Commentary

Welcome back to the Mailbag, Part II

Originally Published: October 9, 2009
By Bill Simmons | Page 2

• FOR PART I OF THE MAILBAG, CLICK HERE

Q. Is it just me, or did MJ's HOF speech resemble Michael Corleone in the last hour of "Godfather II": clearly on the top of the world, yet bitterly alone?
-- Damon, Raleigh

SG: Solid analogy. And there's no doubt he would have taken out Scottie in the canoe if it came to that. But I like this angle more ...

Q: There's no way that Jordan makes that poisonous Hall of Fame speech if he's still married to Juanita, his ex-wife, right? If he's still married to her, he runs that speech by her, she tells him he sounds like an a-hole, he gets pissed, but eventually he realizes she's right, so he re-works so there are a few less jabs and it sounds less pompous. Instead, he looks over at that 30-year old Cuban girl he's dating, realizes she won't understand half of it, shakes his head and thinks, "Nah, I got this on my own." You stay classy, MJ.
-- Powers, Bloomington, Minn.

SG: I'm nodding. Look, there are a lot of reasons NOT to get married -- the number is either in double digits or triple digits depending on whom you talk to -- but MJ's speech was definitely in the "Here's why it's not a bad idea to find a life mate who will definitely alert you when you are noticeably and horribly in the wrong" category. Here's what amazed me: Some people defended the speech! Like, writers whom I respect! Really, you're defending an off-the-cuff, uncomfortable, petty, biting, rambling, vindictive, score-settling speech during what's meant to be nothing more than a celebration? That was a good thing?

Beyond that, Jordan's original thesis was incorrect: Other than when he got cut in high school, EVERYONE believed in him. Dean Smith diagrammed the title-winning shot in 1982 for him. Bobby Knight built the 1984 Olympic team around him. Nike built an entire marketing campaign around him from day one (something it had never done before, ever). The Dream Team committee callously dropped Isiah Thomas from the team to assuage him in 1992, even though Thomas deserved to be on that team as much as anyone short of Bird and Magic. The list goes on and on and on. No athlete was coddled more than Jordan, and no athlete had a bigger disparity between "public image" and "what he was actually like." Hell, for his entire career, Sam Smith was the only journalist with the testicular fortitude to call him out.

After the speech, some readers asked me why I didn't write about it. The truth is, I wrote an extended section in my book about him -- not his career as much as his force of personality, and how that shaped everything that happened for him for better and worse. He wasn't a great guy by any stretch, just a bloodthirsty competitor who cared only about ruining everything in his path. That's it. That's what fueled him. At the time, we glorified him for that one quality because we love that stuff. How many times did you hear MJ gushingly described by an announcer as a "killer" over the years? A hundred? A thousand? That's not a switch you turn on and off -- when you're wired to conquer everybody, that doesn't just stop. And so the same qualities that made him the greatest basketball player ever also led to that speech. The man fueled himself with petty BS for 20 solid years, turned molehills into mountains and never stopped searching for an edge. That's who Michael Jordan was. I wasn't remotely surprised by what happened at the Hall of Fame banquet. Neither was anyone who knew him or played with him. That much, we can all agree on.

(And if you read my book, you're going to think that I wrote Jordan's section AFTER the speech. Nope. I finished the book in April. You will read the MJ section and think of his speech that whole time. You will.)

Q: I have a friend who has a blown-up framed copy of a Duke dad and son crying after a Duke loss hanging up in his house. Can you think of a better/more hilarious sports picture to have framed?
-- Rob, College Park, Md.

SG: Not right now, no.

Q: I would like to make a formal apology to all of America. As a Packer fan, I had never experienced the sad fortune of listening to commentators gush over Brett Favre from the other side. To any fans of any team that ever played Brett when he was a Packer, I'm sorry. I never realized the severity of this slobbering.
--DJ, Madison, Wis.

SG: Thank you. I proactively avoided the slobbering by muting the game and putting on music.

I know Bill Simmons just turned 40, but watch what he does right here. Watch his calm in the living room as he looks for his iPod, finds it, hooks it up, turns it on, steps over his son's little fire truck and hits the MUTE button on his TV all in one swoop. What a great, great play by Bill Simmons! It's a big game and he LIVES for these moments, fellas.

Q: How long do we have to wait? When are you going to add a new face to your collection: The "dejected, head-hung-low, my parents, fans, friends and general sports-lovers are ashamed of my performance, when I needed to come up big I came up small, A-roid-is-more-clutch-then-me" look of abject failure that is ... you guessed it, the Tony Romo Face!
--Justin, N.Y.

SG: Fine, fine, fine. We'll add the Romo Face. You reminded me of something that's the bizarre version of the Joey Harrington phenomenon. Remember my theory that Harrington would have been an elite quarterback if his name had been "Joe Harrington" or "Johnny Harrington" (remember, his real name was John Joseph Harrington)? For whatever reason, the name "Joey" just killed him. It was impossible to take him (or really, any athlete) seriously because "Joey" is the name of your fat little cousin who keeps farting at Thanksgiving dinner, or your unemployed uncle who has to move into your family's spare bedroom for a few months until he gets back on his feet.

Well, the name "Tony Romo" ... I mean, that's a great name. That sounds like the name of someone who is going to be such a smash hit, he'll end up winning a couple of Super Bowls and opening a chain of BBQ restaurants. I want to root for "Tony Romo." I want to believe that "Tony Romo" is going to come through on this game-winning drive. I want "Tony Romo" to plow through a series of hot actresses and singers. I want "Tony Romo" to stay single past retirement, develop a drinking problem and eventually hit on a sideline reporter during a live telecast before entering rehab. These are the things that "Tony Romo" should do.

This is why we projected talents for Romo that he didn't actually have. I picked him 40th in my West Coast fantasy draft even though he didn't have a proven No. 1 receiver. Why? Because he's "Tony Romo"! Now, let's say his name had been "Kyle Boller" or "Kevin O'Connell" or "Alex Smith" or "Jared Lorenzen" this whole time. Would you have believed in him? Would we have given him the same benefit of the doubt all these times when he kept gagging in big moments? I say no. We believed in Tony Romo mainly because he seemed like a good guy and he had a great name. Really, those were the only two reasons.

Q: In your Vegas piece you wrote,"We were once nearly attacked Artest-style by Mel Hall at Yankee Stadium." I think you just invented the most versatile description ever. I cannot think of one activity that could not be carried out "Artest-style"
-- Nic, Anchorage

SG: I can think of one: winning the 2009-10 NBA title.

Q: At a bar with friends on Friday night, the awesome DJ played "Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. This began our discussion of how unique Mark Wahlberg's career has been. Everyone knows "Good Vibrations." He was a hit, then disappeared, only to return later as a highly successful actor and now producer. What other celebrities have had such a unique career where they were an average hit, then disappeared and came back with a more successful celebrity career? Only name we could come up was Ronald Reagan. You are a pop culture guru. Who else belongs in this select group?
-- Tittle, Salt Lake City

SG: I'm adding this to my résumé: "2009: Tittle from Salt Lake City decides that I'm a pop culture guru." Anyway, you make an excellent point: We've seen many successful celebs, politicians or athletes reinvent themselves with a second career (Will Smith, Jack Kemp, Ron Howard, Paula Abdul, the Rock, Larry David, Lawrence O'Brien, Ozzy Osbourne, LL Cool J, Jimmy the Greek, Pat Summerall, Flavor Flav, etc.), but someone parlaying marginal/fleeting success into giant success with another line of work? Almost unprecedented. I mean, Marky Mark had only ONE big song. Other than Reagan, the only other ones the Mailbag Committee could come up with were Ahmad Rashad, John Tesh and Chuck Connors (a marginal player for the Celtics and Cubs -- yes, two sports -- who became a TV star as "The Rifleman" in the '50s). What's better than a list that basically goes, "Ronald Reagan, Chuck Connors, John Tesh, Mark Wahlberg"? Nothing, I say.

This question made me think of something else, though: Was Arnold Schwarzenegger the only celebrity who reinvented himself twice as a success?

In the '70s, Ahh-nuld moved to America and became the greatest and most famous bodybuilder ever. Then, he became the single biggest action star of the '80s and early '90s, trumping anything he did as a bodybuilder. THEN, for his third act, he was elected governor of California, only the most populous state in the United States. (Important note: I'm calling the election itself a success, not the aftermath, which I can report firsthand has NOT been a success since I'm paying enough in state taxes this year that the Sports Gal and I recently had our first serious "Is it time to end this goofy California charade and move back home to Boston?" conversation.) Now, John Madden nailed three different genres (coaching, announcing, video games), but all of them were related to football in some way. Ahh-nuld hitting three home runs in three totally unrelated genres? No way that happens again. And maybe that's for the best.

Q: When is someone writing a book about the history of the WNBA titled, "Beneath the Rim?"
-- Andrew, Tulsa

SG: (Guffawing ... )

Q: My friend Kevin and I happened to be looking up random wikipedia pages, a pastime of ours, when we happened across Appalachian State's page (we're Ohio State students). We noticed their endowment total and wondered what our own was and furthermore if we could purchase a small country with that amount. It turns out OSU's endowment is $2.075 billion while the GDP of Djibouti is $1.877 billion. We're thinking of getting drunk and writing a proposal to our school's president about acquiring said nation.Your thoughts?
--Chalk and Kevin, Columbus

SG: Wait a second, you're looking up random Wikipedia pages in college and THINKING of getting drunk? Anyway, I love a few things about this idea. First, I think you can lowball the Djiboutians because, if push comes to shove, OSU has a higher GDP and you can just invade them. Second, the NCAA is so screwed up that it would probably veto the purchase of Djibouti because it doesn't follow the Title IX guidelines. And third, the thought of people reporting this story kills me. Let's go to Pat Forde, who's been tracking down Ohio State's purchase of Djibouti all week. Pat, how will this affect the Big Ten, and what about the rumors of Michigan invading Newfoundland?

Q: I was going to sit down and write a long, well thought hate-mail complaining about your lack of columns. But then I channeled my inner Bill Simmons and ended up being lazy and doing a podcast instead.
-- Heef, Chesapeake, Va.

SG: (Searching for a comeback ...)

Q: I used to get regular Simmons action multiple times a week. Now I hope for a new story, mailbag or diary at least once a week, but often get shot down. Did we get married?
-- Kevin, Denver
/p>

SG: (Still searching ...)

Q: Isn't Josh McDaniels basically Norman Dale? He took over a for a team whose previous coach was very popular. His best player immediately quits the team. Another player acts up in practice, so McDaniels throws him out but then lets him back in. The whole town wants the new coach gone before the season even begins. And then the town turns after the coach shows that defense and fundamentals can win games, even with a no-talent white guy running the offense.
--Neal D., New York

SG: Great analogy. You left out the pop culture symmetry of Chelcie Ross -- who played the overbearing Hickory resident who tried to stage the coup d'etat of Norman Dale -- making his dramatic return to prominence as Conrad Hilton in "Mad Men." Which reminds me, when Conrad Hilton was a kajillionaire in the 1960s, what do you think his reaction would have been if somebody told him the following ...

"Hey, I'm here from the future. I know you're super-rich and powerful and all that stuff right now. But here's a news flash for you. Forty-something years from now, people are going to know you by only two things -- your ex-con grandkid who made a sex tape, and your character on a cable drama about advertising executives being played by the dude from 'Hoosiers' who was also Eddie Harris in 'Major League.'"

Q: I'm a senior in high school and was assigned a project in lit class to create my own university, which other students would then "apply" to. Both me and my partner for the project are fans of yours, and, remembering a podcast in which you discussed your dream of having a college named after you, decided on Bill Simmons University. We went back to the podcast and created it exactly to your specifications. We even put in your admissions requirement: female applicants just send pictures. We got a D on the assignment and a lecture from the teacher about sexism and taking the class seriously. Thanks, Bill Simmons.
-- Brett, Portland, Ore.

SG: I don't even need to write it. And by the way, rarely if ever, has a reader e-mail made me this proud. The only way it would have been better is if you snapped at the teacher, "Shouldn't we have gotten a double-D?" Come to my Portland signing (Nov. 20), bring the paper and I will autograph the paper and give you a free book. Take that, uptight teacher who doesn't have a sense of humor.

Q: I figured that after Favre was finally retired, I would be able to forgive him and just put the "Viking Episode" aside. But, after Monday night, I can speak for probably about 80 percent of Packers fans when I say: "(Expletive), I hope it was worth it, because you're dead to me now. You broke my (bleeping) heart."
-- Tim S., Milwaukee

SG: Oh, boy. This could get awkward.

Q: I am 19 years old. I have been a fan of Favre and the Packers since the third grade. I grew up thinking Favre could do no wrong. As a mature 17-year-old, I cried the day he retired from the Packers. I was tolerant of the Jets experiment -- even have the jersey to prove it. But what am I supposed to do now? Tonight I watched my childhood hero stomp all over the team and the fans he represented for 16 years. I found myself cursing him for the very same reasons I used to love him. The phony TD celebrations, the smug smiles, the way he hams it up with his new teammates and his new fans. I don't know how to handle it. I started this e-mail thinking I had something to say about all of this, but I just feel lost. I don't know what to think anymore ... I'm just lost.
--Drew, Bloomington, Ind.

SG: And that's the part of Monday's game that got lost. Every Packers fan felt like how a dutiful wife would feel if she stuck with her husband through thick and thin, watched him become a success, then got dumped for a younger trophy wife who also happened to be her archnemesis. Favre failed in the same way Roger Clemens failed when he signed with the Blue Jays in 1997 -- his problems with management affected his feelings toward his old franchise, and he did a piss-poor job of letting his old fan base know that he still cared about it. I have written about this before, but I turned on Clemens during his Toronto news conference when he simply refused to acknowledge Boston fans beyond a few generic words. It hurt. I took it personally and decided he was an opportunistic, disloyal, dishonest scumbag from that moment on. And as it turned out, he was.

In Favre's case, his lack of empathy for Packers fans has been really alarming. I know he plays with his heart on his sleeve. I know he's a "kid out there" and "having a ball out there" and all the crap. And maybe he's not a brain surgeon, but he's smart enough to understand what he meant to Packers fans and the state of Wisconsin, which means he had to understand how it went over after he (A) signed with an NFC North team two months ago; (B) dialed up the finger-pointing and fist-pumping during Monday's Pack-Vikes game so egregiously that even his biggest fan fron Green Bay couldn't defend him; and (C) gave that self-satisfied postgame interview in which he never said anything like, "I just wanted to say hi to everyone back in Wisconsin and tell them that this was as strange for me as it probably was for you, but I want you to know that it was just one game -- a game that I wanted to win because I'm a competitor and I love my teammates, but still, none of this changes the fact that I love you guys and I always will." That's it. That's all he had to say to Michele Tafoya after the game.

He didn't say it.

And believe me, I've been there as a fan. It's unforgivable. Especially when you're under 30 and don't realize that many of your "heroes" are people who don't deserve that level of worship, or any worship, for that matter. They just play sports well. They don't care about you. They care about themselves and that's it. If this realization hits you at the wrong time in your life, it can be hard. (I know it was hard for me. I took the Clemens thing personally, as witnessed by the fact that I once wrote a column wondering if he was the Antichrist.) So if the Packers fans want to play along, so to speak, then they can't cheer Favre on Nov. 1. He set the stakes. He made it clear that he's moved on with his new team and cut all ties to the old one. That means you need to go to Lambeau and boo the living hell out of him. Make him miserable. Rattle him. Flummox him. Do everything you can to get the better of him for three hours. This man does not belong to you anymore, and maybe, he never did.

And on that somber note, let's bang out the Week 5 quick picks.

(Home teams in caps)

Vikings (-10) over RAMS
Crazy stat: The Vikings average more points (29.5) than St. Louis has scored in all four games (24). And aren't we overdue for an Adrian Peterson "I'm Going To Win You This Week Single-handedly" Fantasy Week? They can't make this line high enough.

CHIEFS (+8) over Cowboys
Chiefs coach Todd Haley after last week's loss to the Giants: "We finished the first quarter of the season 0-4. But that's over. That's done. We are now 0-0 and Dallas is coming to town." Actually, you're 0-4. On the other hand, why does everyone think Dallas is good? What am I missing?

Redskins (+3.5) over PANTHERS
"Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

"BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

"BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

Bucs (+15) over EAGLES
After last Friday's column, just enough USD grads sent me "Don't sleep on Josh Johnson, that guy is gonna surprise everyone!" e-mails that I regretted my Redskins pick last Sunday. Not only did the Bucs end up covering, but Josh ended up making my Reverse Reggie Cleveland All-Star Team (for athletes whose names/situations make you think they're white when they're actually black). Big day for me and Josh. I thought we'd keep it going. Also, this has "Moral Defeat" written all over it for the Eagles.

Bengals (+8.5) over RAVENS
Four straight Bengals nail-biters and Gus Johnson announcing Week 5? Do I need to spell this out for you?

GIANTS (-15) over Raiders
Forgot one of my favorite rules last week: Never back a team with a head coach who could get fired any day soon if and when he's arrested for punching out an assistant coach. By the way, they need to make "Zodiac 2" about all the fantasy owners that Darren McFadden murdered these past two years. It's unbelievable. Not even a hint of a fun moment. I would pick Rae Carruth before I picked Darren McFadden again.

Steelers (-10.5) over LIONS
It's always fun when someone gets benched as a lesson one week (in this case, Rashard Mendenhall), then leaves a trail of butts the next week. I like to know that dopey motivational ploys can still work for coaches in this day and age. It makes me happy.

Browns (+6) over BILLS
One of my two Underdog Locks of the Week: Cleveland 24, Buffalo 13. Hey, how 'bout some dude on the Browns named Massaquoi slapping up a monster fantasy day in Week 4, followed by millions putting in a Week 5 waiver request without knowing how to spell his name, or even what his first name is. Love when that happens. He should just drop his first name and go by "Massaquoi." And by the way, when you're saying the words, "Man, I hope I get Massaquoi" (like I did last night), and it's Week 5, it's probably not a good sign for your fantasy year.

(By the way, I enjoyed the Dick Jauron era.)

NINERS (-2.5) over Falcons
Strangest line of the week. So strange that it makes me nervous. You get 3 points for being at home. I believe San Francisco is slightly better than Atlanta; at the very least, it's dead even. So why 2.5 and not 3? I feel like Jimmy Conway is pointing me down a sidewalk telling me, "Just a little further ... no no, keep going ..." My heart is pounding. Let's just move on.

SEAHAWKS (pk) over Jags
Not ready to write off Seattle yet and not sold on the Hyphens.

BRONCOS (+3.5) over Patriots
Man, I hate going against old assistant coaches who know every single bad thing about every guy on their old roster. Think of it this way: Let's say you date a girl for two years. You break up. A few weeks later, if you knew someone who was going on a date with her, couldn't you tell that person every single thing good and bad about her? And if you wanted to mentally destroy her, couldn't you prepare the new guy to hone in on her nine weakest spots over that three hours? Stuff like, "When she mentions her golden retriever, tell her that your aunt used to breed goldens for a living and it's the most inbred dog. She's really sensitive about that." You could break her down pretty easily, right? Well ...

Texans (+5.5) over CARDS
The second "Underdog Lock of the Week," as well as the "Whichever Team Wins Will Now Have To Be Taken Seriously As a Possible Playoff Team That We All Know Won't End Up Doing Anything" Bowl. Texans 30, Cards 27.

Colts (-3.5) over TITANS
My favorite pick of the week for two reasons. First, Peyton Manning seems especially juiced by this year's Colts team. I think it's partly because he's happy to be healthy again (remember, he was coming off knee surgery last year); partly because Tony Dungy is gone (so he has a bigger leadership responsibility); and partly because he's fired up about the young guys (Pierre Garcon, Donald Brown, etc.) and just likes playing with them. There's a hop in his step and you can't tell me differently. Second, the Titans stink. Time to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt.

DOLPHINS (+1.5) over Jets
As much as I worry about the Jets' defense whipping up a batch of Henne Parmigiana, here's the reality: This is a really good matchup for Miami. You will see.

As for the Braylon Edwards trade, here was my gut reaction on Twitter: "Braylon Edwards is going to go over in NYC about as well as a 50-foot Dustin Pedroia statue." I stand by it, but the reaction from readers was better: A number of you pointed out the irony of Edwards getting shipped out of town two days after socking one of LeBron's friends, with the implication being, "Even the other Cleveland teams are trying to keep LeBron happy." And it's true. We are all witnesses.

LAST WEEK: 5-9
UNDERDOG LOCK: 2-2
SEASON: 39-23

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos and more, check out Sports Guy's World. His new book, "The Book of Basketball," will be released on Oct. 27.

Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.