Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bill Simmons: "Come On, You Spurs!!!"

For all the crap he takes on the internet, mostly from people (myself included) who have an underlying feeling of jealousy that he's done something that we would all give a right-arm to do, namely become wealthy and successful as an internet sports guru (OK, and he is completely insufferable about the Red Sox and Patriots, but at least he acknowledges that fact), Bill Simmons is one of the best sports columnists of our generation. Today's columns on picking an EPL team for which to root (here are part one and part two) illustrate his prowess as an astute analyst of sports and a quick learner.

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.


Tim said...

I must admit, I thought for sure he'd pick Liverpool, but his ultimate justification for why he didn't made sense.

Arsenal can't be the Yankees as long as Chelsea continues spending. Tottenham is more like the Indians (they've only won in black and white).

Never figured you for a sp*rs supporter though. Something else football-wise that we can disagree about (in a friendly manner of course).

Michael said...

One of the errors he made is that Chelsea are the Yankees now, as opposed to Manchester. ManUre is now like the D-Backs from the late 90s: good, but loaded with debt that impacts their future. Arsenal seems to me to be like the Red Sox, now that I think about it. Both teams are the cool teams to support - not quite the Yankees, but very close. Spurs are indeed like the Indians or the Phillies: they don't win much, but it's not the obvious team to root for and yet they still have promise, unlike rooting for the Pirates or Bolton.

I root for Spurs because that's the "Jewish" team. Plus, as penance for picking Barca, I need to support a non-obvious team in England.

I'm getting Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV for the first time this fall, so I'll be able to speak intelligently about Spurs and Barca (other than their CL games, which were my previous sole source of info). Then again, I'll have a newborn, so I probably won't be able to speak intelligently about anything.

Anonymous said...

It's not surprising that Simmons would long for the old days of the NBA - that's the last time his Celtics were any good.

Tim said...

I'll look forward to some EPL analysis to match what I see about college football here (which has actually taught me a lot about a sport I don't follow as much). Of course, this assumes you'll have any free time that you don't want to use for sleep. (Congrats on that!)

I didn't really pick Arsenal anyways. They picked me through a random combination of good timing, being in Islington, a growing appreciation of the sport, and free tickets to a London derby.

Anonymous said...

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