ESPN's initial courtship of Bill Simmons has the air of an urban legend. Simmons wrote a column excoriating the bloated and self-congratulatory ESPY Awards, and that column was rapidly forwarded around Bristol, putting the Boston Sports Guy on ESPN's radar. Much like Aeschylus's lost plays, the ESPY diary was known only from a reference in another work. In one of his early Page 2 columns, Simmons wrote:
More than three years ago, I wrote a scathing running diary about the ESPYs that ended up getting passed around ESPN at the highest levels, and eventually led them to hire me to write this column. What a weird way to get hired. After being forced to do nonstop keg stands from the company Kool-Aid since then, I've grown to appreciate the ESPYs — not the actual show, but what they're trying to accomplish here. The show celebrates everything that happened in the past year of sports, a thinly-veiled excuse to round up some celebrities, throw some parties, promote the network and maybe even garner some decent ratings in the process.
But because Simmons's AOL Digital City work has been lost forever in the internet aether, no one has seen that original ESPY column in more than a decade. Until now. We got our hands on a treasure trove of Simmons's old work, including the legendary ESPYs column. It's in the form of a running diary that should be familiar to Simmons fans, filled with jokes that wouldn't have flown under the Disney flag. In fact, it's titled "The 1999 ESPY Awards: Greatest Night In Sports... Or TV Holocaust?"
8:03 — The show kicks off with a mock opera opening, featuring Dick Vitale as the showstopper. I'm not making this up.
8:04 — Just slammed my head against the coffee table for 30 seconds.
8:12 — Gordon wins and immediately thanks God (who took time out of his busy schedule to watch the ESPYs tonight). Gordon's gorgeous wife applauds. This will be a running theme tonight.
If you learn anything from today's column, it will be this: All athletes have hot wives. Repeat, ALL athletes have hot wives.
The hot wives come in for inspection, but so do the muscular female athletes gussied up for the night.
8:15 — Actor Dylan McDermott presents the ESPY for something called "Men's and women's tennis player of the year." I'm not sure if this is two awards or one; if it's one award, than Amelia Muresmo will obviously win.
8:16 — It's two separate awards. Too bad. I would have loved to have seen Muresmo in high heels and a sportscoat.
8:18 — Hey, it's Lindsay Davenport in a dress! I think I just had an aneuryism.
10:20 — Holdsclaw wins her second ESPY! This means we have to see her walk to the stage in high heels again. She makes Pat Summitt look like a runway model.
But nothing can match Simmons's fat lesbian jokes when Rosie O'Donnell presents a lifetime achievement award to Billie Jean King. He's in rare form.
9:16 — As we prepare for Arthur Ashe Award for courage — which will be presented to Billie Jean King — ESPN's Robin Roberts comes out and introduces presenter Rosie O'Donnell, who in turn will introduce King. Ironically enough, this same sequence of events will be happening at the Meow Mix Bar & Grill in Greenwich Village later this evening.
9:18 — Good GOD Rosie put on some weight! She's so fat that Shawn Kemp is making fun of her right now. If Sammy Sosa and Rosie attend the ESPYs post-award buffet tonight, there might be a fistfight by the "prime rib" table.
9:25 — Billie Jean waddles up to the podium to accept the award from Rosie. It's too bad Delta Burke couldn't make it.
Simmons cannot wait to tell you how little he's enjoying the awards:
8:22 — Steve Largent reads the Emmy rules... allegedly a comedy segment. I've watched funerals for slain policeman that were packed with more comedy.
8:32 — Is this hell?
9:34 — Sam Jackson introduces Dick Vitale and does the worst Dicky V impersonation of all-time. Is it just me or are the wheels starting to come off this show?
9:43 — I don't want to say that the wheels are coming off here, but I think the Detroit Red Wings' team chaffeur is driving this show.
The show eventually comes to an end, but not before Simmons imparts wisdom gleaned from watching, really watching all two-and-a-half hours of the ESPYs. His final thought? "Hell will freeze over before I sit through another ESPYs telecast." Of course, he would sit through a few more, as the running ESPY diary became a staple of his ESPN.com days. The jokes would remain similar (often identical), if slightly declawed.