When ESPN decided to part ways with writer/podcast extraordinaire, my instant reaction was plain and simple. The sports network was letting a golden asset loose and it wouldn’t be long before another network scooped up his talents. Well that happened. Wednesday, HBO announced a multi-faceted deal with Simmons and this is a match made in heaven for fans of the writer and the premium cable network. It’s about time Simmons got super sized and put in a classy five star restaurant dinner rotation.
HBO doesn’t mess around, is fearless with its content and so is Simmons. The DNA’s are a match. The acclaimed and notoriously free spirited Simmons is a hardcore Boston sports fan but he can also transition into movies and other teams and sports at will. The best podcasts and columns are the ones that involve movie quotes, comparisons and creative connections around the sports and entertainment industry.
Before he started the award winning documentary series 30 for 30 at ESPN and started the well respected website, Grantland, Simmons was the sports guy. The Grantland staff today is full of Simmons addicts. They write like him and will keep that idea rolling in his absence. Simmons started it over a decade ago writing these epic articles previewing the NFL matchups or compiling a master mailbag session. He was unfiltered and uncanny in cutting to the center of a point without retreating. That turned some people off and in the end was too much for ESPN to handle.
With HBO, Simmons gets to dial his serve up to triple digits and not have to hold back with what he says, writes or does. When CNN cut Bill Maher loose, he got a show at HBO and hasn’t looked back. The dog collar has come off Simmons and it’s for the best. He’s 45 years old and needs to stop looking over his back.
As a young writer in college, I looked up to Simmons. He said what he had formulated in his brain and was able to transcend how commentary and analyzing news came across. When something happened, I needed to know what Bill thought and I needed to know quick. He was a hawk in a land of prey.
Never mind the fact that Simmons is a die hard Patriots fan and I am a Peyton Manning fan. I had to laugh when Simmons developed the phrase “the Manning face” and wrote countless articles slashing away at the famous quarterback’s playoff failures and outlandish comical persona. Simmons didn’t care about what his bosses would think when he hit publish. He had swagger, weight around the network and people wanted his opinion. Slowly but surely, Simmons made ESPN relevant.
When he took a swipe at nice guy scribe Rick Reilly, ESPN slapped Simmons on the hand. When he recently took a hard swing at Roger Goodell’s practices, ESPN again cut Simmons down like a parent disciplining a teenager who couldn’t be stopped. When ESPN finally said enough and decided to not renew Simmons’ million dollar deal that expires in September, they were simply giving up. The unstoppable force had FINALLY moved the immovable object.
While Simmons never quite hit his stride on TV, I think the freedom of HBO will help him produce great content at the network that he once envisioned “destroying”. ESPN will keep Grantland and 30 for 30 but HBO’s budget will allow Simmons to build something bigger and better at HBO. He’s hit the big time and he deserves the spot.
The sports world has a thousand talking heads and “say what the boss wants” robotic scribes and not enough renegades like Simmons. Need the truth? Ask Bill and leave the filter at home because he doesn’t need or want it. I crave HBO and think with Real Sports, Hard Knocks and 24/7 already rotating the HBO Sports beacon, Simmons will this playground delightful and full of possibilities. Any replacement ESPN finds for him won’t be half the writer or voice Simmons is.
When I think of Bill Simmons, I think of a voice of the people. A proficient outspoken laser pointer in the sports world. Love or hate him, but you better respect him.
After working hard to play nice all these years at ESPN, Simmons has been let off the chain. Where he and his work go now is left to be determined. I am strapped in for the ride.