For one thing, his critique on American sports is spot-on. The feeling I get when I go to most pro sports events is that I'm being manipulated. This is most pronounced at Falcons games, probably because: (1) they're slower than other games as a result of the NFL's interminable timeouts; and (2) I'm used to SEC or Michigan games, which are completely different in terms of genuine fan intensity rather than manufactured excitement. I love college football because the fans are beserk without being told to be that way by the jumbotron. I love European football for the same reason. Anyway, Simmons writes very well about how Celtics games used to be that way:
One more note on this: I watch old Celtics games from time to time and always think how the Bird Era could never be recreated -- not the team itself, but its connection with the Boston Garden and the passion of the fans attending those games. We didn't need a Jumbotron or musical prompts to tell us what to do. When the Celts were introduced, we screamed for every starter and saved one extra decibel level for Bird. When we needed a defensive stop, we stood and shouted at the top of our lungs. When Bird found a wide-open cutter for one of his gorgeous no-looks, we were cheering even as the pass was being delivered -- that's how attuned we were to his passing skills and how they spilled over to everyone else on the team. The best moments happened when the C's would blow someone off the floor and force a timeout, and the roof would practically come off, and we'd keep cheering and cheering -- all the way through the timeout, no organ music, no other noise, nothing. That's how we judged the level of excellence, by how long everyone felt obligated to cheer. If we made it all the way through the timeout, the horn would sound, which only made us cheer louder because we had lasted so long. I'm telling you, there was nothing quite like it. And this happened all the time.
Aside from being perceptive, I also enjoyed the column because Simmons threw himself full-bore into finding a team. This is what's really good about sports analysis on the internet: the ability to break convention and provide detail that was impossible in the old days when we got our news from short newspaper articles, slightly longer magazine pieces, and 45-second snippets on the news. The internet produces detailed analyses of particular plays, complete with video and still pictures. (Aside from the quality of analysis on Blue-Gray Sky, don't think that I don't enjoy seeing a complicated break-down of the one game last year in which I rooted for Ohio State. Actually, I also rooted for them against Penn State, although I don't quite know why. Maybe Penn State's insane fan base on the internet has made them my least favorite team in the Big Ten.) It produces play-by-play reviews that allow me to impress my brother with statements like "OSU ran right at Massey because he's the worst defensive tackle EVER!!!" And, as Simmons shows, it allows a writer to spend 6,000 words describing his choice of an EPL team. Simmons really showed off an impressive commitment to learning about the various teams. There are some factual mistakes, but it's great fun to read someone go through the lengthy process of researching celebrity fans and jerseys before picking a team that reminds him of his favorite baseball team. (Part of my reason for choosing Barca was similar: they reminded me of Michigan football in that they're a talented team with a huge stadium full of passionate, but not especially noisy fans and the team wins consistently, but never the big prize. I hope this doesn't mean that 2006 requires me to stop rooting for them.)
Ultimately, the column is gratifying because it illustrates how much the internet allows a writer to go in his/her own direction. Plus, there's the added gratification of seeing a talented writer like Simmons affix his interest to a sport that I really like. If Simmons suddenly started writing about college football and could avoid the snarky, agenda-based comments that polluted his Rose Bowl diary, I'd feel the same way.
Oh, and it also helped that he picked the team I like best in the EPL. I figured him for Spurs, Newcastle, or Arsenal and given his twin goals of wanting to pick a team in a vacation spot and not wanting to pick a bandwagon team, he made the right choice. (Yes, I know that a Barca fan mocking another team for being full of bandwagonistas is a little rich.) I figured that a Red Sox fan would be drawn to Spurs, the Red Sox to the Arse's Yankees. So score one for me. A stopped clock is right twice per day.