By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This column appears in the March 29 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

Todd Bertuzzi was going Dick Vermeil on us.

And this is one big dude. Didn't matter. Facing the longest suspension in NHL history, racked with guilt over breaking Steve Moore's neck, wilting under the heat of the bright lights and reporters ... it was too much. The tears started coming and wouldn't stop. It was awful. Nobody in sports should cry like this. Not even Joe Dumars as he looks at Carmelo's latest box score.

Todd Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi couldn't hold back the tears at his press conference.

Then again, maybe we all should have been crying with him. I hate what happened. I hate hockey for letting it happen. I hate the media for the way they covered it. Most of all, I hate myself. Because every time someone showed the clip -- Bertuzzi sucker-punching Moore from behind, the most cowardly of deeds, then driving his head into the ice like a pro wrestler -- I watched the damn thing.

I couldn't help it. I probably watched that clip 200 times. I caught it so many times on ESPNews alone, I wanted to fly to Bristol to console Cindy Brunson. I plowed through newscasts, columns and websites to share in the apoplectic reactions of others. I downloaded the Internet clip so voraciously, you'd have thought Paris Hilton was a featured player. We even TiVoed the clip in my office, then watched the different angles in slo mo, like we were studying the Zapruder film or something.

It's not like this changed my opinion of hockey or anything. Remember, under NHL rules (I think I have this correct) it's okay to punch somebody in the head repeatedly -- or at least until he loses consciousness -- just as long as you don't make any derogatory racial remarks in the process. Bludgeon your opponent into a coma, just don't hurt his feelings. So I wasn't surprised by what happened. To paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business they've chosen.

I was more worried about myself. Why couldn't I stop watching? Is something wrong with me? This was like slowing down as I passed a car wreck, only this time I kept doubling back to the crash. Do I enjoy seeing hockey players maim each other? My stomach rumbles with disgust, but it's a lot like when I watch those strangely absorbing Autopsy shows on HBO. Most important, am I the only one? Did you flip the channel and say, "I can't watch this again," or did you keep staring at the TV waiting for more too?

Of course, you kept watching. That's why Bertuzzi's punch has lingered almost as long as Julio Franco has. But we're also being played here. Janet Jackson's boob comes flying out on Super Bowl Sunday, causes a national ruckus ... hey, guess who has a new CD coming out this spring! It's the formula these days. Leak a sex tape, get your own TV show. Seduce the prez, get your own line of purses. Make up stories for your newspaper, get a massive book deal. Eat cockroaches and cow intestines on TV, get your 15 minutes and a winner's check.

Welcome to Rubberneck Nation. We can't turn away, and both Hollywood and the media know it. Bertuzzi's punch headlined sportscasts and newspapers for a solid week, with every column and TV segment centering around the same exhausted themes: Isn't it despicable? How on earth could the NHL allow their players to do this? Doesn't this make you sick? Oh, and by the way, would you like to see it from another angle? (Absolutely! Hey, show me the one from the right side, when you can see the guy's head bounce! Where did I put my TiVo remote?)

Todd Bertuzzi
This TV screen shot shows Todd Bertuzzi winding up to punch Steve Moore.

Wherever you want to place blame, one thing is for certain: Bertuzzi fed the beast. For sportswriters, he offered the easiest of column fodder. Bash him, bash hockey, hand it in. Sports editors eagerly fanned the flames with Kirstie Alley-sized headlines. Radio hosts and talking heads were given a subject du jour, a heaping portion, worthy of their collective venom. A couple of Internet sites even placed Bertuzzi's fate in readers' hands, like he was hockey's version of Scott Peterson: Should we:

a. ban him for life
b. ban him for one season
c. throw him in jail
d. sentence him to 750 hours of "Slap Shot 2"

Vote now! Vote more than once! And by the way, would you like to download the clip again?

Look, I admit, since no tape has ever surfaced of Montecore attacking Roy, this is the next best thing. Eventually, of course, we'll forget all about you and move on to something else -- Jeter punching out A-Rod, two NFL teammates getting married ... does it even matter anymore? But, for now, thank you, Todd Bertuzzi.

That's life in Rubberneck Nation. Hey, even I just turned the hot subject into a column -- bonus points for me! -- and got you to spend a few minutes reading it.

I'm only sorry I didn't have space to run a poll of my own.

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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