Bill Simmons is my favorite sportswriter. He has been for the last 3 years or so. I didn’t become a really big fan of his until the spring of 2007 when he was constantly producing great NBA and college basketball columns once or twice a week. But the first time he ever caught my eye as a writer, was back in the summer of 2005. My friend Peder mentioned to me that this guy at ESPN.com had written an awesome column that compared some of the best moments from the movie ‘Anchorman’ to the best moments of the NBA offseason that year. I loved it, and I couldn’t help but notice how unique it was compared to all other sports columns I had ever read. The premise of the column seemed so absurd, because it was just making a bunch of crazy analogies that nobody else would have ever thought of, and yet, it worked. Really well. You should read it (after you’re done reading this, of course). So maybe the fact that I’ve read so many of “The Sports Guy’s” columns since, is the reason that I had the most random analogy pop up in my head the other day. It was kind of like, “Running back A would clearly by Sitcom X to Running back B’s Sitcom Y”. Why did I have this random thought that then made me want to dig deeper and eventually write this nonsensical blog post? We may never know. But this should be fun.
Before I get started, the rules of these comparisons are that I am comparing some of the greatest running backs in NFL history to the “greatest” sitcoms of my era (the 1990’s and 2000’s). There will be some facts used for comparisons, but mainly, this is all my opinion. If you don’t like it, comment on it.
LaDainian has had a really successful career. Two and 1/2 Men has been a very successful show. I think Tomlinson benefited from a pretty good o-line, playing in a relatively weak division, his team constantly giving him goal line carries to inflate his touchdown stats, and glorification from his head coach (Marty Schottenheimer) and ESPN. Two and 1/2 Men benefited from getting it’s start by “playing behind it’s good o-line” represented by “Everybody Loves Raymond”, then eventually was never up against any big time comedies from other networks (weak competition), and was made the centerpiece of CBS’s comedy lineup on Monday nights to pad it’s stats, and was also given Emmy’s and Golden Globes and constantly promoted by it’s “coach” (CBS) so we would believe it was a good show. Sure both LaDainian and 2 1/2 Men earned a lot of this favorable treatment, but all of those rushing touchdowns can’t convince me that Tomlinson is a top 10 running back of all time, just like Emmy’s and ratings can’t convince me that Two and 1/2 Men is one of the greatest comedies of my era. I don’t know a single person who watches that show regularly and insists that it’s great. I do know people who think Tomlinson is great (or at least was) but I’m not convinced, and this is my opinion and my blog.
I’ve never been a big fan of Faulk or of Scrubs, but when you watch either one, you can’t deny that you’re seeing a quality performance. I kind of had a prejudice against Faulk because he played for the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams that stole all of the thunder from my beloved Vikings (plus they torched us on the way to their Super Bowl), and I also always unfairly disliked Scrubs because it seemed too goofy and I didn’t want to like a show that took place in a hospital (maybe it made me think of ER; maybe I just hate needles, blood, and guts). Also Zach Braff kind of annoyed me like Brenda Warner annoyed me when the Rams were good. Anyhow, the more I watch Scrubs, which I seem to do a lot of lately, because my roommate adores it, and the more I watch Faulk play, the more I like them, and the respect I have for them increases. Both Faulk and Scrubs were “traded” (Faulk: from the Colts to the Rams, Scrubs: dropped by NBC, picked up by ABC) during their relative primes, and both show great versatility: Faulk with his ability to be a great runner and a great receiver out of the backfield; Scrubs with its ability to be funny, go quasi-musical for an entire episode, or even be a soap opera sometimes (which is the best reason why I don’t like the show as a whole). Whether I like to admit it or not, Faulk is one of the great running backs in NFL history, and Scrubs is one of the notable sitcoms of my era.
O.J. Simpson – The Simpsons
I know, I know, this seems silly to go this route. I have to admit when I was growing up, whenever I heard the name O.J. Simpson, I thought of the Simpsons, because it’s just not that common of a name, and I did love that show. O.J. didn’t have nearly the length in career that the Simpsons have had as a running TV show, but what we can say is that O.J. put up some of the greatest single seasons that any running back had ever put up, and the Simpsons put up some great seasons in their early years as well. Particularly season 5 of O.J.’s career was the single greatest season in NFL history, and season 5 of the Simpsons was their greatest season. Also, the 300th episode mark for the Simpsons was the unofficial end to that show for me, and since then it’s been a train wreck, much like O.J.’s life after his career ended. I’m afraid years from now people will remember the Simpsons as the animated sitcom that was on TV way too long, and forget how great it once was, just like people from my generation know O.J. as a lunatic who most likely murdered his wife and got away with it, rather than one of the best running backs ever. See, this analogy thing is working out, isn’t it?
Now maybe it’s not true that everyone really does love the show Everybody Loves Raymond, but it is the name of the show, and I contend, that everybody loves Barry Sanders. I mean, he was a thorn in my side as a Vikings fan, and yet how can I not love the guy? I don’t know anybody that has anything bad to say about the guy as a person or a player. He was very successful in Detroit despite never having a great passing game or formidable offensive line to help him, just like Raymond had the challenge of being a great sitcom on a bad “team” of its own at the time (CBS) in a time when the dominant sitcoms were on NBC (the biggest ones will be named later in this column, so I don’t want to give them away). For the most part this analogy is weak, but I rank Raymond as one of the top 3 sitcoms of my era, and I rank Sanders as probably the #3 running back of all time as well.
Dickerson came into the league and had immediate impact. The standard that young running backs have to measure themselves against when they come into the league are Dickerson’s early career numbers. When Peterson came into the league, he immediately started drawing comparisons to Dickerson because of the early success, the upright running style with blazing speed, and the fact that they both originated in Texas. I don’t really know anything about the success of the Office in the U.K., but it was successful enough to be redone here in the U.S., and so it must have done quite well. Dickerson was so good so early, that the remainder of his career doesn’t seem as great simply because of how good he was early on. I worry the same for Adrian. The U.S. version of the Office had a shortened first season that was really good (much like Adrian), and then seemed to peak in its second season (also, much like Adrian thus far). In it’s third season, you could already see the show slipping, and year after year after that, it continued to decline in quality. I hope Adrian’s drop off in year 3 is not a sign that he will fulfill this comparison. As for Dickerson and the Office U.K. version, I can’t really make any comparisons, it just works too well that Adrian looks like a remake of Dickerson, and obviously the U.S. Office is a remake of the U.K. Office. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but it just seemed like the obvious choice. By the way, I know it’s preposterous to include Adrian in this discussion, but when he was so good those first two years, he had a ton of people saying things like, “could go down as the greatest of all time” and “I’ve never seen a running back combine speed and power so well”, much like when I watched Season 1 of The Office (my favorite season, and also Adrian’s rookie year has been my favorite thus far) it was so good that it made me utter the preposterous statement of, “if they keep this up, this show is going to be better than “(my favorite show that will be named later in column)”, which now seems so ridiculous, and it makes me feel stupid for ever saying it. I hope people 10 years from now aren’t regretting their comments about Adrian in the same way.
Gale Sayers – Arrested Development
To me, AD is so good, that I would put it’s three seasons worth of episodes up against any equal number of episodes from any other show, and AD will be better every time. That doesn’t quite make it my favorite show, or even the greatest show, in my opinion, but it’s worth noting the greatness in a short amount of time, and the potential that was there. Could there be a better fit for an analogy than what I just described and Gale Sayers’ career? The guy only played 7 seasons, only 3 of which were full 14 game seasons, and yet he still made 4 Pro Bowls and was named to 5 1st team All Pro teams. My dad is a Bears fan, and he swears by how great and elusive Sayers was for that short time. He said that Sayers gave you that edge-of-your-seat-because-this-guy-can-take-it-to-the-house-at-any-moment feeling (a lot of hyphens, I know) that guys like Peterson, Sanders, and Dickerson were known for, only Sayers may have been better than all of them. But, longevity has to count for something, so Sayers isn’t a top 5 running back of all time (although he is a Hall of Famer) and AD is not my favorite show of all time, but they both deserve consideration and the immortality that comes with being mentioned in my blog (huh?).
I’m doing these last three all together because I’m sick of saying “the show or player will be named later in the blog” and these three have to play off of each other a little bit to work. It starts with Jim Brown (and I’ll reveal now that Brown and Smith were the two I had the original random thought about that inspired this blog entry). Brown is considered by most, to be the greatest running back of all time. I agree with that, and I’ll also swear up and down that Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all time. They both lasted 9 seasons, and they both went out earlier than they needed to, but they wanted to leave on their terms, and go out on top. I don’t really have to say much more on Seinfeld and Brown because that right there is a pretty strong case. Now, I’ve always thought that Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all time, and Friends was NBC’s chick version of Seinfeld that was nearly as popular (thanks to women) but nowhere near as good. Much like Emmitt Smith is probably a name that is known by far more women in this country because he’s more recent and accomplished more records than Brown, Friends might rival Seinfeld’s sitcom popularity supremacy due to large female audiences. But Smith would have been nothing if it hadn’t been for the amazing team around him, and Friends’ success could be largely attributed to riding the coattails of Seinfeld in its early going. Plus, I hate Friends, and I can’t stand Emmitt Smith. You can’t convince me that he was better than someone like Curtis Martin or Corey Dillon. He just had a better situation. Now, where Curb comes in, is that it came years after Seinfeld, but was the brainchild of the same man: Larry David. Its brilliant, but it’s not quite as good as Seinfeld, and it also is unique because it airs on HBO. Payton broke all of Brown’s records (only to have them broken by Smith) but Brown dogged Payton when people suggested that he was better than himself because Payton played longer than Brown, and plus medical advances made it easier to stay healthy, and the lengthened season padded his stats as well. People may have been willing to suggest that Curb was better than Seinfeld, but it has had more freedom to be creative over at HBO (no censoring, don’t have to fit into a ½ hour time slot with commercials, not burdened with coming up with a full 22-episode season each year). I like Curb a lot, but I think it’s just a few notches down from Seinfeld, much like how much I like Payton, but still see him a few notches down from Brown. Smith and Friends really aren’t in the same tier of greatness that Brown and Payton, and Seinfeld and Curb are.
So there you have it, the most bizarre blog post from me yet, but I plan on doing this again. It was fun. I would love to hear any crazy analogies I may have whiffed on here, so please comment if you’ve got any good ones I didn’t mention, or if you can make a better case for why any of my analogies are wrong.