— Caroline, Boston
SG: What if I posted your question in this mailbag, then forwarded you all the responses from horny male readers in the Boston area? Would that work?
Q: If your intention with the soccer column was to make your readers actually want you to write a Celtics column, mission accomplished. Your next column should be “Help me pick out a skirt and a fanny pack while I drink my Zima.”
— Mike S., Scranton, Pa.
SG: That was this month’s winner of the “Most sarcastic soccer-related e-mail” award. By the way, this seems like a good time to mention that my father-in-law walks around with a fanny pack.
Q: You seem to be hung up on crowds and singing lately, don’t know if this is a good thing. But you did get me thinking — what is the best performance of the national anthem during a sporting event? You have to have an opinion on that one.
— Luke, Santa Barbara, Calif.
SG: You know me too well. I’d narrow it down to these six, all available on YouTube. In reverse order …
6. The Grateful Dead (S.F. Giants home game, Opening Day, 1993)
I love this one for a few reasons. First, they somehow made it sound a little Dead-ish with the vocals, even though it’s a respectful version from beginning to end. Second, this was during one of Jerry’s last “he’s clean, he’s sober, he might actually live a few more years!” stages (he died just two years later). Third, you have to appreciate the symmetry of the Dead performing in San Fran (where the crowd goes absolutely bonkers by the end of the song). And fourth, you see potentially-soon-to-be convicted felon Barry Bonds (in his first Giants game, no less) with one of those “I don’t know who the hell those guys were, but that was pretty cool!” looks on his face at the end of the clip.
5. The Girl Who Froze (Blazers home game, 2002)
The one when the terrified teenager panics during the song, followed by Mo Cheeks quickly stepping in to help out, then the crowd joining in and singing the last half of the song with them. One of the all-time great random sports moments, right? I’m convinced Cheeks will have a head coaching job for the rest of his life because of this clip, wins and losses be damned.
4. Carl Lewis (Nets game, 1993)
For years and years, it’s been like the Babe Ruth of the Unintentional Comedy Hall of Fame (one of the centerpieces of the original class of inductees) … and now it’s finally on YouTube! And the rockets … RED GLARE! If you click on that link, that’s actually the “Best SportsCenter bloopers of the past 20 years” segment (four rock-solid minutes of comedy) with the Lewis song running right in the middle. You will not be disappointed. And I will defend Charley Steiner for life after that brilliant “Francis Scott Off-Key” ad-lib.
3. Whitney Houston (Super Bowl XXV, 1991)
Widely considered the best “Star Spangled Banner” performance because of the singer (Whitney at her talented/gorgeous/likable apex, right around the time she made “The Bodyguard”), the circumstances (the Gulf War had just kicked off, so everyone was feeling especially patriotic) and the delivery (from a traditional standpoint, about as good as you’re ever getting). It’s hard to imagine a female singer ever belting out the anthem better than this. It’s also hard to believe how much Whitney’s stock has fallen over the past 20 years. Was she the Dwight Gooden of singers, or was he the Whitney Houston of pitchers? Did we ever figure that out?
(Note: There have always been rumors that Whitney lip-synched the performance, although I’ve always believed it was a Hollywood urban legend along the lines of Gene Siskel demanding to be buried with his thumb pointing up and Marisa Tomei winning an Oscar because Jack Palance read the wrong name. But if she DID lip-synch it … then that was the greatest lip-synching job of all-time.)
2. Edmonton Oilers fans (Game 3, Oilers-Ducks series, 2006)
A slight technicality because they’re singing the Canadian national anthem, but if your goose bumps aren’t getting goose bumps during this clip, then you might possibly be a cyborg. In fact, this was so outstanding on so many different levels, you might see me adopt the Oilers as my new hockey team and make an NHL comeback. How can you beat these fans? Seriously, how? Just an amazing clip. My favorite part is when they show the Ducks goalie laughing in sheer delight, like he’s thinking to himself, “Crap, why do I have to play in Anaheim?”
1. Marvin Gaye (1983 NBA All-Star Game, Los Angeles)
The greatest moment in NBA All-Star Game history, hands down, nothing else comes close. And that’s saying something. I don’t want to build it up too much, but you have to remember the circumstances: it was the early-’80s; they were in the celebrity capital of the world; Marvin was probably the coolest singer alive at the time; Bird, Isiah, Magic, Kareem, Doctor J, Moses, Jack Sikma and Jack Sikma’s blonde permed afro were looking on; the expectations were pretty high to begin with; and everyone sang the song in the most traditional way possible up until that point. So Marvin saunters out with his oversized sunglasses, gives the song his own little spin and absolutely crushes it … by the tail end of the song, the entire Forum is clapping and swaying like it’s the Apollo Theater. This will never be topped. It’s impossible. Right year, right sport, right city. Even more poignant when you remember that he was killed just 14 months later.
(While we’re on the subject, here’s the kind of stuff I want to see on TV: Why wouldn’t someone make a documentary about the history of patriotic songs during sporting events? You’re telling me somebody couldn’t get a quality hour of TV out of that?)
Q: Dear Mr. Simmons,
The other night I was reading in my bed when a huge moth flew into my room and landed on the wall next to my bed. Now I have a phobia of bugs in/near my bed so I ran into my brother’s room across the hall and screamed for him to come kill the beast. The only reply I got was, “Not now, I’m reading Bill Simmons!” I pleaded with him and it was very soon before he started yelling NO. So I went back into my room and waited for him. 20 minutes later, still no Drew and the bug was still there. I mustered up the courage and killed it myself but it really made me think about my relationship with my brother. You really must write a good article or maybe I need to do some trust falls with my brother. Either way, I hope he never has to choose who to save from a burning building.
— Annie, 14 (Topsfield, Mass.)
SG: Yup … these are my readers.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.