Sunday, August 21, 2011

Grantland's Greatest Hits

It's odd that Grantland has drawn so many haters since the site opened a few months ago. I suppose it was to be expected given that there would be some who would automatically dislike the site solely because of Bill Simmons' involvement but still, Simmons is just one part of the Grantland package. If you don't like this stuff, then great, you can read the material provided by any of the other dozen columnists on staff. I applaud any attempt to create a website that serves as a warehouse of Good Stuff To Read, so in my books, Grantland has been a tremendous success.

To that end, here are some of my favourite articles from the first few months of Grantland's existence. You'll notice that none are by Simmons or Chuck Klosterman, the two biggest names attached to the project. This isn't to say that neither have done good work, but rather than I'm just sticking to the best here, and I'm afraid both Simmons and Klosterman might not be able of delivering A-plus material anymore. To use one of his beloved basketball analogies, Simmons at this stage of his career is like Michael Jordan with the Wizards, getting by solely on veteran wiles and a general admiration for what he's done in the past. As for Klosterman, it's hard to deliver a truly 'great' article when you do nothing but write in circular arguments. Or is it? (There, there's a standard Klosterman 'undermine my premise' modifier.)

Anyway, enough of my criticisms, here's the cream of the Grantland crop….

* Katie Baker's hilarious NUPTIALS system for scoring the New York Times' wedding announcements. Even if you've never read a wedding announcement in your life (like me), this is still a very funny and well-composed idea.

* Alex French and Howie Kahn's oral history of The National, a short-lived sports magazine from the late 80's that managed to employ almost every major sportswriter in America. As a side note, I love the 'oral history' format. Tom Shales and JA Miller's oral history of Saturday Night Live is one of my favourite books of all time. I think I'd read anything written in an oral history format, including an oral history of oral histories. (Bonus: Charles P. Pierce's essay about actually working at The National.)

* Anna Clark's visit to Ty Cobb's old home in Detroit, which blossoms into an examination of Cobb, the city and the relationship between the two.

* Michael Schur and Nate DiMeo watch, and try to understand, a cricket match between India and Pakistan during the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Schur (creator of Parks & Recreation, former 'Office' and 'SNL' writer, and also the co-creator of the 'Fire Joe Morgan' blog) may or may not be a personal hero of mine and is a funny, funny man. Nate DiMeo, sorry buddy, but I've got so many stars in my eyes that I'm going to totally ignore your contributions. You've been Ridgeley'd.

* Brian Phillips' look at FIFA's scandalous history. This almost sounds like the lead-in to a joke. "Boy, that FIFA sure is corrupt." "How corrupt is it?!" "FIFA is so corrupt that people are getting killed over soccer stadiums!"…..okay, well, I didn't claim it was a good joke, did I?

* Kent Russell's brief history of the Stanley Cup, tied together with the Dawson City Nuggets' challenge for the Cup in 1905 against the champion Ottawa Silver Seven. An utterly fascinating piece and probably my favourite of the bunch. This was back in the day when the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded via an annual tournament but was treated more like a championship belt --- challengers would bid to play for the trophy and then travel to the Cup-holders' home arena for the series. As Russell notes in the story, had the Nuggets won the series, that probably would've been it for the Stanley Cup as we know it: "If his team won the Cup, Boyle figured it would remain perched over the bar in his arena forever. Any team that dared challenge him would have had to cross the Chilkoot and Dead Horse passes roped together in antlike columns before walking hundreds of miles up the frozen Yukon River to Dawson City."

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