By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This column appears in the Nov. 25 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

When I was growing up, posses chased bandits, luxury boxes were a new brand of Legos and JumboTron was one of Rerun's friends on "What's Happening!!" You could buy 20 packs of baseball cards for a buck and NBA games cost less than the first and last months' rent. NFL players didn't impersonate Tony Manero after they scored, NHL players meant it when they dropped the gloves. Everyone happily signed autographs and groupies had only just begun perfecting their mating techniques.

Barry Bonds
Give me Barry Bonds' ever-expanding melon ...

Yes, finding a faded ticket stub from the 1976 NBA Finals made me realize once again ...

Enough. I've read that column a million times. "Mature" columnist waxes poetic about the halcyon days of sports and the more recent loss of innocence. Sorry, it's a bunch of Alexei Zhitnik.

Just for the hell of it, let's pull a Marty McFly and travel back to 1977. E, S, P and N are just four letters that don't sound right together. The Internet barely exists. There's no all-sports radio, DirecTV, video games or USA Today. Fantasy sports haven't been invented. Read those last four sentences again. Yikes. No NFL Sunday Ticket, 20/20 flash or "SportsCenter." No TNT, ESPN2 or USA Network. No Madden 2003, webcasts, "Baseball Tonight," pay-per-view, ESPN.com or chat rooms. No televised NFL or NBA drafts or -- it hurts to even type these words -- fantasy drafts. I just got the chills. Seriously -- hold me.

So you're stuck with local newspapers and sportscasters covering the local teams. Which is fine & until you move. Now you're riveted to Mel Allen's "This Week in Baseball," hoping for a feature on your team. You pray ABC books your boys on "Monday Night Football." You scour national magazines, relishing even the most meaningless nuggets about your team. Eventually, you're forced over to the Dark Side -- the Cowboys, Steelers, Dodgers, Lakers, Knicks, Yankees -- just because they're always on TV. You've given up. You've sold your soul.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
... but you can keep Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and short shorts.

Tickets are dirt cheap, sure, but who wants to go to the games? Unless you have a connection, you're behind a Boston Garden pillar or 10,000 feet away in the Yankee Stadium bleachers, or your butt is frozen to metal seats at Schaefer Stadium. You announce your allegiance with crude replica jerseys and painter's caps. Did I mention there's nothing but organ music entertaining you between innings? Imagine the NBA before dunking became cool, the NFL without wholesale substitutions, the MLB fueled by doubles, steals and sacrifices. You have to trek to your local arena to catch the big fight on a crummy screen.

In fact, every telecast vaguely resembles one of Bob Crane's home movies. Choppy replays make your head pound. Graphics swallow half the screen. You never know the score -- stats are "gratuitous" -- you can't see the puck and you don't know where the first down was. Camera angles look like somebody's dad is filming a high school game.

  But the players are more likable, right? Please. Reggie Jackson and Rick Barry are Barry Bonds or Allen Iverson first. NBA players throw sucker punches and major-leaguers fight the urge to snort the baseline. Baseball fans have no more patience with skyrocketing salaries than they do today. NHL players re-enact WWF events and climb into the stands to reprimand unruly fans. NFL players pop more pills than Liza. 
  

But the players are more likable, right? Please. Reggie Jackson and Rick Barry are Barry Bonds or Allen Iverson first. NBA players throw sucker punches and major-leaguers fight the urge to snort the baseline. Baseball fans have no more patience with skyrocketing salaries than they do today. NHL players re-enact WWF events and climb into the stands to reprimand unruly fans. NFL players pop more pills than Liza. They all smoke cigarettes, toss back beers, shun conditioning. Teams can't afford charter planes, so exhausted players drag during road games.

You can't convince me that things aren't better now. I'll take TO's Sharpie collection, juiced balls and Bonds' ever-expanding melon. Sign me up for $54.95 pay-per-view bouts, $179 all-access TV packages and $100 NBA seats. Let me deal with the idiots who dance on JumboTrons, announcers' annoying catch phrases, 350 brands of baseball cards, NBA players who can stage full-court games with their own children on Family Day, even sideline reporters asking, "Coach, how much would it mean to win this game?"

Just don't send me back to 1977. I'm begging you. (Still not convinced? I have five words: NBA players in tight shorts. Defense rests.)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine.




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