The Night that still is: What I Saw at Grantlands Going Away Party
My good friend Michael Fowler wrote about the end of Grantland. I am hosting the work because of the internet and its perils. None of this is mine, just doing a favor for a talented pal.
He can be reached on Twitter: @mikeyfowler18 and over email: @firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 30, 2015, ESPN made a controversial decision to rid itself of Grantland. This is a fact. This came after a long, multi-faceted “disagreement” between Bill Simmons, the site’s founder, and the ESPN board. Eventually, the decision was made, and ESPN chose to shut down Grantland. This is a fact. Grantland was one of the most popular online blogs in existence, and had a loyal following across the world. This is, also, a fact.
The rest of this piece is opinion.
Last night, I saw an instagram post from Brian Phillips, a writer whom I follow from Grantland. He posted a picture of a Grantland basketball jersey, and the caption “we might be drinking”. On the top of this picture, was a location. This location was a bar. That bar was 30 minutes from my house.
Of course I went.
Now, I wasn’t invited. That probably doesn’t matter all too much. I am not a popular sports columnist like these men and women. I probably did not deserve to be there. I probably was intruding on their personal event. I sat off in the corner and wrote notes on the back of my “Sea of Crisis” I printed out to hopefully have Brian Phillips, the author, sign. The article served as a commemorative baseball card for my favorite contributor to the team. I was 12 years old again.
I watched men laugh, women talk, men drink, women drink. I saw cheers, I saw conversation. I saw high spirits, but mainly just a lot of spirits. I watched the Mets a little, I watched Brian Phillips a little (a lot, sorry), and I watched the crowds.
These are just my observations. This is just opinion:
Grantland is weird. That’s probably less of an opinion. There are articles there that tell you about Wes Welker and his Molly Escapades, there are articles written between four or five people all posting snap reactions to NBA events, and there are actual interviews with POTUS. Their staff, from what I have picked up through their writing alone, is a grab bag of the emotionally distraught, exceptionally existential, and supremely talented. They are ambitious, they are into Game of Thrones, and they like Boogie Nights. They are intellectual, they like Hypnotiq, and they like Rap. They make you laugh, they make you cry, and they say hello in the morning. They are as much an actual best friend to some as they are a sidebar to many. They are hope for young authors, and they are tears spilt writing even this very paragraph, they are the reason some of wake up.
These are all things I remember about Grantland when I first think of it. I think of the first article that ever made me want to write. It was by, you guessed it, Brian Phillips about the Fading Images of last years world cup. I cried yet again. I had it printed out last night too. My vintage classic.
I am essentially a forgotten person. Someone who grows up, lives his life, and eventually ceases to come up in casual conversation past maybe two generations. To be fair to myself, not many people fall under the category of “memorable” for their contributions, good or bad, to society. This is reserved for the special. For the bold. For the daring. That is what Grantland was, and that is why I went last night. You see, for some people, their heroes wear capes. Others, jerseys. For me, these men wear weird glasses and nice shoes. They write about Disneyland, Boogey Nights, and Horror Movies. They write about Love, they write about passion.
They write because they want to tell you how much they feel. They want to show you, with your own eyes, the feeling in the pit of your stomach when something moves you. It is more than life, it is more than one life. They will live on because I will live on. They will live on because a boy in 150 years may be into hipster things like Grantland, and he may get to meet some of these amazing individuals.
To blog for fun, as myself and millions of others do, is to play pick up basketball. It is to play Sunday League Soccer. You watch the greatest do their trade on the national stage, and you attempt to mimic. Sometimes, it comes off randomly and you hit the fade away 3, other times your half volley attempt goes out for a throw in. However, you have to try. You always try.
Last night was the most scared I have ever been.
I pulled up to the Ye Olde Rustic Inn, located in Los Angeles, while the sun was still out. As I pulled up to the small parking spaces that lined the front of the bar, I immediately saw the likes of Phillips, and many others, outside the bar talking.
At this point, I almost turned the car around and went home. I mean, I am a 23 year old kid with print outs of my favorite articles, crashing the bar where my favorite authors were located the day they all got fired at the same time. What the hell was I doing there. I should just turn around and continue this life I happily live. I have a house, a car, and a girlfriend. I really don’t know a lot about the side of myself that drove there. I want to, I have always wanted to.
So I walk in. There was no one to seat us at the front door so we walk to the bar. It is obvious right from the start that Grantland reserved a small back room, such to enjoy the spoils in privacy. I am not upset, simply because I don’t want to intrude, and I wouldn’t even know what to say.
The bar was very dimly lit. It had very little space, with booth seating along the backwall, which was 10 yards across from the front wall. The air was damp and dusty, but no one seemed to notice. The walls were a dark brown, almost black, with posters and signs along them that all took the same hue. You could see, but not very well. Elvis Costello played for the first hour we were there. Songs such as “Alyson”, rained down on the evening, unnoticed. It played the score to the most exciting scene I had ever paid to see. My stomach twisted and turned as I sat and watched, open mouthed. I must have stared for a while, seeing nothing at all, while seeing nothing more than what I expected.
The men and women of Grantland were smiling and drinking, small talk about the World Series game, about propeller planes, and about hats. They sat around the bar, and they blended. You see, the funny thing about having your heroes as bloggers, is they are much more intimidating in person. With guys like JJ Watt and Tom Brady, the physical stature immediately revelas their super powers. With bloggers, they look just like you and I, except they totally are not. They have something I want, they can’t fly, and they don’t have superhuman strength, they have so much more.
The chairs at this bar were weird. They were comfortable, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt like they made you sit a tad too upright. Either that or a tad too reclined. It did not feel right. The entire night took on this persona to me.
As the night continued, the music became more eccentric. The crowd lightened up, and the obvious occurred. The alcohol and the familiar faces allowed these men and women of Grantland to feel again. They had endured a day of agony, of appreciation, and of difficulty. They were normal again tonight. There was nothing left to see. They went through the emotional arc of those you would expect in a similar situation. They are just like you and I, except they totally are not.
No story is complete without a climax, and so, in much the same way I tried that bicycle kick the week after Benteke, I wanted to get my story. I purchased a hat from the bartender. It was the single most annoying thing I have ever done to someone who works at a restaurant. The place was packed now, as it is a Friday night around 9:00 pm, the weekend of Halloween. I just ordered a hat from the bartender. The hats were in the back room under padlock and key (it really isn’t THAT cool of a hat). My plan was to walk up to Brian, have him sign the hat, and possibly have him sign my copies of the articles I printed. I wanted my favorite player to sign his own card.
So, I located Brian off to the side, and I approach him. I go to begin this elevator speech I had been practicing all day. Literally — not even joking — all I managed to say was this:
Me: “Hey Brian?”
Brian Phillips: “Hey man whats up”
Me:“Nothing just wanted to say I am a huge fan of yours”
BP:“Thank you so much man”
Me:“No problem, I got a hat!”
BP:“That’s awesome, thanks man I really appreciate it”.
You see, I managed to screw up that moment more than I ever could have imagined. I wanted so much to stress to him and the other writers of Grantland that I… I don’t even know how I would explain it. See, I have that pit in my stomach. I have that fire feeling you get when you know something has touched and moved you. I have been best friends with Brian and many others since 2011. They are as much a best friend to me, as they are a sidebar to others.
So this is my chance to tell them all, through the privacy of the world wide web, how much I appreciate all they have done for me. I love grantland, as much as I love anything else. There are things I see in those moments when I am writing that I could not begin to write down onto paper. There are emotions I felt reading their work that I could not begin to say thank you for.
To all of you at the Ye Olde Rustic Inn last night, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I may speak for myself, and I hope I speak for many, when I say that I will never forget you. You are the side of myself I seldom get to see.
These are just my opinions,
Thank you Grantland, for reading.