By Bill Simmons
Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Page 2, along with ESPN2's "Cold Pizza," is counting down the 15 Most Tortured Sports Cities in America. This week, Bill Simmons shares his thoughts on how "tortured" a sports town Boston really is. We also present our own unique list of 10 tortured moments in Boston sports.

Just when I think I'm out, they puuuulllllll me back in.

You already know how much I hate lists. So when Cold Pizza launched its "Most Tortured Sports Cities" package along with Page 2, I knew they'd probably be misguided enough to put Boston on the list. I knew it would infuriate me. I knew one of my bosses would ask me to write about it. I just had to stay strong. No column.

THE 15 MOST TORTURED SPORTS CITIES
15. Tampa Bay
14. Kansas City
13. Cincinnati
12. Phoenix
11. Washington, D.C.
10. Houston
9. San Diego
8. Atlanta
7. Seattle
6. Minneapolis
5. Boston

Want to find out what the No. 4 city is? Tune into ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" Tuesday morning in two weeks. Then head back to Page 2 to read all about it.

Cold Pizza ended up naming Boston fifth. Out of everybody. Even ahead of Minneapolis, Cincy, Washington and Seattle. You would think those two Super Bowl titles in the last three years would have factored into the voting ... apparently not. But I wasn't about to glorify such abject stupidity with a column. I would rather have Jayson Williams show me his shotgun collection. That led to the following exchange between me and my editors:

Them: We want you to write about Boston placing fifth.

Me: No.

Them: Well, it's part of our weekly package with Cold Pizza. We need someone to write about it.

Me: Wait a second ... you guys would have someone else write about Boston sports on Page 2?

Them: What do you care? You live in Hollywood, you sellout.

Me: That's a cheap shot! I'm from Boston!

Them: Whatever.

Me: Well, if I write about this, can I write how they're wrong?

Them: Yes.

Me: Can I rip some of their other choices on the list?

Them: Yes.

Me: Can I take gratuitous, unprovoked potshots at Cold Pizza that have nothing to do with the list?

Them: No.

Hey, at least they allowed me to skewer the list. I'm so easy. Like I wasn't going to end up writing about this. I sensed trouble from the moment it was packaged as a "Top 15." Why not a "Top 17," just so it makes no sense whatsoever? Plus, we could sit around for weeks and not come up with 15 legitimately tortured sports cities. This is what happens when you organize a Cold Pizza voting committee. I think we have all the ballots ... wait a second, did Darryl Dawkins and Doctor Dre hand theirs in yet?

Warren Sapp
Warren Sapp led the Tampa Bay Bucs to a Super Bowl victory recently.

Anyway, here's how the rankings stack up so far:

15. Tampa
First of all, the median age in Tampa is about 85. You couldn't torture these people if you tried. Ever seen a game at Tropicana Field? It's like Night of the Living Dead. They play "Bingo" between innings. More importantly, Tampa won a Super Bowl 16 months ago, plus the city had a Stanley Cup favorite at the time of the voting -- a team destined to win the Cup next week because Jarome Iginla was dumb enough to touch the Clarence Campbell Trophy after Game 6 against the Sharks (and you think I don't follow hockey). Perfectly moronic choice.

14. Kansas City
K.C. hasn't appeared in a championship final in any sport since 1985. It doesn't have an NBA team or an NHL team. It has a small-market baseball team that has no chance of competing with the Yanks and Sox on a year-to-year basis. Maybe the Chiefs have been consistently solid, but you won't see NFL Films releasing a "Greatest Chiefs Playoff Moments" DVD any time soon. They also have an inferiority complex about St. Louis, which speaks for itself. This place is a mess. The only good thing they have going for them is Joe Posnanski, and even he's ready to hang himself at this point. They should have cracked the top 10.

13. Cincy
No NBA team, no NHL team, a college hoops team that chokes every year, a Reds team that hasn't been relevant in years before this spring ... and we haven't even mentioned the Bengals yet. If that's not enough, the city's biggest hero turned out to be one of the biggest scumbags in the history of sports. Would you have wanted to spend the last 25 years in Cincinnati? Under any circumstances? Logically, they're 13th.

12. Phoenix
Let's see ... in the last 10 years, they've gotten to watch Barkley, KJ, Schilling and the Big Unit. Just three years ago, the D-Backs prevailed over the Yanks in one the most memorable championship series of all-time. Also, the Suns have been one of the most competitive NBA teams of the past 30 years. Arizona's hoops team is always competitive. It's 85 degrees every day. There's a great baseball stadium right downtown. And you're about a 40-minute plane ride from Vegas. This all sounds terrible.

11. Washington
Leaving D.C. out of the top 10 is like leaving KG out of a "Top 10 NBA Players Who Dress Like They Should be Ordering a Mega-Burger at the Peach Pit" list. Other than the Clippers, who has been more inept than the Wizards/Bullets over the past 20 years? Aren't the Capitals cleaning house? Didn't the Redskins just suffer through the Spurrier Era? Haven't they been teased with their own baseball team for like 20 years? It's a horror show. I even devoted a whole column to the depressing D.C. sports scene two years ago.

Steve Spurrier
Many Washington fans are thrilled the Spurrier Era is over.

(Note: My buddy House lives in D.C. and has been tormented by the local teams ever since I've known him. He actually owned a Ledell Eackles jersey once. You can't sink any lower than that.)

10. Houston
I spent 10 consecutive days in Houston during Super Bowl Week. It felt like 100. It needs to be higher on any list that includes the word "Tortured." Believe me.

9. San Diego
Don't you have to care to be tortured? It's 80 and sunny there every day. Come on. I'm not even sure the folks of San Diego realize the Clippers left.

8. Atlanta
Again, you have to care. They can't even sell out playoff games in Atlanta. And while we're on the subject, is there a more delightful subplot in sports right now than the potential demise of the Braves? Right now I'm doing the Tomahawk Chop with my middle finger extended toward the laptop screen. Ohhhhhhhhhhh ... oh ... oh-uh-oh ... Ohhhhhhhhhhh ... oh ... oh-uh-oh ...

7. Seattle
Imagine watching those Kemp-Payton teams never reach their full potential? Griffey, A-Rod and the Unit skipping town on a potential dynasty? The Seahawks finishing 8-8 for 20 straight years? This city made one Finals in the last 25 years ... and it was against MJ's Bulls team that finished 72-10. Thank you and please drive through. I feel terrible for these fans. When Hasselbeck threw that interception in Lambeau, that was the first thing I thought: "Not again!"

(Naturally, they couldn't crack Cold Pizza's top five. This makes perfect sense.)

6. Minneapolis
Another city that actually makes you feel sad. Imagine being a Vikings fan for the past 40 years? The Red Sox get all the press, but haven't the Vikings had it just as tough? They just don't have dozens of authors and national columnists writing about them every year. For God's sake, my buddy Geoff's experiences with the Vikes were so scarring, they prompted me to write the original "Levels of Losing" column. Then throw in these three things ...

Kirby Puckett
Minnesota fans may have seen their last World Series champion.

  1. The demise of a successful Twins franchise from two-time "World Series champ" to "Small Market Team With Barely Any Hope."

  2. The loss of the Stars to Dallas, followed by Dallas winning the Cup. You can't imagine how much this hurts the most hockey-crazed state in the union.

  3. The T-Wolves going their first 15 years without even winning a playoff series.

... I mean, we're talking about unfathomable levels of torture here.

Minnesota has to be top three, right? I wouldn't put them first though. Here's my choice for No. 1.

(Drumroll please ...)

Buffalo.

Remember the movie "Hardcore," when George C. Scott's daughter disappears, so he infiltrates the graphic world of hard-core porn to track her down? And he spends the entire movie with that agonized look on his face, like he doesn't know whether to puke, hang himself or kill everyone in the room? That was every Buffalo fan after those four consecutive Super Bowl losses, one of the worst sequences of events in the history of sports. They didn't even have any other good teams to pick up the slack. That was brutal. Like dropping an atomic sports bomb on the entire city.

I would put Cleveland second. You could make a strong case for them going first -- Byner's fumble, The Drive, blowing a World Series to the freakin' Marlins, Pedro's six-inning no-hitter, MJ hitting The Shot, and so on -- but since they get to watch LeBron for the next 15 years, they aren't getting the sympathy vote over poor Buffalo. Sorry. I'd stick Minnesota third. I'd have Philly fourth -- those fans are so tortured, they're the closest thing this country has to soccer hooligans. They also haven't won a championship since 1983, which warrants mentioning. Seattle rounds out my top five, followed by Cincy, D.C., K.C., Houston and Pittsburgh at No. 10 (it has been a rough stretch for the Artist Formerly Known As The City of Champions).

Tom Brady & Bill Belichick
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have given Boston fans plenty to cheer about of late.

Which brings me back to Boston.

All I can tell you is this ...

In the past 30 years, I watched the following players and coaches in their primes (or something that was reasonably close to their primes): Bird, Orr, Pedro, Clemens, Esposito, Havlicek, Cowens, Neely, Bourque, McHale, Tippett, Parish, DJ, Fisk, Nomar, Manny, Bledsoe, Lewis, Brady, Parcells and Belichick.

I watched seven championship teams. Seven. Including two Super Bowl titles in the past three years. I also watched countless other teams that came damned close (including the '75 and '86 Sox, '76 Pats, '85 and '87 Celts, '78 and 79 B's, '96 Pats and last year's Sox team).

Four fantastic things happened over this time, at least for me:

1. Watching the '86 Celts on a day-to-day basis. The best team ever. I haven't seen hoops played quite like that before or since.

2. Watching Pedro pitch in his prime. You could scalp decent tickets for about $75 a pop in '99 and '00. I didn't have any money. I was barely making it. Seriously. We're talking mac-and-cheese three nights a week. Didn't matter. You didn't think about these things when Pedro was pitching right down the street. You just scalped the tickets.

3. Watching that first Super Bowl victory in New Orleans -- the day the impossible happened. I still remember going into halftime up 14-3, the Superdome buzzing, that unparalled feeling where every fan realizes that something memorable could happen, that you should just be happy to be in the building ... and right as we're all realizing this, U2 comes out and sings "Beautiful Day." Never before has a song matched a sports moment like that. At least not for me.

4. This isn't a distinct moment, but it matters to me and many others growing up in Boston in the '70s: When I was a kid, I got to read columns from Leigh Montville and Ray Fitzgerald in the Globe every day. Peter Gammons covered the Sox. Will McDonough covered the Pats. Bob Ryan covered hoops. This is what we grew up with -- five guys who knew what they were doing. And if that doesn't make sports a little more special for everyone involved, I don't know what does.

Those were four of my best memories. I have dozens more. Like Bird stealing the ball from Isiah, Pedro coming out of the bullpen in Cleveland, Stan Jonathan pounding Pierre Bouchard like a piece of veal ... believe me, I could go on all day. We've just had it too good. Even recently, other than the two Super Bowls, the Celtics made the Eastern finals in 2002 and the Sox nearly made the 2003 World Series. There was always something happening, and something's better than nothing. As a sports fan, would you have rather lived in Washington or Boston these last 25 years? Seattle or Boston? Minnesota or Boston? Please.

Pedro Martinez
Pedro may have finished the job last year, but he's been great to watch over the years.

I know, I know ... Boston only makes this list because of the Red Sox. And yes, I'm the same guy who started out a column the following way:

"Twenty minutes after the Yankees eliminated the Sox, I called my father to make sure he was still alive. And that's not even a joke. I wanted to make sure Dad wasn't dead. That's what it feels like to be a Red Sox fan. You make phone calls thinking to yourself, 'Hopefully, my Dad picks up, because there's at least a 5-percent chance that the Red Sox just killed him.' "

Exaggerated? Absolutely not.

Am I happy to be a Red Sox fan? Absolutely.

We had Lynn, Rice, Fisk, Yaz and Tiant in the '70s; the Clemens Era in the '80s; Nomar and Pedro in the '90s ... jeez, there was always something happening. We have Fenway. We have die-hards spread across the entire country, like Cyrus's armies in "The Warriors," enough manpower to overpower half the home crowds in the American League. We have owners willing to spend upward of $100 million a year to remain competitive, an exclusive group, like being one of the only guys at a poker table with chips. We have a complicated blood-feud with the Yanks that reached Cold War proportions last winter. And we always have next year. Because you never know.

One thing I do know: We shouldn't be on this list of losers. And if anyone at Cold Pizza wants to respond ... well, I can't hear you, I have two Super Bowl rings clogging my ears.

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




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