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The Sports Guy’s Thanksgiving Picks

All the weekend NFL games. Plus: The case for the Grantland Quarterly

Last night I spent 25 minutes flipping through a three-month slice of my life. McSweeney’s shipped us an advance copy of the Grantland Quarterly, which contains our favorite selections from our launch (June 8) through Labor Day Weekend. The book feels like a basketball and looks like … well, it looks like a quarterly. Only a fancy one. With drawings, pictures, graphics, footnotes, colored pages and everything else you’d come to expect from McSweeney’s. The book costs $20 for Volume I (plus shipping), or $48 for a yearly subscription (plus shipping).

Your default mechanism might be “That’s a lot of money” or “Why would I pay for stuff I already read?” Believe me, I get it — I hate making people pay for content. Actually, I hate making people pay for anything. Once upon a time, I was creditors-chasing-me-down-for-outstanding-bills-from-two-years-ago broke. I remember being 30 years old and still looking forward to Papa Gino’s “All You Can Eat Pizza” night for $5.99 (I think it was Tuesdays) and thinking, I graduated from college eight years ago, there’s something totally wrong with this picture. One of our biggest goals for Grantland was figuring out how to keep it free — which wasn’t that hard, actually. We only needed to find a few willing sponsors ahead of time (thank you, Subway, Unilever and Lexus), integrate them within our website and figure out various ways to make them happy. Heading into 2012, we’re going to find more of them. This site will always remain free. Always.

Given that’s the case … why are we asking $20 for Volume I and $48 for a yearly subscription? For starters, because it’s expensive to make these quarterlies — to put color in them, add a few “Wow, that looks cool!” gimmicks, make covers that stand out, edit them, hire people to lay everything out and everything else that goes into making something cool. Just know that we didn’t create these to make money, but for these five reasons.

1. I have been writing an Internet sports column since May of 1997. Here’s how long ago that was: the Internet was buzzing over a teenage Russian tennis player named Anna Kournikova, Michael Jordan hadn’t won his last Bulls title, Barry Bonds hadn’t gone to the dark side, and it still wasn’t acceptable for women to dress like hookers when they went to a club. Nearly everything I have written over the past 14½ years is trapped on the Internet, with the exception of six years of biweekly ESPN The Magazine columns (which I stupidly never saved), my Red Sox book, my NBA book, and a few boxes of printed-out columns (mostly from my old website and my first few years at ESPN). I’m too lazy to print my columns out. If terrorists ever destroy the Internet, I’m screwed — just about everything I ever wrote will vanish into thin air. That’s why I love seeing my two books sitting in my bookcase so much. Hey, I wrote those! Look, there’s hardcore evidence that I existed! It’s different than seeing your stuff on the Internet. It just is.

So I wanted that to happen for Grantland — I wanted us to have a collection of our best stuff that came out every three months, looked spectacular, contained a few extra wrinkles and could live forever in the bookcases of the first group of people (writers and editors) who created the site and kept it afloat. It was a totally selfish move. I’ll be the first one to admit it.

2. Our goal for every volume: We wanted to capture, as best as we could, what it was like to care about sports and pop culture for those three months (in this case, June, July and August of 2011). Like a scrapbook with words, pictures and drawings. For instance, I wrote a column called “The LeBrondown II” about LeBron’s meltdown in Game 4 of the NBA Finals — it read one way on June 8 and another way now because we know what happened. But when you think of those three months, you think of Miami’s meltdown in the Finals, the drama of the Women’s World Cup, Federer’s last stand at Wimbledon, two hideous lockouts, and … shit, I forgot, that couldn’t have been a worse time to launch this website. But the Quarterly captures that. We had to improvise. We had to blow out Father’s Day, run a couple of oral histories (two are included in the Quarterly, including a special pullout of our oral history of the National), play up soccer and tennis (Repeat: We had to play up soccer and tennis) and get waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more ambitious with our content than maybe we expected (all reflected in the choices for Volume I). The next volume will read differently: Those three months (September, October, November) were a little more traditional from a “shit is happening!” standpoint. This volume is a little more out there.

And I’m glad. Because, when I think about those first three months, I will always think about how we launched too early — with half an editorial staff and maybe 35 percent of the writers we have now — with a bunch of people who moved to Los Angeles from other places and were now crammed in an office across the street from the Staples Center with several ESPN departments. We were scrambling the entire time, figuring things out on the fly, dealing with a jarring amount of scrutiny … and doing it during two lockouts. I am 15 pounds lighter than when we launched, and my hair is 325 percent whiter. Would I do it over again? Of course! I loved it! That’s life — you take a chance, you hope it works out, you keep plugging away until it does. I will remember that every time I thumb through Volume I.

3. We wanted to reinvent everything we wrote from a layout/eye-candy perspective — basically, bring boring Internet columns to life. That goal was achieved. All credit goes to the good people at McSweeney’s. There are two “new” pieces in the book — a piece of sports fiction by Jess Walter, and my “Hoosiers 2.0” running diary. (Quick explanation: For the movie’s 25th anniversary, I rewrote my 2002 column about my 250th time watching Hoosiers and added some new jokes/comments, as well as all the tidbits we learned about the movie in the past 10 years … you know, like “How the hell did Buddy suddenly return to the team?” We finally have an answer for that one!) You can’t bring 600 pages of printed-out columns on vacation or read them on an airplane. But if they were carefully arranged in a 345-page book that you could slide into your travel bag? Different story.

4. I knew that, even if nobody bought these quarterlies, my father would single-handedly keep them from going in the tank by buying at least 5,000 of them. You’ve heard of Stage Dads and Tennis Dads — you rarely hear of Writer Dads, but I’m reasonably convinced that my father gave a copy of my NBA book to every single person who lives in Beacon Hill. When he sees these quarterlies, he’s going to flip out. He might just stand on a street corner on Charles Street handing them out to total strangers. And sure, that’s my inheritance going down the drain, but better that than these quarterlies.

5. I will flip this around … why should YOU have to pay for the Quarterly? The holidays are coming up! How many times has someone asked you, “What do you want for Christmas?” and you can’t think of an answer? What’s a better gift than a $20 Quarterly (that’s basically a Blu-ray), or if someone really likes you, a subscription! You’re telling me Aunt Ginny or Uncle Herm wouldn’t be delighted to buy that for you? And flipping that around a second time, what’s a better holiday gift than a book that looks significantly more expensive than it actually was? If you give the Quarterly out as a holiday present to someone who doesn’t know Grantland, they’ll open it, feel the cover, see the drawings and special wrinkles and think, My God, you shouldn’t have!!!!! before inevitably saying, “Why did they call it Grantland? That’s a terrible name.”

Anyway, that’s my case for buying the Grantland Quarterly. The best deal is really the subscription: Breaking it down, that’s $48 divided by four volumes, which comes out to … crap, I’m not good at math. Each book will deliver the goods. Each book will look/feel/read differently than the last one. Each book will look somewhere between “supercool” and “relatively cool” in your bookcase (depending on who’s looking). And each book will, hopefully, capture a three-month window in some sort of coherent way. We printed a relatively small number of them; once they’re gone, they’re gone. Again, this wasn’t about making money. It’s about all the things I just mentioned and more. I couldn’t be more proud of the website we created, but beyond that, I will always remember how hard everyone worked to keep Grantland going those first few months. This is the week when we remember what we’re thankful for … and for me, I’m thankful that my family is healthy, that I have two nice kids, that my wife still likes me, and that I work with such a terrific group of people. It makes me happy this book exists because, in the long run, I will always think of them first when I’m looking at it.

And with that, I promise not to write about Volume I again. Let’s make some Thanksgiving picks …

(Home teams in caps …)

CARVING THE TURKEY (-6) over Not Doing Anything
I love carving the turkey because at around 9:30 at night, when my wife is still cleaning up and getting madder and madder that I watched football all day, I have a ready answer for this exchange:

Her (sarcastic): “Thanks for the help!”
Me: “Come on, I carved the turkey!”

The other thing about carving turkeys — there’s really no art to it whatsoever. You just grab a big knife and start cutting stuff out of it. Anyone could do it. Even your average crappy Arizona Cardinals starting QB could do it. And yet, you feel a certain sense of power from it — it’s the distant cousin of the guy who always insisted on controlling the keg tap in college. You’re basically just holding a giant knife and pretending to be useful. I’d like to thank the guy who invented turkey carving for making me feel useful on my single laziest day.

LIONS (+6.5) over Packers
I forgot one more thing I’m thankful for: That the Lions won’t bring down Thanksgiving for the umpteenth consecutive year. The Lions were like our annoying uncle who we had to deal with every Turkey Day — they had a bad comb-over and horrible breath, drank too much, made bad jokes, used inappropriate language at the table and eventually hit you up for money at the end of the night. They weren’t even unintentionally funny like Uncle Eddie in the Griswold/Vacation movies, just depressing and awful.

But this year? They’re just good enough to make this game interesting. You know their crowd will be all kinds of fired up, you know the dome will be rocking, you know they’ll be coming after Rodgers, you know they’ll be able to throw the ball, and you know that extra-short week helps them at least a little … right? It’s the biggest game of their season — hands down — whereas for the Packers, it’s just another big game for an undefeated team that’s been wearing a bull’s-eye for the past month. (Historically, we’ve seen these undefeated juggernauts wear down right around Thanksgiving — it’s just too hard to play a playoff game week after week after week. Even the 2007 Pats started to let down in late November, barely beating Philly at home in Week 12, then squeaking out a no-way-they-should-have-won game in Baltimore the following week.) The Lions also have an ace in the hole — Cinderella story Kevin Smith, whose career (we thought) had ended because of knee problems, and then suddenly there he was last weekend, scampering around like LeSean McCoy. This might be the first comeback by any Kevin Smith that actually works! (Sorry, I had to.) How can you pick against the Lions this weekend? How can you NOT want to root for an upset and a packed house of delirious Detroit fans losing their shit? And how will my wife react when I’m not helping her for three solid hours even though we have two kids and 11 people coming over for Thanksgiving?

—The Pick: Detroit 34, Green Bay 27

Sweet Potatoes (+3.5) over ALL OTHER THANKSGIVING SIDES
Especially if they have that crispy maple syrup stuff on them. Mmmmmmm. I’m getting hungry already.

Dolphins (+7) over COWBOYS
Look, I don’t know much this season. I’m barely batting .500 with these picks, I’m down a little financially if gambling were legal, and I’m sitting at an uninspiring 30-23-2 in the Hilton’s SuperContest (my team name is Simbotics). Every time I start getting into a picks groove, the wheels come off. But one team hasn’t let me down lately: the scrappy Dolphins, who have been quietly playing like a wild-card team these past few weeks. You always look for found value with point spreads and, in my opinion, the Dolphins and Cowboys are dead-even right now (or close).

All right, so the home team traditionally gets three points for being at home … and maybe another half-point because it’s a short week … and let’s say the Cowboys are one point better than Miami on a neutral field. That means I have 2½ extra points to play with? Thank you, Gambling Gods!!! Remember the time when I called Matt Moore the worst starting QB in the league? Water under the bridge! Remember when I predicted that Tony Sparano would be fired? I meant “fired up … to go on a winning streak!” Remember when I said Reggie Bush was a bust? I meant “busting out after hearing the news that Kim Kardashian was getting divorced!” The Dolphins are better than you think. If they don’t win this game or come close, I will give you a full refund for this column.

—The Pick: Dallas 24, Miami 23

Apple Buttermilk Pies (+4.5) over ALL OTHER PIES
My wife’s friend Robyn makes these. You have to live in L.A. to order them. Here’s what I want from pies: If I’m eating a slice, I want to go all-out. I want unhealthy. I want to feel bad about myself. And really, nothing’s worse for you than the word “buttermilk.” At the same time, I need some sort of fruit represented so I can at least say, “I may have just abused my body, gained three pounds, put myself into a sugar coma and given myself diabetes, but at least there was some fruit involved.” That’s where the apple comes in. An apple buttermilk pie brings everything to the table.

A Twitter user named @sburman came up with this idea — for as long as this idiotic NBA lockout drags on, why shouldn’t the fans express their displeasure by unfollowing everyone who relates to this decision in some way (specifically, players, owners and executives)? If they don’t care about us, why should we care about them? I loved this idea and immediately unfollowed the NBA’s Twitter account and every player, owner and executive … including my friend Daryl Morey, who showed up outside my house two hours later holding a jukebox over his head in the pouring rain like John Cusack. Didn’t work. Two exemptions for #unfollowNBA — first, you can’t unfollow media guys (it’s not their fault we’re having a lockout), and second, you can’t unfollow Delonte West (he qualifies for “comedy” and not “NBA”). Everyone else? Unfollow them. It will feel good, especially if you’re a spiteful person like I am. Just trust me.

RAVENS (-3) over Niners
We know what we have with the 2011 Ravens at this point — they play directly to the level of their competition, much like how Sam Jackson can be an asset in the right movie or a self-parody in the wrong one. More important, are you really ready to wager on Alex Smith — on the road, in a short week, in a nationally televised game — against a good defense and a fired-up crowd? And how many games are the Niners going to cover, anyway? They’re not just 9-1; in this column (in which we used Friday-morning lines) they’re 9-0-1 against the spread right now. The one push? That heartbreaking loss by three to Dallas (a game San Francisco gave away) in Week 2. I don’t care how good your coach is, and how reliable your defense is … you can’t exceed Vegas’ expectations EVERY week, right? It’s impossible. I’d like to add one more thing that I’m thankful for this week: the chance to lay three points with a good home team that’s playing Alex Smith after a stretch in which his team exceeded every conceivable gambling expectation.

—The Pick: Baltimore 27, San Francisco 16

I’m handing out this one like a bottle of wine at Thanksgiving: Lions + 240 to win, Dolphins +7 to cover and Ravens -3 to cover … as a $10 three-team parlay (all three would have to come through), you’d win $102. Slightly more than 10-to-1 odds on a $10 bet that might actually win???? That’s two subscriptions to the Grantland Quarterly and with cash to spare! Go Lions, go Dolphins, go Ravens, go gambling, go quarterlies, go turkey. Happy holidays.

Last Week: 6-7-1

Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.

Previously from Bill Simmons:
The Sports Guy’s Week 11 Picks
Business Vs. Personal
The Sports Guy’s Thursday NFL Pick
Bill Simmons Recaps Last Night’s Homeland
Welcome to the National Mailbag League

Filed Under: Bill Simmons, People, Series, Simmons, Sports, The Sports Guy

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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