Saturday, October 31, 2015

Thank You, Grantland.

The chalkboard on the outer kitchen wall is the first thing you see when you walk into our house.  We use it for mundane stuff, mostly.  Shopping lists, upcoming concerts, that sort of thing.  And at the top in faded white marker, ever since Aggie put it on the wall back in March:

"Let's assume that no pun is ever intended." - Alex Pappademas

We live here with our two kittens, Cat Summit and Sylvia Catchell, named after our two favorite women's college basketball coaches.  (Sorry Alex, those name puns were fully intended.)  It wasn't always this way, though.  When we started dating again after fourteen very complicated years, it was long distance.  Bridging the gap between Atlanta and Chapel Hill wasn't easy, but we made it work.  If you've ever been in that situation, you know how vital common conversational ground is to sustaining the relationship.  You need something to talk about when you call each other every night beyond "I miss you" and "I love you" and "how was your day?".  

Fortunately, we had a lot of that.  Always have.  But the biggest thing, the thing we spent the most time laughing over and dissecting and just plain adoring during those phone calls, was Grantland.  Or, more accurately, the people who made Grantland what it was and the works they created.

Like most fledgling websites, it took a while for Bill Simmons' vanity project to really get rolling.  The early months suffered from a lack of both content and focus, reflected most sharply in those dumb posts where they republished older long-form pieces with footnotes and editorial commentary.  Voices and personalities came and went as the site struggled to find an overarching ethos.  Honestly, it was kind of a mess.  But then something truly special started to take shape.  Simmons assembled a staff of older, established talents and smart young writers aching for a place where they could flourish without editors constantly leaving what made them unique on the cutting room floor.  Whatever you may think of him, no one was better suited to provide precisely that kind of environment.  Having established that core paradigm, Grantland never looked back, and what followed was a flood of articles and podcasts that were more consistently engaging, intelligent, funny, thoughtful, and just outright great than damn near anything else on the internet.   

Some scattered recollections and things I'll miss:

Gasping at every other paragraph while reading Rembert's incredible piece on Ferguson.

Listening to the Girls In Hoodies "American Horror Story: Coven" episode while driving to Augusta, and loving it so much that I listened to it again on the way home.

Simmons calling out Roger Goodell and the NFL in general for the Ray Rice scandal, getting suspended, then doing it again anyway.

The knowledge that every NBA and NFL draft would be followed by Wesley's elegant and hilarious "Sportstorialist" column.

Alex taking the weird, season-long journey that was "I Suck at Football." 

Juliet's obsession with Handsome Chandler Parsons.

Jacoby's incredulous "WHAT?!?!?!" whenever Juliet said something outrageous.  

Sharp's insistence/borderline religious fanaticism that KD will eventually sign with the Wizards.

Jalen's horrible singing.  Jalen's bat.  "NOT GONNA BE ABLE TA DO IT!"

Barnwell's fantastic article on Chris Borland's retirement.  

Rembert and Emily's "Les Mis" review.  

Being incredibly excited when Zach Lowe and Holly Anderson came on board.

Jason "The Maester" Concepcion schooling Andy on Westerosi history.  

Mays and Barnwell interviewing Charlie Whitehurst, who drove that podcast to its limit as he can with any vehicle.

Wesley's Cannes diaries. 

Andy's piece on the Parks and Rec finale.

Discovering Men In Blazers and The Solid Verbal, for which I am eternally grateful.  

Christina Kahrl's staggering "What Grantland Got Wrong."

Jonah on Madison Bumgarner in last year's World Series.  

Charlie Pierce, just generally.  

Crying when Molly and Emily brought Tess back on the air for the final Hoodies episode.

Incredulity over Wesley not knowing how great a jam "Seven" is.

Grape Job.  

All of Zach's pieces on the Hawks last season.

The Bakeshop Mailbag.

Alex's immaculate profiles of Todd Rundgren and Dolph Lundgren.

Mays going to Lambeau and being enough of a good sport to write about it with grace.  

Molly's desultory and fabulous Mad Men recaps.

That last one brings me to perhaps the most ineffably special thing about the people above (and so many more Grantlanders that I didn't mention): they are so compelling and so ludicrously good at what they do that I will read or listen to them regardless of the subject.  I've never seen Mad Men.  Ever.  Not one episode.  But I read every single one of those recaps because they were so brilliantly written that enjoying them required no prior knowledge of the source material.  Likewise, I have never once fast-forwarded through a "Hollywood Prospectus" or "Do You Like Prince Movies?" segment even when they were talking about things I hadn't seen or heard or just didn't care about in the first place.  I read Greenwald on TV I don't follow and Wesley on movies I'll probably never see, because it's that much fun just to watch them put words together.  That quality, maybe more than anything else, is why Aggie and I loved this thing so much.  Hell, we listened to every episode of "The Right Reasons" and we don't even watch reality TV.   ("Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait ... what's she look like?')

So we sat in the living room and drank bourbon and mourned all of this last night, as strange as it may sound to mourn a website whose former contributors are all still very much in the business of creating beautiful work which we can continue to enjoy.  We mourned because Grantland was our best and easiest point of reference when we were apart, and talking about this podcast or that article helped us to cope.  More importantly, it brought us joy.  Just heaps and heaps of fun and happiness and laughter that we could share across that distance.  All of that resonated very specifically with us, and that resonance has manifested itself in some wonderful if admittedly strange ways.   

For instance, we have a turntable because of Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald.  I'm not kidding.  The Hollywood Prospectus episode last fall where they were gushing over "1989" compelled us to dig into it, and we both fell in love with that album and Taylor Swift in general.  For Christmas that year, before I'd even moved to Chapel Hill, Aggie bought it for me on vinyl, with the promise that when I got here she was going to get me a turntable for my birthday, which she did.  We now have a burgeoning record collection, thanks mostly to thrift stores and Ags' shameless pilfering of her parents' albums.  Buying each other records as random "I love you" presents is one of our favorite things.  And none of this happens without Chris and Andy raving about Tay-Tay.  They turned us on to one record we adore and it turned into a whole new part of our lives we never saw coming. 

That was Grantland at its weird, beating heart.  These people we'll probably never meet and all of their tremendous creativity and verve, becoming part of our lives and deepening them in the process.

There's another Alex Pappademas quote on that chalkboard, from the final episode of "Do You Like Prince Movies."  Aggie and I didn't talk about that one over the phone, we listened to it together.  This was appropriate since Prince Movies was also the first Grantland thing we ever shared and talked about with each other.  Anyway, that quote is the most apropos thing possible to describe Grantland's closure yesterday.

"This is like a going out of business sale for opinions."

And it is.  But while the doors were open and the lights were on, Grantland's inventory housed some of the most wide ranging and beautifully articulated opinions out there.  So thank you.  Thanks to all of you for sharing them, for sharing yourselves, with us.  We can't wait to see what you do next. 

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