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Friday, September 1, 2006
Updated: October 13, 11:46 AM ET
Sports Guy seal of approval

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

With summer winding down, I couldn't resist the chance to pass along some recommendations that affected my life to various degrees over the past three months. In no particular order …

1. Andre Agassi's Last Stand
I don't care about tennis anymore. Haven't in some time, actually. But few sports scenarios are more reliably electrifying then the whole "aging American star makes one last run at Flushing Meadows" thing, as they're battling for their life against some no-name gunslinger -- usually a seeded foreign player who looks like he spends afternoons belittling ballboys, hitting on other players' wives and using the Miami Vice razor to shave his closely cropped stubble. The crowd galvanizes behind our hero from the first point, and the match almost always goes five sets, and the tennis is just breathtaking enough that it makes you wonder, "Hey, why don't I watch tennis more often?" (until you realize that these scenarios only come along every five or six years). And there's always a point when they show the clock and the announcer says, "Just past midnight here at Flushing Meadows," and then it absolutely looks like our hero might lose, at least until the raucous crowd rallies one more time and carries the good guy to victory. And the whole thing is so freaking glorious, it makes you remember why you started following sports in the first place.

Andre Agassi
Agassi's emotional five-set victory over Marcos Baghdatis was one of the sports highlights of the year.

Well, I love this scenario. And it's happened only four times in my lifetime: Connors, McEnroe, Sampras and, now, Agassi.

The thing is, I never really liked Agassi. Always thought he was a little contrived. Now I'm pulling for him like a family member. It's the old Kareem Corollary -- if they hang around long enough, no matter who they are, they're eventually going to sucker you into rooting for them. In Agassi's case, he kept a low profile over the past few years, said and did all the right things, even married the likable Steffi Graf, and I find myself feeling sad that he's stepping away, more because this particular scenario probably won't happen again for some time. Ten years from now, when Roger Federer is playing this role (even as a Swiss player), I'm not going to care. Same for Andy Roddick, the homeless man's Agassi whose career peaked off the tennis court when he hosted "SNL" and dated Mandy Moore. So this is the end of an era in more ways than one -- the last famous American tennis star, the last Connors-like scenario at Flushing Meadows, and in all probability, the last time I'll probably care about a tennis match.

For now? I care. Agassi plays some qualifier named Benjamin Becker this weekend, followed by a potential fourth-round match against Roddick (of all people). And if either of these matches is even remotely like the last two Agassi matches, I'm telling you, adjust your plans accordingly and find a TV set. We're only eight months into 2006, but this has been the sports highlight of the year so far. At least for me.

2. "How Soccer Explains the World"
When I made my plunge into the Premier League last month, people kept telling me to read Franklin Foer's book and I finally succumbed. It's well worth the time. It's like "Freakonomics" and "Blink," one of those mainstream intellectual books for dummies like us. You learn some stuff, you feel smart after you're done, and then you can impress people at dinner one night by bringing up anecdotes from the book. This one raised my IQ by about four points ... well, for about three days, until a Wednesday night when I watched "Rock Star" and "Laguna Beach" back to back, followed by an all-gay episode of "Next" that ended with a medieval joust.

(One other summer book I enjoyed, although I'm not entirely sure I can recommend: "The Man Who Heard Voices," Michael Bamberger's bizarre account of M. Night Shyamalan's break with Disney and how his recent bomb "Lady In The Water" was made. This was one of the five weirdest books I've ever read -- it's impossible to tell whether Bamberger was corrupted by M. Night and truly believed that the man had special powers, or everything he wrote was an elaborate ruse to make M. Night look like a raving lunatic. Maybe it was a little of both. But remember when Dirk Diggler is filming the documentary for Amber Waves, and he's just so full of himself and making all these crazy self-absorbed statements, only nobody's calling him on it? This entire book is like that. Needless to say, I loved it.)

3. Amazon Prime
My friend Daniel told me about this and I didn't believe him, it sounded too far-fetched. But it's true. For $80 a year, Amazon Prime gives you free two-day shipping on everything you order. And not just that, you can sign up three family members to share your membership with you. Plus, you don't have to stock your Amazon orders so that everything adds up to more than $25 for the free two-day shipping anymore, and you don't have to worry about orders backing up around Christmas when you're shopping for gifts. And they'll send ANYTHING to you in two days. Doesn't matter. Could even be a bargain book that costs $4.99. Definitely investigate it if you're an online shopper -- it was my top summer purchase other than a Sony DVD/VCR combo machine that converts tapes to DVDs and allowed me to make a homemade "Larry Sanders" DVD collection. I couldn't be prouder. Come on, you're a little jealous. Admit it.

(While we're here, two Amazon bargain books that I thoroughly enjoyed: "Disney War," by James Stewart, and Buster Olney's "Last Days of the Yankees Dynasty." Combined total: About $12. Pretty good deal.)

4. "Two-A-Days"
MTV pushed this show as "Laguna Beach meets Varsity Blues." Um, like I wasn't going to watch that? Star football players juggling multiple girlfriends, overbearing stepfathers and coaches, scrubs puking in 110-degree heat, overcompetitive/buxom/semi-desperate cheerleaders ... what's not to like? Haven't we been pushing for this show for five years?

Instead of a Texas school, they picked Alabama's Hoover High to follow for the season -- seemingly a strange choice until we find out that its stadium seats 20,000 people, and the program has enough money that the head coach can decide before a big game, "everyone's staying in a hotel tonight, I don't want any distractions." And the results are good enough that my buddy Bish took a 10-minute break from work just to discuss the first episode last week. Poor Bish played QB for our tiny prep school in Connecticut, then parlayed that into four more football years at a NESCAC school in New England. ... Let's just say that he feels some remorse watching a show like this, especially the part when the Southern belles painted their favorite player's uniform number on their bodies before the first home game. I think he sobbed himself to sleep after the first show. Life just isn't fair.

5. Jeff Pearlman's book about Barry Bonds
You know where I stand on Bonds: Like most people, I want less of him in my life. That's why I never watched the Bonds reality show. (As the ratings proved, I wasn't alone.) And after plowing through "Game of Shadows," a well-reported magazine feature disguised as a 300-page book, I certainly didn't intend on subjecting myself to another Bonds hardcover. But back in June, I was going on a cross-country flight and needed something to read. Someone had sent me Pearlman's "Love Me, Hate Me" in the mail a few days before, so I threw it in my bag with a couple others. We took off, I pulled out the book ... and by the time we landed, I was done.

It's a riveting book for a couple of reasons: First, Pearlman interviewed more than 500 people for it, so there's a wealth of information that I just hadn't read before. Second, Bonds does make for a fascinating biography subject -- more interesting than Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente, actually ... and, yes, I read both of those books, too -- because he was the son of a famous athlete; he always has been something of a prodigy; his playoff travails in Pittsburgh were much more extensive than I remembered; and everyone seems to agree that he's one of the biggest a-holes in sports history (and that's before we even get to everything that happened from 1998 on). I realized during the book that I didn't know that much about Bonds at all, and that he was infinitely worse than I realized. So that was eye-opening. And third, I thought Pearlman did a nice job writing this thing; he's not Richard Ben Cramer or anything, but he keeps things moving and does a nice job letting the facts/quotes/stories/anecdotes hang Bonds while keeping a detached perspective. No small feat.

Hey, you're tired of Bonds. I know. Believe me, I am, too. But this was a good book. It's worth reading.

Dear Mr. Fantasy
I mentioned in last week's mailbag that I wasn't giving fantasy football picks this year, followed by a collective guilt trip from readers over the next few days. Well, you swayed me. I'll sacrifice the future of my fantasy teams for you, the home reader. Don't say I don't love you.

SLEEPERS
1. Laurence Maroney (remember, I gave you Papelbon)
2. D'Angelo Williams
3. Matt Jones
4. Kellen Winslow Jr.
5. Michael Koenan
6. Joseph Addai
7. Randy McMichael
8. Wali Lundy

LATE-ROUND SLEEPERS
1. Jerious Norwood
2. Greg Jennings
3. Clarence Moore
4. Ronald Curry
5. T.J. Duckett

STAYAWAYS
1. Terrell Owens
2. Steve McNair
3. Lamont Jordan
4. Donte' Stallworth
5. Tony Gonzalez
6. Michael Vick
7. Everyone on the Jets
8. Roy Williams
9. Shaun Alexander (in top-2)
10. Clinton Portis (in top-15)

MAKING THE LEAP
1. Willis McGahee
2. Ben Watson
3. Chris Chambers
4. Willie Parker
5. Marvin Harrison (as the top WR again)
6. Ronnie Brown
7. Kevin Curtis

BETTER THAN PEOPLE THINK
1. Drew Brees
2. Donald Driver
3. Muhsin Muhammad
4. Chris Simms
5. Deion Branch
6. Dallas D
7. Jon Kitna
8. Carson Palmer

WORSE THAN PEOPLE THINK
1. Shaun Alexander (not top-2)
2. Steve Smith (not top-12)
3. Anquan Boldin
4. Santana Moss
5. Duante Culpepper
6. Eli Manning
7. Deuce McAllister
8. Reggie Brown
9. Trent Green
10. Drew Bledsoe
6. Brian Baldinger's right pinky
My buddy Gallo pointed this out to me a few weeks ago, well before he became known across America for wearing crotch-hugging shorts at Lambeau Field: When you watch the (completely fantastic and invaluable) NFL Network, look out for Baldinger's mutant pinky finger, which apparently was destroyed in a facemask, tripled in size, and now dangles off his right hand like ... um ... well, it looks like it should be dangling in front of a urinal. Even better, he talks with his hands all the time, so the mutant pinky comes flying just when you're least expecting it, and if you're watching it in HDTV after a few drinks, it can be mildly terrifying.

Look, I'm not asking ESPN to produce a "Top Five Reasons You Can't Blame Brian Baldinger's Pinky for Looking Like a Schlong" show, but there has to be a good story behind this, right? How did it happen? Did Refrigerator Perry try to gnaw it off in a pile? Did Baldinger ever think about pulling a Ronnie Lott and chopping it off? Would it regenerate itself like the bad guy's body parts in "Terminator 2"? I need answers. Just keep an eye out for that pinky. Your life will never be the same.

7. Buster Olney's ESPN.com baseball blog
I just feel like this represents everything the Web should be -- a knowledgeable baseball guy finding me every relevant link each morning, then sprinkling in his own analysis and opinion when warranted. It's my first stop every morning. And yes, I've mentioned it before. But it's worth mentioning again. Here are three other information blogs that I visit every day:

TVTattle.com -- All the relevant daily TV links.

Hoops Hype Rumors -- All the relevant daily NBA links.

USA Today's PopCandy -- All the relevant daily pop culture links.

(As you can tell, I like to keep my Web surfing relatively simple: Give me links, give me information and save me the time of finding stuff myself. That's all I need.)

8. Madden NFL 07
Any product that brought so much joy over the years should always be supported and praised, even if the editions aren't REALLY that different from year to year with the exception of the player ratings. But if you don't end up getting it, you feel like a schmuck, and the companies feel such a pressure to make the game different every year, they end up adding features that don't work (like the "Superstar" feature from last year's Madden's game, which was a colossal waste of time, or this year's new kicking button, which sucks). This year's game didn't play much differently than last year's game, save for the ability to be the lead blocker on running plays (mildly enjoyable) and some slight tweaks (new music, easier online play, moves a little faster, etc.). But the new player ratings and updated rosters make everything worth it. As always.

They threw us one major bone by sticking Az Hakim and his 99 kick-return rating on the free-agent wire; you can land him for chump's change. That was thoughtful. I also enjoyed the ability to sign a washed-up Video Junior Seau for the linebacker-depleted Patriots, which unfolded just like it did in real life. And I'm almost excited for the Video Laurence Maroney Era as I am for the actual Laurence Maroney Era. Still, I wish they would solicit opinions from their users and incorporate them into the games, kinda like how producers from New Line re-wrote "Snakes on a Plane" with the input from bloggers.

For instance, I want the option to fake moon Lambeau fans any time I score a TD in Lambeau Field, followed by Al Michaels channeling Joe Buck and screaming, "That is a disgusting act. ... It's unfortunate that we had that on our air live, that's a disgusting act!" And I want to hit guys after the whistle is blown -- they took that option away about 10 years ago and I never understood why. (Remember the year when you could knock someone out for the game after the whistle by cracking his leg, followed by Summerall saying, "Oh, no, there's a man down!" Those were the days.) I want players to miss games for reasons like, "Suspended for four games, hitting a police horse" and "Out for the year, caught with 50 pounds of marijuana in his car." And they should have multiple options for Madden's partner during the games, from Summerall to Al Michaels to Marv Albert to Flava Flav. Would you rather play a game with Al Michaels announcing ... or Flava Flav? I thought so. They really need to create a Madden Advisory Committee. And obviously, I couldn't be more available.

9. David Foster Wallace
My vote for "most talented non-fiction writer of the past decade." There's just nobody quite like him. We're bringing him up for two reasons. First, his new book of essays "Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays" includes one of my favorite Wallace pieces, his epic 1998 field trip to the Adult Video News Awards where he skewers everyone and everything. Even if you're just skimming through it in a bookstore, take 20 minutes to read that one. And second, with apologies to Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker profile of the Dog Whisperer, Wallace's recent profile of Federer in the New York Times' Play Magazine was the single best thing I've read all year (sadly, the online version doesn't include the footnotes). Check it out if you have the time.

10. Kicking & Screaming
One of my top 20 favorite movies of all-time ... and it's finally out on a Criteron DVD, no less! Yes, that deserved an exclamation point. Everyone mistakenly believes that "Singles" and "Reality Bites" were the defining Gen X movies, and maybe they were to some degree (especially the music). But "Kicking & Screaming" was the best Gen X movie -- by far, actually -- and unlike the other two, it still holds up. The only reason the DVD happened was because it's Noah Baumbach's first movie and he made a big splash with "The Squid and The Whale" last year.

A couple of additional notes:

A. I will never understand why Josh Hamilton didn't become a bigger star; nobody else could have played Grover. It's the kind of part Ben Affleck or Dermot Mulroney would have just botched to smithereens back in the day.

B. What if I told you that Ari's wife from Entourage gets naked in this movie? Is that something you might be interested in?

C. This isn't just the best movie to capture that weird year after college when nobody knows what they're doing with their life, as far as I can ascertain, it's the ONLY movie like that.

D. The fact that some people confuse this movie with the insufferable Will Ferrell soccer comedy from last year genuinely injures my soul.

11. iMixes
You know how random people make those mixes on iTunes, and sometimes you can find one where they like most of the music you like, and it's almost like finding an imaginary music buddy? I find 90 percent of my downloads this way. Well, I want to be one of those people for some of you. Call it an early Christmas gift. One catch: In my opinion, any iMix of songs should (A) be able to be burned on a single blank CD, meaning 80 minutes or less of music; (B) have an overall theme (I picked some of my favorite songs from 2005 and '06); and (C) not include the same artist more than once, unless it's a collection of songs from that artist. Anything else means you copped out and couldn't make up your mind.

Here's what I came up with: Sports Guy 2006. (Note: you need to have iTunes installed on your computer to see the complete list. If not, tough noogies.) And yes, I'm excited for snobby music bloggers to rip me to shreds because I included The Bravery and Louis XIV. I don't care. Mock me all you want.

12. "Fan Zone" on FSC
So I've been slowly getting into the English soccer thing, although I might have picked a lemon -- a struggling Spurs team that just got shut out by an Everton team that played a man down for most of the game. Er, match. (Note: One thing I've enjoyed about soccer is that the British announcers will absolutely kill a team that's underperforming, and they'll do it in the most condescending, disgusted way possible. All the announcers sound like the guy who feuded with Rob Lowe in "Oxford Blues." It's pretty funny. These guys were killing the Spurs on Saturday. Er, Spurs.) Now I'm suffering from buyer's envy and wishing that I picked Man City, who have the coolest uniforms and stunned Arsenal last weekend with the winning goal coming off an iffy penalty-kick call. Soccer really needs to figure that out. Imagine watching the Mavs-Heat in the NBA Finals if Miami won a game because one of the fouls on Dwyane Wade was worth 35 free throws. That would have been even more ridiculous than what actually ended up happening.

Anyway, there's this show on Fox's all-soccer channel called "Fan Zone," where two rowdy British fans announce one of the games and openly cheer for their teams. It's kind of like watching a White Sox telecast, only if Hawk Harrelson had a British accent and sounded drunk. But it's spectacular. Now I'm wondering why we don't do this in the United States. For instance, let's say the Yankees and Red Sox were playing on ESPN2 with the normal announcers, and we were also showing the game on ESPN6 with me and my buddy JackO (a huge Yankee fan) announcing, and both of us were openly drinking during the game, screaming for our teams and busting each other. Which telecast would you watch? Yeah, I thought so. Let's make this happen.

(One more note on this: Why do British people have the best television ideas? We're always ripping them off about four years after they came up with a great idea. With all the webcasts out there, as well as league-owned networks like NBA TV and the NFL Network, why couldn't we have the option of listening to multiple announcers for a game? What's the obstacle here? And couldn't you have a contest to find the announcers? For God's sake, a kajillion people turn up for the "American Idol" tryouts ... you don't think tens of thousands of sports nuts would kill themselves for the chance to announce pro games? I can't believe this hasn't happened yet.)

Sports Guy FYI
Every couple of weeks, I appear on Adam Carolla's morning radio show for a segment called "Basic Cable Classics," where we break down the most watchably ridiculous movies of the last 25 years.

So far we've done "Con Air" and "Face Off" -- you can hear the MPEG's on this page.

Also, they're having a poll to pick the next movie on the main page of Adam's radio site.

So there you go.

13. "Once In A Lifetime"
Yup, it's the NY Cosmos documentary that Michael Davies mentioned 35,000 times when he was covering the World Cup for us. And you know what? It's fantastic. I always hesitate pimping ESPN programs, for obvious reasons ... but this was engaging and well-done, and even better, it's about a fairly unfamiliar subject.

I vaguely remember when Pele joined the NASL in the mid-'70s and the league took off, and I have a hazy memory of hitting a New England Tea Men game with Dad where it rained at halftime. But I didn't know anything about how Pele was signed (it would be the equivalent of an MLS team signing Ronaldo for $150 million today, only if Ronaldo was 20 times more popular around the world), or how short-sighted the league's expansion plan was (even dumber than the NHL's plan), or how quickly Giorgio Chinaglia ran the Cosmos into the ground. Plus, for about two or three years there, the Cosmos were legitimately cool. Even sold out the Meadowlands and made the rounds at Studio 54. This happened.

One present-day bonus: Chinaglia is comically loathsome in his interview for the movie; he's like one of the Greek villains from the second season of "The Wire." I could have watched an entire show just about him. You also can't go wrong with a documentary that includes tons of Pele footage, even if (A) he didn't participate because the producers balked at his $100,000 asking price, and (B) they didn't include any of his "Victory" scenes. I'm telling you, you don't need to like soccer to enjoy it. Look for it on Sept. 20 when it premieres on ESPN; it's as good as the Telfair documentary a few months ago. I'm just happy that the Worldwide Leader is finally challenging HBO's monopoly on quality sports documentaries. The more the merrier.

14. WWE DVDs
Somehow I landed on the WWE's DVD mailing list a few months ago. Every 10 days or so, a Fed Ex envelope shows up with another DVD, followed by the Sports Gal grumbling, "Oh, no, it's from the WWE. I'm throwing it out," then me acting cool and pretending there's no way I would ever watch it ... then, as soon as she's not looking, I race off to watch it. Most of them are serviceable, some of them are terrible (like the unwatchable one about "Degeneration X"), but four recent ones are worth renting if you cared about wrestling at any point over the past 25 years: the ones about Hitman Hart (hysterically bitter and full of himself) and Dusty Rhodes (whose body will make you happy that the Steroids Era happened), the "Greatest Managers" DVD (I'm ashamed to admit how much I enjoyed this one), and the three-disc history of the WWE belt (my personal favorite because it contains more than eight hours of title matches).

Truth be told, I'm against these DVDs because they remind me that Vince McMahon chooses to make money this way over forming the all-wrestling channel that should have happened years ago. Since the WWE owns the rights to just about every relevant match now, this really shouldn't be hard to pull off. Heck, the MSG network showed old matches from the '80s on Wednesday nights this summer (I probably received 200 e-mails from delighted wrestling fans alerting me about it). Just give us a network. For God's sake. Throw us a bone. Like some of you wouldn't check the Wrestling Channel 10 times a day to see what they were showing?

But here's the real reason I bring this up: Why haven't they made an Andre the Giant DVD yet? Not to keep banging home the sports documentary thing, but here's my dream list of subjects that haven't been done properly yet: the Ali-Frazier feud; Mike Tyson (I want ESPN to have Tyson Week, kinda like Shark Week); Andre the Giant; the '86 Celtics; Gooden and Strawberry; the '92 Dream Team; and Evel Knievel. Those are all home run topics ... especially Andre, the one wrestler who could never be recreated or duplicated, the Eighth Wonder of the World, someone who touched the lives of everyone he ever met. Screw the footage; you could make a two-hour documentary just of people telling Andre stories. He was that memorable. I don't care whether it's the WWE, ESPN, HBO, whoever ... somebody needs to make an Andre documentary. I don't ask for much.

(ADDENDUM: After we posted this column, a wave of e-mailers pointed out that A&E made an excellent "Biography" about Andre that was very well-received. Somehow I missed it. Also, the WWE released an Andre DVD with some of his best matches a few years ago, but there's no documentary and everyone seems to agree that it's pretty mundane. They need to do it right.)

15. "The City Game," by Pete Axthelm
One of my favorite sports books, as well as one of the books I try to read every two or three years to remember why I decided to do this for a living. Axthelm takes the 1970 Knicks (who won the title that year and electrified the city with their team play) and contrasts them with everything that was happening in the local schoolyard scene (where guys like "Goat" and "Helicopter" were heroes just like Clyde Frazier and Bill Bradley). Hard concept to explain, but Ax pulls it off, and it's one of the few books that fully captures what a sport can mean to a city. "City Game" also laid the groundwork for four decades of successful first-person sports books (like "Heaven Is A Playground," "Season on the Brink" and "Friday Night Lights"), where a writer throws himself into a sports-related mini-universe and tries to make sense of it. Way ahead of its time.

More importantly, because the Isiah Thomas Era has been such a punch line over the past four years, it's easy to forget that he's doing something much more sinister than simply destroying the Knicks: he's killing professional basketball in one of the few cities where the sport truly resonates. All summer I've had Knicks fans e-mailing me, wondering if it's OK to root against them so Isiah gets fired and finally goes away. It's tragic. They are completely devoid of hope.

So if you're a Knicks fan and that last paragraph meant anything to you, grab this book to remember life when your team still meant something.

16. The "Apache" video
After I posted my YouTube column back in June, a few readers were outraged that I didn't include the Tommy Seebach Band's video for "Apache," which I had never seen before and have now watched about 375 times in the past 12 weeks. It's fantastic. It's epic. It's otherworldly. I never thought Journey's "Separate Ways" video could be topped, but "Apache" simply blows it away. I can't even calibrate it for the Unintentional Comedy Scale because it's impossible to believe that everyone involved was serious, but since the video was filmed in the late-'70s, when things like this consistently happened, we have to assume that, yes, everyone in the video was serious. And if that's true, then I'm giving this a 119 out of 100 on the UC Scale.

(Note: There's an excellent chance that you will watch this three times in a row, then find yourself unable to get the chorus out of your head for about 72 hours. Know this going in.)

17. "The Wire"
Readers kept telling me to watch this show. They implored me. They kept e-mailing me. They badgered me. I didn't listen. As I've described multiple times in this space, I hate being told that I should watch a show; I like discovering them at my own speed. And if it made me three or four years late for the party with classics like "The Sopranos" and "24," so be it. It's just that I can't willingly jump onto a show; it needs to happen organically.

For instance, here's what happened with "The Wire:" On a Tuesday night in mid-August, the Sports Gal and I were home with nothing to watch and ending up stumbling onto "The Wire Re-Up" button on HBO On Demand. I'd been avoiding this show for four years because the Baltimore drug scene didn't appeal to me unless Raffie Palmeiro and Miggy Tejada were involved. But the Sports Gal was the one who said, "Let's watch the first show of 'The Wire' and see if we like it."

Within 10 minutes, we were hooked. We ended up banging out three episodes the first night and another three the second night. Then our cable system switched to a new provider ... and all the Season 1 episodes disappeared into thin air. Now we were scrambling. None of the video stores around us had Season 1 in stock. I ended up ordering Season 1 online (two-day delivery courtesy of Amazon Prime), but we were so hooked on the show that when someone returned Season 1 to our video store, we rented the last three discs that same night. We banged out the last seven episodes in two nights before the DVD was even delivered. That's how hooked we were.

I'll go this far: I'd put Season 1 of "The Wire" against anything. The first three seasons of "The Sopranos." Seasons 1 or 2 of "24." The first seasons of "NYPD Blue," "ER" or "Miami Vice." You name it. I have never seen a show like it. Season 2 wasn't as good (if Season 1 was an A-plus-plus-plus, then Season 2 was a B-plus), and we're just about to dive into Season 3, so I don't have an opinion on that yet. Everyone seems to agree that they outdid themselves with Season 4 and that it's a legitimate masterpiece. Just know that you can absolutely start watching Season 4 without having seen the other three seasons. It's not an ideal way to break into the show, but you can do it.

Without giving too much away, four more things you need to know:

A. Before I started watching "The Wire," my four favorite TV/movie detectives of all-time were Sonny Crockett ("Miami Vice"); Jack Cates ("48 Hrs."); Johnny Kelly ("NYPD Blue"); and Nick Curran (Michael Douglas' character in "Basic Instinct"), who couldn't break away from Sharon Stone even though he knew that every time she climbed on top during sex, there was a 50 percent chance she might ram an ice pick into his chest. But Jimmy McNulty in "The Wire" (played by Dominic West) ... he might end up beating them all before everything's said and done. He might have even moved to No. 1 during the scene in Season 2 when they raid a brothel and he ends up in a threesome before the rest of the cops arrive. Not even Sonny Crockett would have done that.

B. I love any show with a slew of mostly no-name actors that bang their roles out of the park, although it was weird to see one of the leads from "Remember the Titans" playing drug lord Avon Barksdale. With that said, Alonzo Mourning gives an inspired performance as Stringer Bell (Avon's manipulative consigliere). Maybe the best athlete/Hollywood crossover since Kareem in "Airplane."

(Wait, that's not Alonzo Mourning? Are we positive?)

C. In an attempt to be gritty, they didn't cast any of those Angie Harmon/Jill Hennessey types who always seem unrealistically cute for a drug/crime show set in a place like Baltimore. And since the actresses on the show are average-looking down the line, guess what happens? It's like the Lambeau parking lot, any press box or any NESCAC keg party ... the females who do appear on this show end up seeming disproportionately hot by about the fifth episode. Absolutely bizarre. I love when this happens.

D. Omar might be my favorite HBO villain since Adebici. And that's saying something.

Anyway, I can't believe I didn't watch this show sooner. It enrages me. I'm not doing the "YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS SHOW OR YOUR WHOLE LIFE WILL BE INCOMPLETE!" routine, because that might scare you away. Just know that it's one of the five greatest shows I've ever seen. And I hope you stumble across it some day.

Organically, of course.

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.