Friday, October 12, 2007
Updated: October 13, 2:49 PM ET
Magical times in Beantown
By Bill Simmons
Every day, I wake up with the same look on my face that George Clooney has when he awakens in his gorgeous Italian villa next to some supermodel, looks around, gathers his bearings, checks out the beauty next to him, smells his own morning breath and thinks to himself, "Oh, yeah, I'm George Clooney." My three favorite teams (the Pats, Red Sox and Celts) have odds of 7-to-5, 6-to-5 and 7-to-1 to win their respective championships. It's an embarrassment of riches. I'm embarrassed. Any Boston sports fan in 2007 feels vindicated as hell (for keeping the faith for 15 unhappy years from October '86 to October '01) and lucky as hell (for everything that's happened since).
And it can't possibly last. We know this. By nature, following a sports team will almost always end up being painful. After all, sports are cyclical -- in professional leagues with 30 teams or more, it's impossible for one team to stay on top for too long and only one team can win a championship every year. Everyone else has to lose. For every moment like the Colts rallying from 18 points down to topple the Patriots, there seem to be 20 moments like Buffalo blowing Monday night's potential monster upset over Dallas. That's the reason I've written a "Levels of Losing" column but never a "Levels of Winning" column. Losing hurts more than winning feels good, and a great loss happens more often than a great win. It's that simple.
So these past few years have been surreal for Boston fans: Three Super Bowl titles and a World Series title, the transformation of the Sox-Yankees feud into a full-fledged rivalry, and the evolution of the Patriots from a perennial black sheep to the undisputed villain of the NFL. Back in 1999, when the fortunes of our sports teams had sunk so low that Gerry Callahan dubbed Boston "Loserville," I would have happily settled for one contender to watch ... and I probably would have chopped off a pinky like Ronnie Lott to make it happen. Eight years later, we have three legitimate contenders. It's amazing.
Three weeks from now, there's a genuine chance that the Red Sox could be playing a deciding World Series game on Oct. 30, Oct. 31 or Nov. 1, followed by Kevin Garnett's home debut for the Celtics on Nov. 2, followed by a potential bloodbath between the undefeated Colts and Patriots on Nov. 4. If everything plays out that way (and that's a big "if"), that would have to be the craziest week for a single city in the history of sports, right? How could that ever be topped? A World Series appearance, followed by a famous NBA franchise debuting the Hall of Famer who's about to make them relevant again, followed by the most anticipated NFL regular-season game in 22 years? And this could all happen in a five- or six-day span?
(Note: In the irony of ironies, my second child is due right in the middle of this swirling storm of Boston sports craziness. You couldn't make this stuff up. I almost feel bad for him -- he's going to peak as a Boston fan before he even gets circumcised.)
Although the Sox could lose to the Indians, or the Pats could lose at any point before Week 9 ... the mere fact that this week-long stretch of monster Boston sports moments could happen is more incredible than anything. See, the best thing about following sports isn't the winning itself. It's everything that comes with the winning, namely, nationally televised games, extra playoff series to watch, extra phone calls and e-mails, extra tickets to try to get, and those mornings when you wake up and think, "Game day!!!!" (This explains why it's always slightly more agonizing when your team blows a conference championship -- they didn't just squander a chance to win the title, but you were so close to clinching another two-week stretch of being alive and everything that comes with it.) When the Celtics sucked for almost all of the past 14 years, it wasn't the losing as much as the meaninglessness of it all. The team wasn't going anywhere. Nothing was happening. Nobody cared. Nobody could stop what was happening. Every day was more lackluster than the last one.
Looking back, following the Celtics was almost like being in prison -- the experience made you so bored and disgruntled, you started talking yourself into strange things just to keep yourself interested, even if it was stuff like "That chef shot me a nasty look, I'm gonna shank him in the yard later" and "Maybe I'll climb into my roommate's bed tonight and see what happens." You almost become delusional. Just four months ago, I was steadfastly against the Celtics trading Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff's contract, the No. 5 pick and cap fodder for Kevin Garnett. Why? Because Jefferson was a gifted low-post scorer who had played maybe 35 good games in his entire career. That was good enough for me. Remember, I was in prison mode. I actually wrote the sentence, "Big Al gives us 85 percent of KG's stats at 1/10th of the price."
When the deal happened in a different form two months later, it took a while to fully dawn on me that they acquired one of the 30 greatest players ever, someone who legitimized the franchise and would be rejuvenated playing in a new city with better teammates. It started with his "Welcome to Boston" news conference, when everyone was taken aback by how he handled himself. The best word to describe KG is this one: "Famous." There's something inherently famous about him. It's like having your favorite team acquire Will Smith or Denzel Washington. A few other superstars possess this trait as well, but Garnett's height, looks and intensity push him over the top -- he's always the most intimidating, substantial guy in the room unless Shaq happens to be around.
(Note: KG is so intense, NBA TV should have a reality show just so we could see him doing everyday things like buying clothes or pumping gas. A friend of mine watched a Pats game in the same suite as KG and reported that Garnett got so wound up during the game that he'd stand up every time Randy Moss was being single covered and start muttering, "Here we go ... here we go ..." Multiple people have described being in the same room with him when he gets like that as "being in the same room with a force of nature." Sounds like someone you'd want on your basketball team, right?)
Once the KG deal happened, everything else fell in line. Quality veterans started taking discounts to play in Boston, which hadn't happened since Larry Bird was playing. The entire roster was scrimmaging in Waltham (where the team's practice facility is located) before the Patriots' season had even started. Garnett played the first two exhibition games like they were Game 7 of the NBA Finals, screaming after dunks, diving for loose balls, making perfect decisions on every double team, even standing on the bench to holler crunch-time instructions to the likes of Gabe Pruitt and Dahntay Jones. Everything about this team has been transformed. You can see it. Guys are hugging before the opening tap, cheerleading during games, making extra passes and everything else. They even have a mantra for the season, the African phrase "ubundu" that means unity. Doc Rivers came up with it, which was great, although I wish he'd also come up with a plan to defend the high screen. Regardless, this team is loaded with ubundu.
And maybe they can't win the title with the Ceatles (KG's temporary nickname for himself, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, which definitely needs some work), at least not until next year, once they find a better point guard and a better coach. But they'll definitely contend, play hard every night, pull for one another and be entertaining and, really, that's all you can ask for from your favorite NBA team. I don't care about another title nearly as much as I care that I'm going to enjoy watching the Celtics again.
Which brings me back to my original point. If you're a fan of the Boston teams, you feel blessed. That's the best way to put it. Blessed. You get to watch three championship contenders. You get to watch Brady and Moss, Big Papi and Manny, KG and Pierce, Papelbon and Beckett, Ray Allen and Adalius Thomas. ... And if you have to endure a few Belichick/cheating jokes, so be it. Boston fans learned the hard way that these runs end abruptly. You're always one Cam Neely injury or Larry Bird back flare-up away from being irrelevant again, and you find yourself wishing you had enjoyed the good times more when they were happening.
This time around, I'm commemorating the moment. It's not every year that you get to wake up every day feeling like George Clooney. And if everything peaks over these next four weeks, so be it.
On to the NFL Week 6 picks ...
(Home teams in caps.)
CHIEFS (+3) over Bengals
THE WEEKLY POWER POLL
BRUCE COSLET DIVISION
32. St. Louis
30. New Orleans
29. Kansas City
27. San Francisco
24. New York Jets
THE ENIGMATIC ENIGMAS
16. Tampa Bay
11. Green Bay
9. New York Giants
THE SLEEPER DU'JOUR
7. San Diego
POSSIBLE DARK HORSES
1. New England
Couldn't agree more with this e-mail from Brandon in Philadelphia: "The key with your Obvious Game Theory isn't to go against the public, the key is to go WITH Vegas. For this week, the two biggest betting disparities on sports book's betting trends are the Pats (95 percent) and Cincy (90 percent). Vegas keeps moving the Pats' line hoping to even out the betting, but they haven't moved the Cincy-KC line even a half-point. That's the signal. Vegas is basically saying, 'We're taking KC and the public can take Cincy.' They don't want to take Dallas, but the Pats are that good that they can't get people to slow down unless they make the line insanely high. That's why it keeps moving. So you should change the rule so that, any time the public bets 80 percent one way and the line doesn't move, you should go the other way." Agreed.
(Intriguing subplot for this game: If the Bengals lose, I'm moving them into the Bruce Coslet Division of next week's Power Poll, only I'm keeping the Chiefs in there no matter what happens because they stink. If Cleveland loses at home to Miami and the Jets lose at home to Philly, unless Atlanta can somehow win on Monday night, that means an astonishing 11 teams will appear in the Coslet Division for Week 7. In other words, more than one-third of the league would fall into the "completely sucks" category. Amazing. But please, let's expand and add a 33rd team. That's a great idea.)
Texans (+6.5) over JAGUARS
Trap Game for the Jags -- they've won three straight and have a Monday night home game against the Colts next week. Hey, can't we create the Albert Haynesworth Award for the single worst moment of the season that made everyone think "Wow, this is a horribly violent sport that occasionally makes guys do horrible things" for about 25 seconds before going back to enjoying the game and forgetting that it's a horribly violent sport that occasionally makes guys do horrible things? Houston's Travis Johnson (the guy who taunted a concussed Trent Green) has to be the leading candidate for the 2007 Haynesworth Award right now. I was deeply discouraged by that clip for about 20 seconds before thinking, "Wait, does anyone have Cleo Lemon in my East Coast fantasy league?"
Dolphins (+4.5) over BROWNS
Speaking of Cleo, here he is! If we've learned one thing during the era of perpetual putridity, it's this: Always take the points when one bad team is favored by more than three points over another bad team. Meanwhile, I continue to be flabbergasted by Ronnie Brown's 2007 fantasy season (712 all-purpose yards and five TDs) and even more flabbergasted by the fact that if you did your fantasy draft over again in late-August knowing everything we know now, here's the top three:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson -- Despite the slow start, I still think he'd go first. You know it's been a bad year for him when I've received three different e-mails from readers suggesting that his new nickname should be "BLT" for "Baby LT" because he's always whining and complaining after losses.
2. Joseph Addai -- Answered every question about him before getting dinged up.
3. Ronnie Brown -- Notched ... (wait for it) ... 86 fantasy points in the past three weeks. With Trent Green and Cleo Lemon as his QBs! And, he pooped in the fridge and ate a whole wheel of cheese!
The next 12? Definitely Brady, Romo and Manning in some order. Then Moss and Carson Palmer. Then ... um ... I have no idea. Knowing what you know now, who would you take at No. 9 with BLT, Addai, Brown, Brady, Romo, Manning, Moss and Palmer off the board? Willie Parker on pace 1,600 rushing yards and three TDs? Willis McGahee on pace for zero TDs? Marion Barber? Chad Johnson? Steve Smith with David Carr throwing to him? Shaun Alexander moving like Tim Riggins after an all-night bender? Frank Gore stuck in an awful offense? A 38-year-old Brett Favre without a running game? You know who I'd take? Plaxico Burress. I swear to God. That's who I'd take. At least he's making big plays every week.
(Random question from Jon B. in Vernon Hills, Ill.: "If Trent Green is forced to retire, are his parents going to sue Cam Cameron for not teaching him how to block?")
Vikings (+5) over BEARS
Possible Upset Special here, even with Tarvaris Jackson on the road. By the way, I wondered two weeks ago if Brian Griese was the worst athlete who ever had his name chanted during a game. Shawn from Seattle has a story that can top it:
"During the early '90s, I attended my first NFL game while living in Arizona. The Cards were getting stomped as usual with Tom Tupa at the helm, the same guy who later became a punter because he was unable to handle the pressures of an NFL quarterback. To my surprise, the 6,000 or so Arizona fans at the game began to chant, 'Gelbaugh! Gelbaugh! Gelbaugh!' That's right, they were chanting for STAN GELBAUGH!!! Best of all, he was placed in the game and threw a 60-yard TD bomb on the next series."
I mean ... wow!!!! If you can top a story about a football stadium chanting for Stan Gelbaugh, by all means, please e-mail me.
JETS (+3.5) over Eagles
"Cle-mens! Cle-mens! Cle-mens! Cle-mens!"
Random gambling note No. 1: The AFC is 12-10 against the NFC this season and 12-9-1 against the spread, but this week should be a nice litmus test for the strengths of the conferences because of matchups between two elite teams (Pats and Cowboys), two above-average teams (Titans and Bucs) and two relatively lousy teams (Eagles and Jets). If the AFC runs the slate this week, we're shifting into "always back the AFC" mode for the rest of the season.
Random gambling note No. 2: One of the gambling sites has a "First coach fired in 2007?" prop bet. Norv Turner and Lovie Smith at the leading candidates at 4-to-1. John Fox is 5-to-1. Stunningly, the guy who seems like the best bet (Scott Linehan of the Rams, who lapsed into a coma about four weeks ago and might be presiding over a potential 0-16 team) is a bargain at 8-to-1. But here's the one that jumped out: Andy Reid at 6-to-1. The Eagles have looked sloppy and disjointed for the past three seasons; their head-scratching loss to the Giants two Sundays ago doubled as the single worst coaching performance of the season. If they blow this Jets game, they'll be 1-4 with home games against Chicago and Dallas and road games at Minnesota and Washington coming up. So let's say they're 3-7 heading into Week 12. Is Andy Reid still coaching this team? I say no.
Random gambling note No. 3: Chad Pennington's MVP odds right now are 75-to-1. You could add three zeroes after that 75 and they wouldn't be high enough.
Rams (+9.5) over RAVENS
Here's why I hate picking NFL games in the year 2007: Either way, you're an idiot. Take an 0-5 team with Gus Frerotte on the road and you're an idiot. Take the banged-up Ravens covering a huge spread with a ravaged offensive line when they've scored one TD in the past 10 quarters and you're an idiot. I hate this.
(Random e-mail from the St. Louis area last week from someone using the pseudonym "Scott Linehan": "When people bring up coaches on the hot seat, why am I never mentioned? I challenge bad plays, I obviously didn't prepare my team during training camp, I managed to completely demolish one of the greatest offenses in the NFL, I squandered Stephen Jackson until he got hurt, I hired Jim Haslett to run my defense, and I'm the closest thing to a corpse on the sidelines since Art Shell. Nobody ever thinks of me as being on the chopping block. What else do I have to do? What the hell?")
PACKERS (-3) over Washington
SPORTS GAL'S RANT
"Grey's Anatomy" could drop from my must-TiVo list any day now. I used to look forward to Thursday nights; now I look forward to "Friday Night Lights," "Gossip Girl," "Tell Me You Love Me" and "Californication." Grey's jumped the shark when T.R. Knight's dork character cheated on his overweight wife with blonde, beautiful, leggy Izzy -- that "relationship" is about as realistic as Spencer from "The Hills" getting a job. I'm also a tad fed up with the whole McDreamy/McSteamy thing. The usage of "Mc" for cute guys has been carried way too far. I read something this week that Seth Green was going to be on a future episode as a "sick guy" and the writer referred to him as "McSicky." McSicky? Let's stop before we have a McFatty and a McHairlip.
The big problem is that the show became too successful and we know too much about the cast now. I used to think McDreamy was hot until I found out he just had twins and his previous marriage was to a woman twice his age. T.M.I.!!! Can I just see pictures of him with his shirt off please? I liked McSteamy until I kept seeing him in Us Weekly with Dylan McKay's dead wife -- they creep me out, although not as much as Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott, who get my vote for "Creepiest Celebrity Couple" of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Also, the gay-bashing saga with Isaiah Washington overshadowed last season when Katherine Heigl (who plays Izzy) defended T.R.'s sexual preference and T.R. seemed so wounded by everything (I felt so bad for him). Now, we're supposed to be watching T.R. and Izzy have an affair? I know it's acting, but come on! Every time they have "sexual tension," I'm watching them and thinking about what a good friend Heigl was and how I wish I had my own dorky gay friend that I could defend against mean jerks like Isaiah Washington. Now I'm just McBored by the whole thing.
Here are my Week 6 picks: Cincy -3, Jags -6.5, Browns -4.5, Bears +3, Eagles -3.5, Rams +9.5, Tenn +3, GB -3, Zona -4.5, Oak +9.5, Seattle -6.5, NYG +3.5, Pats -5.5.
Last week: 5-9
The 2007 Packers' ride was all fun and games until everyone realized in the third quarter of the Bears game, "Wait, they can't run the ball, how the hell are they gonna protect this lead?" With that said ... Jason Campbell only getting three points in Lambeau against a good defense? Seems a little far-fetched.
Titans (+3) over BUCS
I don't love this Titans team -- you can't overstate how many different ways Atlanta blew last week's game against them -- but the Bucs might be this year's October mirage team. Their three wins came against New Orleans, St. Louis and a Carolina team with David Carr at QB. They lost at Seattle by 14 and at Indianapolis by 19. They lost their top two running backs for the season. Their defense made Kenton Keith look like Walter Payton last week. Throw in the AFC/NFC thing and this seems like it should have been a pick 'em. Then again, this is the NFL and you never know. I enjoyed this e-mail from Jason in Dallas:
"If I may, a listing of actual winning wagers this week:
"1. David Carr on the road
"2. John Joseph Harrington on the road
"3. Brian Griese on the road
"4. Trent Green on the road which morphed into Cleo Lemon on the road
"5. Trent Dilfer under any circumstance
"6. Norv Turner over Mike Shanahan
"I'm not sure I'm prepared for life in this new world."
Couldn't agree more. I'd feel worse about going 3-11 last week, but, I mean, ... look at that list. All those things covered in the same week?!?!?!?!?
CARDINALS (-4.5) over Panthers
My friend Ace had a really good theory about Kurt Warner's apparent resurgence: Yeah, he's 36 years old ... but those are Christian years. Warner never accumulated any of that smoking-drinking-partying wear-and-tear, so he's 36 on paper but maybe 27 or 28 physically. (As opposed to John Daly, who's 41 on paper but 235 years old physically.) It's like how boxers who spend extended stretches in jail are always described as a "young 35." So maybe Warner's comeback isn't as improbable as it seems.
Raiders (+9.5) over CHARGERS
So the Chargers unload on a lousy Denver team that can't play from behind, and I'm supposed to believe all their problems are behind them? Just one week ago, this was the team that caused Cleveland reader Dan L. to e-mail me just to ask, "Which personnel decision is going to be worse in the long run: A.J. Smith's choice to hire Norv Turner or Brent Bolthouse's decision to promote Heidi Montag?" Now they're fine?
Hey, here's an intriguing idea from Brent in Seattle: "Why don't the Packers offer their first-round pick to the Chargers for Michael Turner? San Diego gets a top-25 pick and the Packers get a running back with talent and experience who could take them to another level. Isn't this a win-win situation?"
Agreed, especially with the clock ticking on the Favre era and the NFC completely up for grabs. For whatever reason, teams refuse to make logical trades in the NFL. It's never made sense and it never will. And speaking of not making sense, make sure you don't go anywhere near HBO on Sunday night: On "Tell me You Love Me," 67-year-old Jane Alexander has a heated sex scene in which she gets completely naked and rides her husband like she's Willie Shoemaker. It goes on for two solid minutes and will leave you in a motionless heap like Trent Green. Be careful flicking by HBO for the rest of your life. That's all I can tell you.
Saints (+6.5) over SEAHAWKS
I hate the Seahawks. I just hate them. As for the Saints, they might be 0-4, but as Emmitt Smith told us after Dallas' improbable comeback on Monday night, "[It's like] the Jimmy V motto -- don't quit, don't even quit."
Speaking of that Monday night game, Rob from Buffalo weighs in: "I'm stuck in a prison. I have a 350-pound cellmate who does terrible things to me. He doesn't do them frequently. No. It happens maybe once every six months or so. He holds off just long enough for me to hope things will be different, that it'll never happen again. I have a life sentence with no chance of parole. As does my 350-pound cellmate. And there are additional beds in this cell so God knows what's coming. I'm scared. Of course, I'm not really a prisoner. I lead a seemingly normal life with the exception that I'm a fan of Buffalo sports teams. Could I plead Buffalo-sports related insanity for murdering my dad -- he who bestowed this lifetime of hell upon me? I'm pleading for help. I just want it all to end."
(Ladies and gentleman, the Buffalo Bills!)
FALCONS (+3.5) over Giants
The Giants continue to keep spotting dimes and eating onions. Meanwhile, you know what's crazy? This Falcons team isn't that bad. I swear to God. In each of their four losses, they gave a winnable game away in the fourth quarter and were kicking themselves afterward. Unfortunately, John Joseph Harrington completely fell apart last week, causing Bobby Petrino to make the decision, "If we're getting an F-minus from the QB spot, we're better off with Byron Leftwich just overthrowing guys and keeping the football out of play." If they can move that grade up to a D-plus, this will be Upset Special No. 2.
RED SOX (-170) over Indians
If Papelbon and Borowski switched teams, I'd pick the Indians in seven games. Instead, I'm taking the Sox in seven games. Should be a classic, though. I'm abjectly TERRIFIED of the Indians. Thank God for Joe Borowski. He's like our ace in the hole.
Patriots (-5.5) over COWBOYS
For three reasons ...
1. The Pats are 5-0 against the league, 5-0 against the spread. Isn't Rule No. 1 of gambling to keep riding the hot team until it loses?
2. Tony Romo has started 16 games in the NFL. He looked great in five of them, good in three of them, mediocre in three of them, lousy in three of them and abysmal in two of them. Should I trust Romo in a gigantic game ... or should I trust Tom Brady, who has a 127.2 QB rating and three Super Bowl rings? You tell me.
3. When Dallas finally won Monday night's game, they showed Wade Phillips jumping around and the Sports Gal (reading a magazine) looked up, started giggling and asked, "Who's that guy?" When I responded that it was Dallas' coach, she laughed again and said, "That's their coach??? Really? It looks like he should be sitting at a sports bar stuffing his face with chicken wings." I'm supposed to take him against Belichick? Come on.
LAST WEEK: 3-11
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.