By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

After enduring five hours of hell also known as "Wednesday night's Red Sox game," I was listed as "questionable" for today's column. Remember my "Levels of Losing" column? This one had it all: The Monkey Wrench (just about every decision made by Grady Little); the Guillotine (knowing that the bullpen would screw up the ninth inning); and the dreaded Stomach Punch (Ramon Hernandez's unexpected bunt single to win the game).

By the eighth inning, I was pacing around the living room of the New And Improved Sports Guy Mansion. By the ninth, I had already talked to my buddy Hench on the phone 19 times (who was in some sort of Grady-bashing, Shaughnessy-like frenzy). By the 10th, the pilot turned off the "No Smoking" sign. By the 11th, I was such a bundle of nerves that I actually poured myself a glass of whiskey. And when the gruesome events of the final inning unfolded, I was reduced to a helpless, whimpering blob.

Todd Walker
AP Photo
Todd Walker and the Red Sox are on the verge of surrendering.

I mean, what can you say? How often can this happen? Do other baseball teams lose games like this? And shouldn't Little be sentenced to Manager Prison for what happened? He pinch-hit for Trot Nixon against a struggling Ricardo Rincon with guys on base, allowing Oakland to bring in ace set-up man Chad Bradford against someone named Adrian Brown. He subbed Damian Jackson for Todd Walker in the ninth -- maybe a 15-percent defensive upgrade, since neither of them are very good -- which ended up taking a guy who was 4-for-4 out of the lineup (a Grady speciality -- nobody finds more ways to take their best bats out of the lineup in close games).

He brought in Byung Hyun-Kim to close the game -- someone who has the nervous demeanor of an 18-year-old college student trying to buy beer with a fake ID -- then bailed on him after four batters, ruining his confidence for the rest of the series (and maybe beyond). He gave Damon the steal sign in the 11th, which allowed Oakland to walk Nomar to pitch to Jackson (hitting in Walker's spot, of course -- he struck out). He made Derek Lowe walk the absolutely atrocious Terence Long on a 0-1 count in the 12th, just so they could load the bases for ... well, I can't even imagine an adequate explanation. And for Oakland's big hits (Durazo in the ninth, Hernandez in the 12th), Boston fielders were out of position on both plays (Manny too close to the line in left, Mueller too far back at third).

It was excruciating to sit through. Managers can usually stink in one of two ways -- either you can look back at the game and second-guess them, or you can watch the game as it's happening and say, "My God, what the (bleep) is he doing?" Grady always errs towards the latter. It's uncanny. There's no rhyme or reason to anything with him. And yes, I'm venting, but it's my column and you'll have to bear with me. I just sat through a 162-game season and watched my manager screw everything up in five hours. Takes awhile to bounce back from that one.

Anyway, it came as no surprise when the Sox blew Game Two about 15 hours later (a "Dead Man Walking" game?). Maybe they're done, maybe they aren't. But it sure doesn't look good. And I'm going to be having nightmares about Game One all winter. I hate sports sometimes.

On the bright side -- is there even a bright side??? -- my return to the weekly picks column was a roaring success: Nine wins and five losses, putting me at 12-12 for the season. Sure, I've lost the will to live, thanks to the Sox. But that didn't stop me from churning out Week 5 picks:

Tenn (-1) over NEW ENGLAND
While arguing that Donovan McNabb was overrated -- a point also made in this column just last week -- Rush Limbaugh claimed that the media was pushing for a black QB to succeed, so they pumped up McNabb and made him seem better than he really was. This wasn't much different than Isiah Thomas claiming that Larry Bird would be "just another good player" if he were black, was it? Didn't think so. But everyone let Isiah off the hook, while Limbaugh has been barbecued for a solid week. Go figure. I'm not saying he didn't deserve it ... it's just interesting, that's all.

So what does this have to do with the Titans-Pats game? I still think Limbaugh should have resigned from the show, not because he's racist but because he made the dumbest argument in the history of pre-game football shows. How can you argue that McNabb was overrated because of his color, when Steve McNair -- a black QB, last time I checked -- has been the most unappreciated superstar in the league for two straight years? Seriously, who's better than McNair right now? If you had to win one game, is there anyone in football you would take over him?

So why doesn't anyone ever mention this? Who receives more attention these days: Plummer, Favre, Manning or McNair? Could the average sports fan even pick McNair out of a police lineup? More importantly, why hasn't anyone else noticed this but me? It's official -- he's replaced Favre as the "Guy You Never Wager Against Under Any Circumstances." The torch has been passed.

Tommy Maddox
AP Photo
Tommy Maddox hasn't even looked good fighting.

Cleveland (+7) over PITTSBURGH
I just can't lay seven with Tommy Maddox anymore. Last week was officially the week when Steelers fans glanced around, took a deep breath, blinked their eyes a few times and said, "Hey, wait a second ... Maddox sucks! There's a reason he bounced around for 10 years. What were we thinking?"

Think about it. Everyone in Pittsburgh was so happy to dump Kordell, they would have convinced themselves that anyone was better than him (and that goes for his teammates, too). It's almost like someone trapped in a bad relationship for too many years. Their next relationship can go in about 25 different directions, because just about anyone's going to make them happy. And that's how an entire city ends up talking themselves into Tommy Maddox for 12 full months. Hey, if the whole saga brings us closer to the Chaz Batch Era in Pittsburgh, I'm all for it.

Cincy (+8) over BUFFALO
I'm not sure about this Bills team. It's apparent that A.) They miss Peerless Price (poor Josh Reed set a record this month for "most times placed on a roto waiver wire"); B.) Gregg Williams might have more than a little Grady Little in him; and C.) They need Travis Henry more than anyone thought. Just remember, their offense put up one garbage-time TD in two games against Philly and Miami. Not a good sign.

And then we have the surging Bengals. Put it this way: When Jon Kitna gets in the zone like this, you just climb aboard and hold on for the ride. And when Gus Johnson and Brent Jones are breathlessly narrating that same ride ... well, it reminds me of a place called nirvana. If only Gus and Brent were around to announce my wedding video:

-- Gus: "Now here's the drunken groom sneaking out onto the balcony ... wait a second ... HE WANTS TO SMOKE A CIGARETTE WITH HIS BUDDIES!"

-- Brent: "Gutsy move by the groom ... I'm not sure if I'd risk it this early in the reception. If the bride notices, all hell could break loose."

-- GUS: And he is ... CAUGHT! HE'S CAUGHT! And she is a house of fire!"

-- Brent: "Gus, this room is absolutely stunned right now. You HAVE to wonder about that call by the groom."

Indianapolis (+4.5) over TAMPA BAY
Game of the year. That 4 1/2 line is always Vegas's way of saying, "Hey, we have no idea what's going to happen, either." If it stays at 4.5 all week, that means the public is confused as well. Well, I'm not confused. I'm not sold on Tampa's offense yet -- it seems like they're one playmaker short. And the Colts look hungry to me, at least for now. The way things are going, they may not even have the annual Manning-Dungy collapse until mid-January.

Matt Hasselbeck
AP Photo
Not enough hair ...

Seattle (+2) over GREEN BAY
I'm on the fence with this Seahawks team -- part of me thinks they win the NFC, part of me thinks they can't finish better than 8-8. And why? Because of Matt Hasselbeck. Talented? Absolutely. Coming into his own? Sure. But how can Hasselbeck lead Seattle to a Super Bowl with a George Costanza hairline? Can you see a balding guy holding the Vince Lombardi trophy over his head? Of course not. Every time they show him on the sideline during games, it looks like he should be doing somebody's taxes.

So here's what he needs to do: Before the emotional homecoming game in Green Bay this weekend -- and when was the last time the Pack gave less than three at home, by the way -- Hasselbeck needs to pull a Tim Hudson and shave his head. It would send a message to the whole team. I really believe this. The days of Y.A. Tittle are long gone.

CHICAGO (+4) over Oakland
When they build the Hall of Fame for "The Most Frustrating Roto Athletes Of All-Time," I just hope Charlie Garner ends up on the same wing with Derrick Coleman, Warrick Dunn and Tiki Barber.

CAROLINA (-7) over New Orleans
Didn't I tell you about Jim Haslett and the Saints? I mean, did I TELL you? It's been a long time since a team rolled over and played dead like this. I love their "Run a clearly terrified Donte Stallworth over the middle, have Aaron Brooks throw the pass too high like he always does, make Stallworth try to catch it as three defenders are hitting him at the same time, then see if the other team can catch the deflection" play. That's one of my favorites. If they had this play in "Madden," I'd play San Fran on the treadmill and run it with Terrell Owens over and over again.

Meanwhile, Carolina ... wow. Something's happening here, no? Who else is getting flashbacks to the Bears from two years ago? Just like that Bears team, nobody's taking these Panthers seriously yet. And just like that Bears team, there's money to be made when Carolina finishes 12-4, then finds itself hosting a playoff game with Jake Freaking Delhomme as the QB. Giddy up!

Minnesota (-4) over ATLANTA
The Vikings are officially one more win away that inevitable Sports Illustrated cover ... you know, the one with Randy Moss and a headline like this:

VIKING FUNERAL!

Randy Moss and Minnesota take the NFL by storm

(Or maybe it would look like this ... )

UNDEFEATED AND UNDAUNTED

Randy Moss and the surprising Vikings move to 5-0

(Or maybe even this ... )

WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON?????

The completely insane Randy Moss leads Minnesota to 5-0

(Wait, I can't stop ... OK, one more.)

HELL HAS FROZEN OVER!

Gus Frerotte and the Vikings take the NFL by storm

Ricky Williams
AP Photo
... way too much hair.

NY GIANTS (PK) over Miami
The AFC East isn't as good as everyone thinks ... and the NFC East isn't as bad as everyone thinks. So there you go.

By the way, I know I mentioned this before, but Ricky Williams's hair is officially driving me crazy. Why say the words, "I'm rushing for 2,000 yards this year," then grow something out of your helmet that tacklers can easily grab? Have you ever seen anything like this? He should just add handles to his shoulder pads and cover his jersey in stickum. I can't get over this.

KANSAS CITY (-3.5) over Denver
A bevy of thoughts on this one ...

1. Jake Plummer does squat in Week 1, looks good against two crummy teams (Oakland and San Diego), then barely beats the Lions at home ... and this earns him an SI cover? On the same week when Rush Limbaugh claims that the media overhypes black QB's? Unbelievable. Note to the media: Please keep pumping up Jake the Snake. That's how lines for a game like this stay under four. It's almost a miracle.

2. I remain completely, totally and unequivocally sold on the Chiefs. Even if it's October and Trent Green hasn't been asked to make a play yet.

3. Here's the highest praise I can give Dante Hall: I'm watching the Chiefs-Ravens game at a friend's house -- 10-10 with five minutes left, the Ravens are kicking off from their own 25 (because of a penalty), Dante Hall is waiting for the kick -- and everyone moves to the edge of their seat. We're not waiting to see what he does, we're expecting him to do something. There's a difference. It's like Rocket Ismail at Notre Dame all over again. And Billick stupidly kicks to him, and suddenly Hall's slicing through the middle of the field untouched, and the game's over, and we're going nuts ... I mean, does it get any better than that?

And then, as if I didn't already love Hall enough for winning me money last week, Wednesday's USA Today mentions that Hall was walking around the locker room Sunday with a "Scarface" poster. When asked why, Hall responded, "I love Scarface. He started out with nothing and worked his way to the top ... early in my career, things looked like they looked for him. I want to end up like him."

(Um, Dante? You might want to skip the part where you try to snort a mountain of cocaine, shoot your best friend, get your sister killed, then get shot 248 times before falling headfirst into a water fountain. Try to skip that part. Just keep breaking those kicks and running like the wind.)

OPEN DATE (-3) over NY Jets
Sorry ... it's the oldest joke in the book. I couldn't resist.

David Boston
AP Photo
Signing on to "Playmakers."

JACKSONVILLE (-3) over San Diego
This just in: David Boston has joined the cast of "Playmakers." He'll be playing himself in a three-episode arc.

(And, hey, that reminds me ... have you watched "Playmakers" lately? In just five weeks, we've already seen plots about crack use, steroid abuse, paralysis, domestic violence, adultery, painkiller abuse and homosexuality. I mean, what's left? Aren't we moving a little fast here? At this rate, D.H. will be snorting hillbilly heroin aboard a UFO by mid-November. This show makes the last season of "Oz" seem realistic. Can I take my mixed review back and replace it with "two thumbs down"? Thanks.)

Detroit (+7) over SAN FRAN
Here's the Upset Pick of the Week. The Niners are the last great bargain in gambling: They can't run the ball, they can't protect their QB, they can't control their star player, they're terribly coached, and even Craig Whelihan in his prime could throw on them. They shouldn't be favored by seven over anybody, with the possible exception of the Jets. So there's that.

Then there's this: One of the only sure bets in football is an ex-coach coming back to face his former team. Never fails. Remember Parcells throttling the Patriots in the mid-'90's, or Gruden tearing the Raiders apart in last year's Super Bowl? Nobody knows the strengths and weaknesses of a football team quite like the guy who used to coach them. It's the biggest advantage in sports. I really believe that.

Washington (+5) over PHILLY
Here's the real story about McNabb, something Limbaugh totally dropped the ball on: McNabb has a chance to have the finest balding afro by an athlete since the great Gus Williams was in his prime. And that's saying something. Four or five years from now -- at the rate he's going, with the right side effects of Helmet Head -- he might even blow Gus out of the water. I couldn't be more excited to see how this turns out.

DALLAS (-7) over Arizona
A few lingering questions: Why do the Cowboys suddenly have a 10-6 feel to them? ... Is Quincy Carter the rich man's Kordell Stewart, and if he is, does that even mean anything in the big scheme of things? ... What joke got old faster, the "Look at Bill Parcells's hair, he looks like Billy Idol!" joke, or any joke that has "Gigli" as the punchline? ... Do Cowboy players sit around telling Dave Campo stories the way college buddies remember their lame RA from freshman year? ... and does Emmitt Smith feel even remotely good about returning to Dallas this way?

(Speaking of Emmitt, the Mitchell & Ness guys need to create a line of "Throwback Jerseys You Tried To Forget Ever Happened" -- like Emmitt's 'Zona jersey, Franco's Seattle jersey, Namath's Rams jersey, Hakeem's Raptors jersey, Willie Mays' Mets jersey, Dave Cowens' Bucks jersey, Montana's Chiefs jersey and so on. I'd even throw in a Paul Mokeski Warriors jersey for half-price. But that's just me.)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.




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