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The New Yorker Archives Are Open, So Go Read These Tremendous Sports Stories

greatest new yorker magazine coverThe New Yorker recently opened up its archives to the masses, and the timing couldn’t have been better. It’s summer. There’s next-to-nothing happening in sports over the next several weeks – there are still 55ish games left on the MLB schedule, and the action doesn’t heat up until September – so print all of these and read them. Here’s a paragraph or so from each.

The Outcast
Conversations with O. J. Simpson.
July 9, 2001

“Then he calls me an asshole, and I threw my clubs down and came up on him fast, looking for leverage so I can fuck him up a little bit, my face real close to his, spittin’ in his face while I’m sayin’ to him, ‘You call me a fuckin’ murderer, I got to live with that, but “asshole”—come on, let’s get it on.’”

A woman was reading the news on CNN on the overhead television when our food came. Simpson looked up at her and said, “Man, she got old quick. When you think the last time that woman got laid?” He shook his head. “Who knows? You never know in this world what rings your bell. Now, that Heather Graham girl is fine. And that Jennifer Love Hewitt—that girl got booty for days.”

The CNN reporter was now reading a story about the breakup of Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. Simpson watched until the report was over. Then he said, “You think if Crowe and Quaid”—Dennis Quaid, Ryan’s estranged husband—”ever met they’d fight?” He shook his head. “As a man, you gotta punch the guy that fucked your wife.”

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The Crisis Manager
Trying times for Joe Girardi and the Yankees.
September 24, 2012

Joe Girardi is the most religious and contemplative of his siblings, but he is competitive, too, and his competitiveness derives from his boyhood relationship with his father, Gerald, and his two older brothers. Joe often accompanied Gerald in the gypsum-manufacturing-company car on road trips to Iowa, listening to Cubs games on the radio while Gerald stopped to take orders for wallboard.

“I loved the physical part of what he did,” Girardi said. He served as Gerald’s apprentice on weekend bricklaying jobs. “I carried the brick, I carried the blocks, I mixed the mortar, I did the smoothing.”

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THE BOYS
What Mike and the Mad Dog talk about when they talk about sports.
August 30, 2004

There was a rationale behind Mason’s decision to pair them up—pungent, local voices with uncommon ardor and instinctive expertise—but at the time it was little more than a lark. “I think they were put together for the alliteration,” Bob Gelb, their first producer, who is now an ad salesman at WFAN, told me. They débuted on September 5, 1989. Things did not go well at first: neither of them was happy about the arrangement; each felt that he deserved his own show. Sports talk had long been a solo gig. Early on, they bickered on the air, and, according to Mason, there were backstage debates about such matters as whose name would come first (“ ‘Mike and the Mad Dog’ sounded prettier to me grammatically,” Mason said) and which of them would get what was known as the power seat—Imus’s seat, the one facing the control room (“Mike sat there,” Mason said). Each had an entourage of advisers and friends who pushed him to ask for more.

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King of the South
How Paul Finebaum became Alabama’s biggest booster
Dec 12, 2010

Unlike the audience for Rome or Cowherd, Finebaum’s listeners do not tune in for his thoughts on the sports world at large. When I asked Finebaum how much airtime was devoted to topics other than college football, he cupped his fingers into a zero and said, “The summers are hard.”

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The Third Man
Novak Djokovic has emerged from the shadow of Federer and Nadal, but can he learn to act like a champion?
Sept 2, 2013

When Djokovic was six, he told his parents that it was his mission to become the No. 1 tennis player in the world. When he was eleven, NATO began bombing Belgrade. Each night at eight o’clock, as the air-raid siren sounded, the family would run to an aunt’s apartment building, which had a bomb shelter. For seventy-eight nights, they crouched in darkness, praying amid the screams of F-117s. Djokovic kept up his tennis throughout the bombardment, playing on cracked courts bereft of nets.

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Monday Night Lights
How Jon Gruden became America’s football coach
December 12, 2011

At the Monday-morning production meeting, Gruden made a grim prediction. “My point spread is 29.5, and rising,” he said. Jaworski bet him a steak dinner that the Patriots wouldn’t cover.

When it was Jaworski’s turn, he issued a stern proclamation. “Call me crazy, but I’m really excited for Tyler Palko tonight,” he said, and a roomful of skeptical sports producers erupted in laughter. Jaworski had given himself the thankless task of building up the Chiefs, praising them as much as he could without putting his own credibility at risk. Perhaps viewers would buy into the idea, however far-fetched, that Palko would emerge as the night’s underdog hero. Later that day, as Jaworski was making a cup of coffee in the ESPN bus, he tried the line again. “Call me crazy, but I’m excited about Tyler Palko,” he said. He exhaled. “I’ve got to sell this,” he said to himself.

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The Fourth Quarter
Kobe Bryant confronts a long—and possibly painful—goodbye
March 31, 2014

“It used to drive me crazy that [Shaq] was so lazy,” Bryant told me. “You got to have the responsibility of working every single day. You can’t skate through shit.” O’Neal was a clown, and beloved for it, while Bryant, who once told Newsweek that he didn’t believe in happiness, remained aloof. “I was stubborn as a fucking mule,” he said. Bryant shunned reporters whom he saw talking to O’Neal. O’Neal, in turn, refused to accept help from the same trainers who taped Bryant’s ankles.

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Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
October 22, 1960

Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Williams’ case the hostility has been systematic and unappeasable. His basic offense against the fans has been to wish that they weren’t there. Seeking a perfectionist’s vacuum, he has quixotically desired to sever the game from the ground of paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it. Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek to newsmen. It has been a costly theory—it has probably cost him, among other evidences of good will, two Most Valuable Player awards, which are voted by reporters—but he has held to it from his rookie year on. While his critics, oral and literary, remained beyond the reach of his discipline, the opposing pitchers were accessible, and he spanked them to the tune of .406 in 1941. He slumped to .356 in 1942 and went off to war.

In 1946, Williams returned from three years as a Marine pilot to the second of his baseball avatars, that of Achilles, the hero of incomparable prowess and beauty who nevertheless was to be found sulking in his tent while the Trojans (mostly Yankees) fought through to the ships.

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