Thanks to everyone who e-mailed suggestions for my new English Premier League soccer team that I haven't picked yet. Out of any challenge that I've ever thrown out to the readers, I can't remember getting a more passionate, entertaining and informative batch of e-mails. If anything, I'm even more dedicated to making the leap now. And this isn't going to be a half-assed thing, either. I'll be buying the merchandise, TiVo-ing the games, traveling to see a couple home games, throwing myself into the team ... I'm going all out. Obviously I'm not a huge soccer fan, but I'm a huge sports fan and it's becoming clearer and clearer that I missed the boat with the English Premier League and UEFA. Better late than never.
Anyway, I narrowed it down to three teams (don't worry, none of them is Manchester United) and will be making my official pick in next Wednesday's column. So stay tuned. In the meantime, we're long overdue for a mailbag. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.
Q: I am a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan. Waiting for Billy King to pull the trigger on an Iverson trade is like watching your girlfriend drink too much at a party. You KNOW she is going to eventually blow chunks. There is no doubt. It's gonna happen. And it's gonna be ugly. The real question is, where? Do you dare hold out hope that she finds her way to a toilet? Or do you brace yourself for the inevitable ride home ... where she proceeds to redecorate the interior of your car with bits of fish taco and the stench of tequila?
SG: That's been the most underrated sports subplot of the summer -- every horrified Philly fan dreading the news that Billy King gave away Iverson. It's legitimately cruel. Hasn't this city suffered enough? In last week's NBA column I suggested that Philly ban pro sports for a calendar year for everyone's safety. And normally, whenever I write something about a fan base that could be perceived as negative, the fans always fight back in droves and I'm guaranteed some hate mail (like with the LeBron thing last week). But with that comment? Not only did I get zero complaints, some Philly fans even e-mailed just to say, "Right on, the sports scene is absolutely morbid right now, never seen anything like this before" and "I majored in psych in college and am becoming convinced that Philly sports fans are suffering from collective depression, all the signs are there."
Depression is a serious illness and I would never make light of it. Obviously Philly fans aren't legitimately depressed. At the same time, couldn't there be a more harmless form of depression that's sports-related? When I was living in Boston in the late '90s and early '00s, we were absolutely battling sports depression before the Pats beat the Rams to win the Super Bowl -- it was the tail end of a titleless 15-year stretch when everything had gone wrong (Bias and Lewis, Bird's back, Neely's hip, McHale's feet, Nomar's wrist, Clemens fleeing to Canada, Parcells going to the Jets, Pitino and Duncan, etc.), and after awhile, we started EXPECTING things to go wrong. That's when you know there's a problem, when you're trapped in an ongoing state of pessimistic inadequacy and there's no way out. Hence, the depression connection.
There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to come right out with it: I think TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager is a centaur. You know, one of those half man/half horse things? It's crazy, I realize, but consider the following three things: |
1. All of his TV appearances are from the waist up ... perhaps to cover up his freakish horsey legs.
OK, so the last one is mostly speculation, but is there anyone else out there that you'd be less shocked to discover that they were secretly centaurian (and shouldn't that be the name of some new reality TV show)? I've racked my brain, and I think Paul Shaffer is next in line, and he's not even close. Who else is there?
Things that I've done in my life: (1) attended five WNBA games; (2) seen Madonna twice; (3) went to watch my Uncle Russ in the '01 Gay Games. On the Ozzie Guillen scale of gayness, how gay (or not gay) am I? I'm so confused. By the way, I have a wife and a son.
What is your problem with Miami and the Heat? You sound like a sore loser. Miami was the best team at the end, period. Your opinion is so bias. Miami won because they have the best players and the best coach. Shaquille is not the same Shaq of a couple of years ago but without his presence Miami did not have a chance.
I recently witnessed the work of Peter North in a clip from 1984. As usual, he delivered the goods. It got me thinking -- in an era when we are forced to know so much about the lives of inconsequential, will-be-gone-tomorrow wannabes (see: Nicole Ritchie, K-Fed, Bode Miller, etc.), how on earth do we know so little about a man (Mr. North) who has been at the top of his profession for so long? Seriously, there are few other individuals out there who are as universally known, admired, and appreciated by a significant segment of American males. But does anyone know anything about this guy? Who wouldn't read/watch/listen to his story? I sure would -- wouldn't you? His staying power is simply unprecedented. Thoughts?
My friends and I have this ongoing conversation about what you would do if you were 7 feet tall for one day. I think you cannot spend any less than 4 hours of the day just dunking. Beyond that we don't have too many ideas that really stick out. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the topic and what you might do?
A possible conspiracy theory: ISIAH THOMAS IS SECRETLY ATTEMPTING A COMEBACK TO THE NBA. Think about it! The Knicks roster is filled with a bunch of useless players who no one can root for with contracts that are impossible to move, which has given Knicks fans a reason to demand a radical new approach. Looking back at his roster moves and draft decisions, Isiah has made sure that the team doesn't have a single player that can actually play his natural position (Marbury, Francis and Nate Robinson are NOT point guards), so he can seamlessly step in and begin "contributing." We all know Zeke is delusional, and unbelievably competitive. I bet that he really thinks he can help the Knicks do well next year as a player-coach, and thanks to NBA mastermind James Dolan, he has had the opportunity to create the circumstances that can prove his point. The man has definitely kept in shape, mysteriously avoiding the inevitable 25-30-pound weight gain customary for NBA retirees. Your thoughts?
I finally picked up your book and was tearing through it today. I had about 80 pages left when it happened. I put NICDIP down on the counter in the bathroom at Logan, which is hazardous in itself, and used the urinal. When I finished up and turned around it was gone. One of the guys snatched it. To top it off, the bookstore carries Klosterman's book, but not the hometown sports guy's book. Ruined my day. Your book has reached "Worth stealing if someone is peeing and not looking" status. Congratulations.
You probably know this since you're an IMDB hound, but you probably have a thing for the actress that plays Ari's wife on "Entourage" because she also played the freshman girl that Grover hooked up with in Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming." The DVD's finally coming out this August (by the way).
I was flipping channels the other night when I stumbled upon the WNBA All-Star Game. As soon as my brain processed what it was, I desperately went to change the channel. But right before I hit Channel Up, I saw some short chick drive the lane and attempt to dunk, only to come up about two feet short and ricochet the ball off the BOTTOM of the rim. Rendered temporarily paralyzed by shock, disbelief and pure hilarity, I couldn't change the channel. Next, I got to see another much taller woman gather the miss and attempt to dunk herself. She failed miserably the first time but then backed out and tried again, as if this was a dunk contest. She was successful on the second try (and I use the word "successful" very loosely) drawing raucous cheers from the 80 or so people who were in the stands, the majority of whom were MSG employees. Then, to top it all off, another woman on the opposing team dribbled coast-to-coast and attempted a dunk at her basket as time expired and, wouldn't you know it, she too failed. How do they expect us to watch that ridiculous 45-second sequence and take this league seriously?
Well, doesn't that describe Philly fans right now? Pessimistic inadequacy? After 22 years of suffering and falling just short, dealing with a relentlessly unhappy media getting everyone riled up, enduring dozens of ludicrous front-office moves, getting their hopes raised by some genuinely big-time superstars (Lindros, Iverson, McNabb, Roenick, Schilling, Cunningham) and big-time contenders (the '93 Phillies, '01 Sixers, multiple runs with the Eagles and Flyers), McNabb's bizarre collapse in the Super Bowl and the subsequent T.O. debacle seemed to push everyone over the edge ... and these fans were uber-pessimistic to begin with. Hell, in a column about the "Worst 20 Sports Fans" for my old Web site, I picked Philly fans No. 1 and braced for the deluge of hate mails that never happened. Instead, they e-mailed in just to say stuff like, "You're right. We're insane. There's something wrong with us."
And that was eight years ago! When I was signing books in Philly last December, right as the Eagles' season was going down the drain, the bitterness was almost disarming. As I wrote in my football column that week, "I couldn't believe the body language of the locals -- signing a sports book for these poor people was like signing a romance novel for Jennifer Aniston right after Brad and Angelina started dating. You can't even imagine how many people asked me, "Can you sign it? Maybe this will happen to the Eagles someday?" And that was before T.O. went to Dallas, the C-Webb trade backfired and the Mets ran away from the Phillies.
Which brings me back to my original point: On paper, Billy King can't screw up an Iverson trade because Philly fans would see right through the stereotypical three-nickels-for-a-quarter trade that never works. They're too smart for it. At the same time, he's Billy King. He's one of the worst GMs in any sport. He shouldn't have a job. And he's absolutely going to screw this up. There's no doubt. Even worse, he's dumping Iverson because he's made so many bad moves over the last five years, it's the only way to potentially improve the team -- they have no cap room and nobody else with any trade value, and he has to do SOMETHING because he's one more crummy year away from losing his job. Does that sound like a valid reason to trade a 33-point scorer for 60 cents on the dollar? I didn't think so.
If I were a diehard Philly fan, I would be doing everything possible to stop the inevitably dumb trade that's about to happen -- launching anti-King Web sites, protesting outside of radio stations, chanting Iverson's name at baseball games, you name it. To borrow Brendon's "drunk girlfriend" analogy, there's still time to throw her in a car and drive her home before she starts puking all over the place.
Q: I noticed that on Malcolm Gladwell's blog he called you the "world's best sportswriter." Isn't that a bit like Wolfgang Puck complimenting the chef at a McDonalds?
--Brian, Kingston, Ontario
SG: Thank you, thank you very much. You're too kind.
Q: If a fan of yours approached you at a Clippers game next year and said, "I'm a big fan, here's a token of my appreciation," and handed you an envelope containing a key to one of those airport lockers, would you go get whatever it was?
--H. Anderson, Corpus Christi, Texas
SG: (Afraid to say anything.)
Q: Where does the Nowitzki-Van Horn awkward high/low-five rank among the dorky celebratory hand slaps involving athletes? Obviously, white people are always involved, but to me, the Tiger Woods-Steve Williams exchange at the Masters after Tiger's miracle chip two years ago is still the one to beat, although two almost 7-foot white dudes, one German and the other from Utah, comes close.
--B. Waterside, Towson, Md.
SG: All right, every few months I end up getting a "Where did that dorky high-five rank among the dorkiest high-fives in sports history?" question. Let's get this straight once and for all: Nothing, and I mean nothing, can remotely approach two American golfers happily celebrating during the Best Ball event in any Ryder Cup. That's the standard. It can be approached, but it can't be topped. You take someone like Mickelson in a clingy golf shirt, boobs flapping, trying to pull off an animated high-five with a pot-bellied partner like Craig Stadler ... I mean, you're not topping that. You're just not. So stop trying.
Q: If there's one famous person you'd like to fight, who would it be? I've had mild obsessions over the course of the past 15 years of wanting to fight one person at any given time. My list includes: Steve Sanders from "90210," then he was replaced by Ryan Seacrest, then he was replaced by K-Fed, now finally it's "American Idol" Taylor Hicks. He bugs me. Who's next?
--Luke G., Springfield, Mass.
I'm with you on Hicks -- that Ford song drives me crazy, it's like Michael McDonald shaved his beard and decided to have an epileptic seizure during the performance. But he couldn't crack my top-six, which currently looks like this:
1. The guy who plays Vince in "Entourage" -- he can't act, he's not talented, he drags that show down at least three-plus grades, and he's definitely getting a little too pleased with himself in real life. There might not be a luckier "right guy in the right place at the right time" in Hollywood right now.
2. Joe Buck. I still haven't forgiven him beating the Curse subplot into the ground during the 2003 and 2004 baseball playoffs. Give me another 20-30 years.
3. Joe Rogan would be third, except that he's a black belt and he'd kill me, so that wouldn't be fun. ... Anyway, I'm replacing him with Craig Sager.
4. Robert Wuhl -- I'd have him higher, but he's in his 60s now.
5. I'm not allowed to say who's fifth because we work for the same company, but let's just say that there's two of them.
(Note: I almost threw Dane Cook in here because he wore a Yankees cap to a Crank Yankers taping a few years ago even though he's allegedly a big Boston fan, then refused to laugh and took the holier-than-thou approach when my buddy Paul loudly farted in the studio. ... Five years later, he's taking dumps in a garbage can on the TourGasm bus and grossing out his buddies and pretending he's a guy's guy.)
Q: Which is better, the Dodger Dog or the Fenway Frank? Do you prefer boiled and split top? Or do you like foot-long and steamed? I feel like Drama and Turtle at Sundance, but you get the idea. Please help us resolve this issue.
--Andrew C., Boston
SG: God bless the comedic power of the Fenway Frank, but has anyone ever walked into Fenway and said, "Man, I can't wait to tear into a Fenway Frank. They're delicious!" You can't find a more mediocre hot dog. But the Dodger Dog lived up the hype -- it's long and juicy, even a little salty, and you can definitely get a whole meal out of it. No contest.
(P.S.: I know the previous paragraph is going to lead to about 700 "Who wrote the Dodger Dog review, Bill Simmons or Richard Simmons?" e-mails. But there's really no way to write positively about a hot dog without sounding like you're reviewing a porn movie or writing a trashy novel. You have to admit.)
Q: I'm getting a bit tired of the media using an athlete's name to describe the athlete's performance. During the NBA Finals I heard that Dwyane Wade has not yet had a Dwyane Wade game against Dallas. Of course, as a diehard sports fan, I understood the intent, but it just seems lazy and ambiguous. On the flip side, it would be pretty fun to use in everyday life. For instance: The last three burgers that Bill Simmons made haven't tasted like Bill Simmons burgers. Or perhaps: Bill Simmons just hasn't made a Bill Simmons play at the blackjack table today. So do your burgers usually taste like feet and the last three were delicious? Have you failed to double down on 14 with the dealer showing a face card? Or vice versa? Would the context have to be completely understood for it to be valid, or is it funnier if it confuses everyone?
--Kevin S., Reno, Nev.
SG: You lost me about halfway through that paragraph. But I agree with you -- this is something we should be constantly using in real life just like "Manny being Manny" somehow turned into "(fill in any buddy you have) being (fill in any buddy you have)." The whole Dwyane Wade Game analogy shouldn't be confined to sports. There's too much potential.
For instance, my buddy House can eat more food in a single sitting than anyone I know -- one of my goals in life is to convince him to quit his job and enter the world of competitive eating. Three years ago during NBA All-Star Weekend in L.A., we made a late-night stop at Mel's Diner with some of my NBA friends and House ordered a ham-and-cheese omelette with hash browns, a patty melt with fries AND a large vanilla milkshake, then proceeded to plow through everything like Tom Brady picking apart somebody's defense in a two-minute drill. To this day, every time I run into one of the people who was there, they bring up House and discuss his eating performance the same way somebody on the '86 Celtics would discuss MJ's 63-point game. And that was a typical House late-night eating performance. So that should give you an idea what we're dealing with here.
Anyway, the last time House came to visit over Christmas break, he didn't have any memorable eating performances, and I distinctly remember saying at the end of the visit something along the lines of, "I'm disappointed that House hasn't gone on a House eating binge yet," which was almost immediately followed by a Chinese food order in which House (now with something to prove) ate a large bowl of hot-and-sour soup (which is really disgusting if you've ever caught a whiff of hot-and-sour soup, it almost smells toxic), his entree, AND half of his girlfriend's entree. That was just House being House.
Here's another sports phrase that we should be using in real life: You know how a baseball announcer calls a pitcher's stuff "filthy," as in, "Liriano's stuff is FILTHY tonight?" We should use this to describe any good-looking woman who looks even better than usual on a particular night, as in, "Are you watching the ESPYS? Ashley Judd's stuff is FILTHY tonight."
(Hey, speaking of the ESPYS!)
Q: My buddy went to the ESPYS and said that J-Mac got two standing ovations and Roethlisbozo did not get one when they brought him out at the end as a surprise. What was the crowd supposed to do, stand up and applaud because he's an idiot and didn't wear a helmet? There's no way Tom Brady gets hit by a 62-year-old woman. I dare you to put that in a column. You know it's true.
--Danny M, Framingham, Mass.
SG: I'm just glad that Big Ben looked relatively the same and didn't have that "Mark Hamill in the third Star Wars movie" thing going. But you're right, that was a little weird -- the Steelers won the "Best Team" ESPY, Bettis gave the speech (which was weird because Cowher was there, why wouldn't he have spoken?), and then at the end, he waved Big Ben out and you were expecting the roof to come off (only it didn't happen). Weird way to end the show. But here were my personal highlights of a relatively uneventful show:
1. Poor Jake Gyllenhaal taking a beating with two more Brokeback jokes in Lance Armstrong's opening monologue, then partying after the show at the Mondrian with Matthew McConaughey and at least 8-10 gorgeous women looking like he was going to dispel the Brokeback baggage the old-fashioned way. That killed me. And by the way, McConaghey is Wooderson in real life. It's official. There's no difference.
2. I happened to be sitting a couple of rows behind LeBron, which was funny because every time a female celebrity walked on stage (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ashley Judd, etc.), he looked more intense than he did during Game 4 of the Pistons series. If they ever do an ESPN Full Circle for the ESPYS, there needs to be a channel devoted just to LeBron's reactions to everyone who walks out.
3. Carmen Electra. She's the Andrei Kirilenko/Josh Smith of female celebs -- 10 times better to see her in person than on TV.
4. There was a music medley at the end involving the O'Jays and some other guests, ending with that "Love Train" song and one of the O'Jays pulling every black celebrity in the first few rows (Kobe, Wade, LeBron, GP, etc.) on stage to sing background and totally ignoring the white celebrities, which is kinda weird when you think about it. I mean, imagine if the reverse happened and Huey Lewis was wrapping up the ESPYS with "I Want A New Drug," then went into the stands and pulled every white celebrity up to the stage (Kurt Warner, Bill Cowher, Shaun White, etc.) and ignored everyone else?
5. A well-known executive (not from ESPN) fell sound asleep during the middle of the show. That was my single favorite moment of the night other than LeBron staring Mariah Carey down like she was an Aston Martin. Hopefully there's videotape.
Q: Enough about Barbaro. To quote Ralphie Cifaretto ... "It was a [bleeping] horse!" If he placed at the Derby, he'd be an anonymous Euroburger right now. Instead, he's getting the "President's colon" treatment. Can we move on?
--Kernberg, Dorchester, Mass.
SG: That was this month's "Really evil e-mail that made me laugh out loud." By the way, I think Barbaro has replaced the Bonds home run chase and Clemens' comeback as the ongoing "major" sports story that nobody seems to actually care about. We're on a roll, folks! Next on the docket: T.O. and Bill Parcells may or may not be getting along! For more, let's go to Ed Werder in Dallas!
Q: I have a new category called a "Gooden." Basically someone who had an amazing 3-4 years and just got worse as time went on except this person does not know it. I say this because I saw Britney Spears on "The Today Show." Oh my; was it just a couple of years ago she was the hottest female in all God's creation? She now looks like a very worn Go-Go dancer in an afternoon dance who you look at and say "She must have been hot when she started."
--Mike Dietrich, Old Bridge, N.J.
Q: You (me, us) are all older, musically savvy types, always could spot a pretender from the real thing (OK, alternative music snobs), never got suckered in ... and yet, you still bought into the Counting Crows when they burst upon the scene, thought that these guys actually were the real thing and a possibly great group ... and the next thing you're wondering [is] what the hell happened, and feeling slightly sheepish, embarrassed that you professed believing in them. But that first album is still great, and it still makes you wistfully recall those days. Call it the "Counting Crows Corollary" -- what athletes out there seemingly came out of nowhere, had an amazing first season or year, had everyone believing the were the Second Coming real deal, and then just imploded/revealed themselves to be nothing at all, leaving all to shake their heads in befuddlement, yet still you can savor that magic season.
--Nick, Washington D.C.
SG: Did you ever think you would see two people separately use Dwight Gooden and the Counting Crows to come to the exact same conclusion? That was kinda cool. I love this job sometimes.
Q: I was watching the ESPN Classic Finals marathon over the weekend. They showed the "Magic baby hook" game from '87. As I was watching the Lakers celebrate and run through the tunnel down to their locker room, I noticed a rather folorn looking Celtics fan in a blue polo shirt standing in the middle of the picture. I rewound my DVR several times and I am fairly convinced it was you ... am I right?
--Tim Hiatt, Sioux Falls, S.D.
SG: Yup ... that's me. I'm unveiling the "I Can't Freaking Believe That Larry's Shot Didn't Go In" Face. You can also see me taunting Rodman right as everyone's leaving the court during Game 5 of the Pistons-Celts series in '87 (the one when Bird made the big steal). And on the Celtics Dynasty DVD, you also can see me during the Dominique-Bird shootout and the Portland-Boston game from 1991 (when Cliff Robinson gets thrown out). Me and my dad are in a bunch of those old games because our seats were right on the tunnel where the players walked in and out -- it's absolutely bizarre to see yourself as a kid during these famous games. For instance, during the famous triple-OT game against Phoenix in 1976, our seat (we had only one) was behind the visitor's bench, and you can see me as a 6-year-old kid hopping around during the third overtime. And you wonder why I keep writing about the NBA.
(One other note on this: Sometimes NBA TV shows an old Bullets-Celtics game from the '82 Playoffs in which Frankie Johnson starts making crazy 30-footers to keep Washington in the game. Well, they showed our section at one point and I realized -- to my abject horror and delight -- that my dad had a date with him. The NBA ... it's FANNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!)
Q: During the Italy/Germany World Cup match, the announcers mentioned that the pope was cheering for both the Italian and German teams. I was wondering where he fits on your sports loyalties system? Is he an exception? He is of German descent, but he IS the pope.
--Kayvon, Greenville, S.C.
SG: Yeah, he's the pope all right ... the Pope of Sports Bigamy!
(Ducking lightning bolt.)
Q: Me and a few of my friends were watching "Fear Factor" and two girls who were well-endowed in the chest area. By the way, ladies you're only lying to yourselves if you say you don't size up other girls' chests, so don't act offended by this. So anyway, we had a bit of a debate over whose were better. One girl had bigger ones, but she was slightly heavier and hers were a little less perky. I was in the camp that preferred the smaller ones because of the perkiness and the flatter stomach of the girl. I was wondering if you could talk Hollinger into making a RER (rack efficiency rating) which would take into account size, perkiness, her height, etc., so any debate could easily be decided.
--Pat, Fall River, Mass.
SG: I'm going to devote the remainder of my summer to convincing John Hollinger to do this. By the way, Hollinger needs to expand his horizons because the whole efficiency rating gimmick could work for just about every aspect of life: Amount of alcohol somebody drank over the course of a night; number of quality hookups; money spent on a woman versus the actual "return" on the investment; percentage of drunken eBay, Amazon and iTunes purchases versus sober ones; quality of sex scenes during a Skinemax movie; ability of someone to continually get friends to buy them drinks over a prolonged period of time by using a variety of excuses like, "I forgot to hit an ATM. Can you cover me?" It's an endless list. And the various Vegas or wedding scenarios alone could give Hollinger a second career. I hope he branches out. You can only come up with so many ways to tout Chris Paul's virtues before you get bored.
Q: People are searching in vain for a comparison to Zinedine Zidane's meltdown. I say Robert DeNiro in "Heat." He's the best robber anyone has ever seen, and he's minutes away from flying off into the sunset, free and clear, only he has to throw it all away in order to kill Waingro. Of course, he gets busted and goes down in flames.
--George W, Chicago
SG: Good analogy, I like it. Speaking of DeNiro, I watched "Midnight Run" last weekend and realized four things. First, that's one of my favorite movies of all time. It's on the short list of Desert Island DVDs. Second, that's my all-time favorite DeNiro performance -- nobody else could have played Jack Walsh. Nobody. Third, every time I watch that movie, I remember that Robin Williams was signed to play the Duke and bowed out at the last minute, replaced by Charles Grodin, which raises the unanswerable question, "Would Robin Williams have made that movie better or worse?" (Remember, Robin Williams was still considered a major asset in 1988.)
And fourth, movies usually start to seem dated after around 10-12 years. For instance, "Forrest Gump" is suddenly dated as hell. So is "Philadelphia." And "Pulp Fiction." "Swingers" is getting there. "Jerry Maguire" is dated because Cruise went crazy and it's now impossible to watch any of his old movies. You get the idea. Going back even further, some of the classics from the late-'70s and early-'80s (like "Slapshot," "The Shining," "Halloween" and "Beverly Hills Cop") have become dated to the point that it affects the rewatchability of those movies. But "Midnight Run" is 18 years old and holds up to the point that they could re-release it next week and it would be the best summer comedy of 2006 unless "Ricky Bobby" comes through. It's the least-dated movie of all time. And if you're thinking about arguing that proclamation, here are two words for you: Shut the f*** up.
Q: Where does the Hanes commercial where a long, waivy-haired Kevin Bacon and MJ play grab ass and giggle like school girls for 90 seconds straight rank among the most uncomfortable TV advertisements of all time?
-- Kevin, Chicago
SG: I feel like we're going to be looking back at them some day the same way we're starting to reexamine the "Watsupwitu" video with Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson. What was Eddie thinking? I'm beginning to wonder if he was killed in on the set of "Trading Places" and replaced by an alien.
Q: Aren't we reaching the unrecommended stage of the duration of the Papelboner? Isn't this the point where we need to seek medical help or else risk long-term potency loss?
--Tim K, Barcelona, Spain
SG: Wait, look to the right -- there's something that will kill your Papelboner.
Q: My favorite YouTube clip is the Boss' greatest TV performance: his surprise duet with the Wallflowers at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Keep in mind, the VMAs had grown tiresome by the mid-'90s and Bruce had sort of slipped into irrelevancy with passable acoustic albums like "Tom Joad." The situation was ripe for "sad former rock star shows up and creeps everyone out" potential (which did happen a few years later with Axl Rose.) But Bruce comes out looking leaner and meaner than he had in years, complete with bad-ass goatee and leather jacket, and snatches "One Headlight" right out of Jakob Dylan's feeble hands. He nails a great guitar solo, makes tons of great Bruce faces and even turns in the classic sharing-vocals at-the-same-mic-stand move. You're literally watching Bruce rediscover his ability to rock as the song goes on. It's like Elvis' 1968 comeback special. Watching this live with my college buddies at the time, I predicted a Bruce creative surge, which actually happened in the late-'90s, peaking with his reunion with The E Street Band and what is still the only artistically valid musical statement about 9/11: "The Rising."
So, it begs the question: what would be the sports equivalent? You'd need a superstar, returning after a notable absence, who makes a comeback and rediscovers his "love of the game," and in the process, mortally wounds or breaks the spirit of an up-and-coming star with a great pedigree, right?
--M. Drury, Hoboken, N.J.
SG: Wow, that question had everything -- lively material, a couple of funny jokes, a provocative question, even accompanying video evidence. Now THAT is how you get into the mailbag. And you're right, that's one of the best YouTube clips ever. I actually remember watching that live, seeing Bruce and saying, "I'm not getting my hopes up, but he looks pretty damned good," then watching in disbelief as he completely blew Dylan off the stage. It was like one of those pornos from the late-'70s when John Holmes is having a threesome with a girl and some random guy, and by the end of the scene, the other guy is hanging out with the crew and telling them, "Look, I'm not gonna compete with that."
Before we get to the answer, I wanted to point out a couple of things before you dive into the video:
1. The Wallflowers were flying pretty high at the time (looking back, you could even make the case that they were the most underrated mainstream band from the latter half of the '90s), and it's quite possible that Bruce completely derailed young Jakob, who already had enough of an uphill battle as Bob Dylan's son before another music legend hijacked his signature song as he was standing right there. I always thought the Wallflowers should have been bigger than they were. What would have happened if Bruce didn't agree to play the '97 VMAs? We may never know.
2. There's nothing funnier than Bruce creeping over to someone else's microphone, then overpowering the other guy as spit flies everywhere. (I'm convinced this is why Little Stevie initially left the E Street Band, he just couldn't take it anymore.) I always thought this would be a good SNL skit -- just Bruce walking around and randomly hijacking somebody else's microphone in various places (a street performer in a subway station, Michael Buffer doing "Let's get ready to rummmmble," a stewardess giving the pre-flight instructions, and so on).
3. "One Headlight" couldn't have been more in Bruce's wheelhouse. One of the best examples of a song that would have been twice as good if the band had just given it to the Boss from Day 1 and said, "Look, this could be a hit for us, but it's a potential Hall of Fame song for you, you have it."
Some other examples: "See a Little Light" by Bob Mould; "Taillights Fade" by Buffalo Tom (and just for the record, I absolutely love those guys, but that would have been a top-five Bruce song); "Way Down Now" by World Party; "Rain King" by Counting Crows; "Expresso Love" by Dire Straits; the theme to "Beautiful Girls"; "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger; and my personal favorites, "Santa Monica" and "You Make Me Feel Like A Whore" by Everclear. Bruce also would have done much better with "I Am Mine" than Pearl Jam did because Eddie Vedder mailed in that entire album during his "I don't want to be famous anymore" stage. But this should be Bruce's next album: "Songs I Should Have Sung."
4. So what's the sports equivalent of Bruce blowing Dylan off the stage? I was leaning toward MJ and the Bulls sweeping the Magic in the '96 playoffs, with the post-baseball MJ as Bruce and Nick Anderson (already reeling after blowing those four freebies in the '95 Finals) as Jakob Dylan. But I like this example better: Jack Nicklaus roaring from behind to win the '86 Masters, with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros (both of whom choked down the stretch) combining for the Dylan role. Remember, Norman was considered Nicklaus' heir apparent at the time, and everyone thought Seve was going to become the dominant golfer of that decade; they ended winning three more majors combined and that's it. Plus, the Nicklaus/Springsteen parallels are almost perfect, right down to their popularity, their respective résumés and the similar points of their careers at the time of the events. That seems like the logical choice to me.
Q: While bored at work, I was reading over your SG Glossary and when I got to the "guys who wield a little too much power" section, I lost it because I am the guy at Circuit City who checks the receipt before you can leave. I love acting like I'm the most important guy in the world, and creating a huge line of people just trying to get home and watch their new $9.99 copy of "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Actually I think we got it on special for $7.99 this week.
--M. Houston, Washington, D.C.
SG: Do I even need to say it?
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.