If you haven't yet read Charlie Pierce's Grantland essay about his time at The National, you should, and not just because it's Pierce hanging out in Bill Simmons's house, and not just because it's the best appreciation of the much-appreciated National you'll find. You should read it because it's essentially the introduction to Grantland that Simmons never wrote.
Here's Pierce describing a trip to Mexico City, on assignment for The National:
The sun was going down, orange over the broken hills. The sunset filtered through the clouds of reddish dust gave the scene the aspect of some lost Biblical place out of the Sinai that you'd walk through, howling mad with thirst, in the general direction of what looked like revelation. Another kid stepped up to hit. I noticed that, for a bat, he was using the spinal column of a cow long ago slaughtered on this ground. The dust rose around him. The pitcher delivered, and the kid swung the old cow's spine with all his might, connecting solidly, and shattering the old vertebrae in all directions. He got thrown out at first. Behind him, some other kids bent down and picked up the bones.
There has to be a place for that in the collective memory of the tribe — orphaned children, playing baseball, swinging old bones as a choked, blooded sunset falls on a small, scalded corner of the world. For a while, it was The National that provided that place. I'd be ashamed to say it wasn't worth the gamble.
That's an excellent statement of purpose, both for The National and for Grantland, and Pierce's story, along with Chuck Klosterman's essay about a junior-college basketball game, is the best evidence yet that Grantland might provide that place, too. Those stories aren't selling anything. They're not previews or recaps or bits of analysis of an event televised by ESPN. They're not stories about a professional sports league with which ESPN has contractual ties. They're not promoting an upcoming segment on Outside the Lines. There aren't any accompanying teaser videos, possibly to be aired later on SportsCenter, in which we watch the writers reporting the very stories we're reading. The stories haven't been Bristolized within an inch of their lives, and the jokes don't come plopping out of whatever tubes are positioned above Rick Reilly's and Gene Wojciechowski's desks. I should say that I'm not exactly an impartial observer here, but what made me excited about Grantland in the first place was the prospect of writing stories that, in conception and style and execution, would look unlike anything ESPN ever does. Pierce's essay is one of those stories, and so is Klosterman's, and that's because, in their own way, those stories are also about weird old bones in small corners of the world.
My Memories of The National [Grantland]