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21 Days to Football: The Bill Simmons Podcasts With Cousin Sal Are a Highlight of My Week

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Most weekdays from now until the Packers and Seahawks kick off on September 4th, The Big Lead will detail one reason we are excited for football season to begin. Including today, we’re 14 days away from NCAA and 21 from NFL.

For whatever political influence Bill Simmons wields over the ESPN mothership, he’s attained that by being an original trailblazer, and catering to a certain demographic that wasn’t reached in nearly the same way before he arrived. Of all the content Simmons produces — writing columns, appearing on TV, and presiding over Grantland and 30 for 30 — my favorite thing he does is the B.S. Report, and I love listening to the ones with Cousin Sal (of Jimmy Kimmel Live) during football season.

Two people competing to guess the NFL lines correctly for the upcoming week might not sound compelling in theory, but it works because of the chemistry that Simmons and Sal share. (This is also true of the podcasts with House and Jack-O.) The way in which they play off each other, and diverge off into random tangents, kind of makes it feel like you’re friends with them and you’re listening in on their conversation in their living room. If you’re really nerdy, you can play along by guessing the lines on a tally sheet and see if you beat them.

During the 2010 season, Simmons professed a love for then-Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (in retrospect, this was obviously ill-advised). From then on, Cousin Sal talked about a “voicemail” that Simmons had left him, after which the comedian would imitate the sportswriter’s nasally voice in over-the-top infatuation for Jaaaaaaaaash Freeman. By 2012, the subject would be Russell “Hustle Bustle Man Muscle” Wilson. Eventually, there’d be a guy on YouTube who mimicked Cousin Sal mocking Simmons.

The best, though, is when the Cowboys suffer a crushing loss (the Romocoaster ensures these are a matter of when and not if). Simmons pokes and prods Sal, who’s a die hard Dallas fan. They analyze what went wrong on a second-by-second basis, like it’s the Zapruder Film, and you can just tell that the sequence is eating Sal up inside. More so than Simmons in Patriots losses, Sal’s misery makes for exquisite comedy.

Some gripe that Simmons writes in a way that presumes the reader is familiar with his internal dialogue, but those who have read and listened to him enough more or less are. While that can be annoying or inaccessible for a window shopper, or old school journalists who are uncomfortable with non-concise writers as first-person brands, his honesty and candor remain a major part of why his readers are so loyal and engaged.

This is not to say that there is never a legitimate reason to find Simmons irksome — I’m not trying to read a trillion words about the NBA offseason as Midnight Run, and I don’t think he’s a very gracious loser in his teams’ defeats – but if you spend enough time with anybody over the years, he or she will get on your nerves sometimes.

Nevertheless, I appreciate that he’s leveraged his individual success to empower talented writers and documentarians. Beyond that, almost everybody’s careers in sports media, and the way in which fans consume it, would be very different today without him. His weekly podcasts with Cousin Sal will remain a big part of the way I watch football this season.

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