So by now you’ve probably heard the news: Grantland is no more. ESPN pulled the plug on the site on Friday, ending a four year run which I was lucky enough to be a small part of.
This isn’t exactly a new experience for me; before I was able to make writing a real job, I spent over a decade working in high tech, so I’m used to the reality that businesses sometimes make tough choices and people get caught in the middle of it. But this sucks. And it sucks because Grantland was easily the best job I’ve ever had.
I started with the site on an occasional basis in early 2012, joined the staff as a part-timer a year later, and was hired full-time shortly after that. I got to meet lots of cool people, travel to about half the league’s arenas (plus a football and baseball stadium) and be on the ice for two Cup celebrations.
And most importantly, I got to work with and learn from an almost ridiculous cast of talented writers and editors. I’d been reading Bill Simmons for over a decade. Katie Baker may be the best sports feature writer alive. I got to hear an editor say "Your post is up next once I finish with Charles Pierce." Barnwell, Mays, Keri, Phillips, Lowe, Rembert… I won’t try to list everyone, because it would be the entire masthead. But I basically got to spend the last few years being a fourth-line winger for the late-70s Canadiens, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Since I find myself with some unexpected time on my hands, I thought I’d pull together some of my favorite posts from the Grantland years and drop them all into one place. I hope this list brings back some memories for you, or gives you a chance to read some stuff that you missed the first time around. But if I’m being honest, this one is as much for me as it is for you. Time moves fast and at some point it will be on to the next thing, and I like the idea of taking a minute to put all of this in one place.
The fun stuff
I love hockey. It’s been an important part of my life. But it’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun, and most of what I do reflects that. If you can laugh at this stuff, at least every once in a while, you might be doing it wrong.
- 20 years of Gary Bettman Stanley Cup presentations from least to most awkward – Quite possibly my definitive Grantland hockey post. You know you’ve got a good idea for a post when you pitch it to your editor and she literally squeals with delight.
- NHLPA 93 vs NHL 94: The definitive head-to-head breakdown – This was the post I was born to write. And yes, I know you disagree with the conclusion. I’m still right and you’re wrong.
- The Connor McDavid draft lottery power rankings – On the day it went up, a fun post. In hindsight… well, you know.
- The faker's guide to advanced stats in hockey – This one was meant to be fun, but I still hear from people to this day who’ve used it to dive into the analytics world.
- The 25 Stages of a marathon playoff overtime – Honestly, I was just glad to find out that I wasn’t the only one who does the "forget there are no commercials" thing.
- The 20 types of depressed sports fans – OK, "fun" may be the wrong word for this one, but sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. This one went super viral, and as far as I know it’s the most widely read thing I’ve ever written.
The serious stuff
I don’t do it often, but every once in a while I’ll put the punchlines away and get serious. (Then I spend the next few hours making fart noises with my armpit just to restore the balance.)
- The End of Enforcers – The post I never thought I’d write, as I wrestle with where 30 years of being a fan of fighting has led me. This one led to an appearance in a 30-for-30 short.
- Battling Ghosts in Montreal – With the Canadiens facing elimination, I spent an afternoon in Montreal making the walk from the Bell Centre to the site of old Forum.
- The Return of the Whiteout – Another one from last year’s playoffs; I was lucky enough to get a chance to be in Winnipeg for the city’s first playoff game in 16 years. I’ve since regained 50% of the hearing in one ear.
- Those games – In the wake of the most devastating Maple Leafs loss in a generation, I reflected on what it means to watch your team melt down.
- Absence of Malice – Some of hockey's most horrific moments have simply been innocent plays gone terribly wrong. But what happens to the player whose ordinary actions cause a life-altering injury?
The big projects
Writing for the web these days usually means you spend most of your time posting quick reactions to whatever’s going on at that moment. But every now and then, I’d get the chance to sink my teeth into a bigger project.
- How I'd fix the NHL -- Grantland’s "How we’d fix it" feature was one of my favorites. Eventually, the NHL got its turn. And I fixed it completely, in just 6,000 words.
- The NHL Dictionary – Redefining the game. Literally.
- Five-year Stanley Cup odds – It seems like a simple question: Which teams have the best odds of winning at least one Stanley Cup in the next five years? It turns out to be tougher than you’d think, and based on reader feedback to this three-part series, I was too pessimistic for literally every team in the league. Funny how that works out.
The history lessons
One of my favorite things to do on Grantland was to use a post to dive into the history books. Old time fans seem to enjoy the walks down memory lane; new fans couldn’t believe some of this stuff actually happened.
- The championship belt of NHL rivalries – The "championship belt" concept was the creation of the brilliant Bill Barnwell, and he was kind enough to let me borrow it for a look back at the greatest rivalries in hockey history.
- A brief history of Washington Capitals collapses – One thing that always amazes me: You can write stuff like this, and fans of the team in question will love it. I guess we all have our scars.
- Does your Stanley Cup win count? – Many people enjoyed this one. Some people did not. And oh boy, did I hear from that second group.
- The NHL draft was messed up in the 70s – They spun a roulette wheel, then read it wrong and almost gave a Hall-of-Famer to the wrong team. And that was only like the sixth weirdest thing that happened.
- 10 Facts About a Fun Team – Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I still have a list of like 40 more teams I want to do, by the way.
- The YouTube section of every grab bag – The Friday grab bag became my signature column at Grantland, and now I can admit the obvious: The whole thing was basically a front to give me an excuse to break down old YouTube clips in excruciating detail. Miss you, Second Row Guy.
The just plain weird
The single best thing about writing for Grantland: They trusted you enough to let you do literally anything you wanted.
- NHL Playoff Quest – The Walkthrough – "It’s the entire NHL, but written in the style of a video game walkthrough." "OK, do it."
- An alternate history of Tom Kurvers trade – What would the world be like if the Maple Leafs had never made the Tom Kurvers trade? Part post, part therapy session.
- The NHL IMDB page – "It’s the entire NHL, but written in the style of an IMDB ‘Goofs’ page." "Yup, do it."
- The most awkward passage from every team’s Wikipedia page – Burning mascots, infidelity, logo enthusiasts, and "hoodoo it up".
- The Stanley Cup recipe – "It’s the entire NHL, but written in the style of the comments section of a recipe web site." "OK, do… wait, really?" "Yep." "[rubbing temples] You know what, screw it, go ahead."
So what now?
I’ve heard from plenty of you who’ve had very kind things to say about Grantland, and that means a lot. Many of you have also asked what’s next for me, and the answer is that as of right now I have no idea. In the short term, you may find me on ESPN.com, or right here, or somewhere else, or nowhere at all for at least a little while.
But you’ll know when I do. And thanks for reading.