History will show that it was on the second-to-the-last day of October 2015, that the music died, again.
The ghost of Grantland Rice, brought back to life for four years by Bill Simmons et al., was put to rest again, nearly 90 years to the day after Rice originally raised the stakes on sports writing, introducing the world to the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.
In Rice's words, "for when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game."
The writers that made Simmons' eponymous homage to Rice so great may have lost their homepage, but they certainly played the game better than anyone out there. That — the caliber of the writing on the site, and how its writers raised the bar — is what people will remember most about Grantland.com and its writers.
At the risk of tastelessly comparing the shuttering of Grantland.com to a plane crash, that's what the recent news felt like in a way. Waking up knowing I may not get to read Charles P. Pierce's sports writing, Shea Serrano's takes on pop culture, or Katie Baker's mailbag-styled musings again, certainly not all in one place, I felt the nostalgia of Don McLean's "American Pie" as it paid homage to the February 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper."
So pass the whiskey and rye, and pour out a little for Grantland and its roster of world-class writers, the rug pulled out from under, and the plug pulled on them at the top of their games.
To those who complain about my word choice and usage — you won one. Grantland and much of its content was the stuff of your worst literary nightmares, 1,400-plus words rather than 140 or fewer characters. Well-written critiques of some of your favorite reality TV show heroes and heroines. Well-researched, and even better written commentary on sports, including the occasional column-as-a-caricature of an otherwise popular hot take.
It may have made you laugh, and it may have made you think; and, at its best, it may have even made you put in a little work — making you occasionally reach for your Webster's in the same sort of way Mike McDermott would win the occasional pot — if you read it.
But, many of you probably didn't care for it. You may have never read it.
If you did, you may have liked as little, or cared for it less than you do the lingual legerdemain for which you often accuse me of being holier than thou and too high browed for the readers 'round here. You may not have even known it was there, or that it's gone.
But, I loved Grantland. I read it every day. Today, I feel like I've lost a friend — or four, or more. And now I'll need to fill a void with the time I used to spend with those friends, reading their columns.
Grantland suffered the same fate of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, "Studio 60" on the "Sunset Strip" — both paid talented contributors too much to reach an attractive audience. The problem being that that target audience, while attractive, was too small to drive the advertising revenue necessary to pay for that same talent — creating a high quality product that lost money, which is not a sustainable business model.
(Though, somehow, producing free content and not driving any revenue is – a sustainable business model, that is.?)
"Studio 60" was written by Aaron Sorkin. It was to "Saturday Night Live" what "The West Wing" was to the White House, "The Newsroom" was to the nightly news, and "Sports Night" was to "SportsCenter."
None of these were likely in the to-be-DVR-ed rotation of the "TMZ, Keeping Up with, Flip my House, Housewives of, or Storage Wars" watching masses. Neither was Grantland. And, adults that read the Harry Potter series, Fifty Shades of terribly written, bored housewife-inspired soft porn, and the "Twilight" series — and who rush to theaters to indulge their sad cougarish crushes on teenage leading men in the made-into-movies versions of the same — didn't read Grantland either.
There is, err was, a divergence, pardoning the pun if you will, between those adults that read young-adult fiction, whether it be of the science or romantic sort, for fun, and the adult audience that read(s) well-written, sometimes challenging (both as thought-provoking and in the manner in which it makes you look up a word or research a reference) long-form, non-fiction, also for fun, just of a different kind — at least I'd like to think there is.
Though, I think we've touched on that topic more than once in this column, and while I've gotten good enough feedback to know that there's a certain sect in the "I like the intellectual challenge" camp, I'll get back to this sort of ode to Grantland and his present day, though recently deceased, progeny.
At its core, and often, at its best, the contemporary version of Grantland paid homage to its old school roots by bringing us the best in long-form sports writing available on the web (or in print), often laced with well-placed pop- and cross-cultural references and metaphors.
So, marrying old with new, and bidding adieu:
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as erudite poignancy, raconteur, a female Simmonsian pastiche, and the levity of a literary youthful exuberance. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Pierce, Serrano, Baker, and Brown. They formed the core of the Grantland masthead before which the fans of great sports writing gathered, as the uninitiated peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out below. They say writers suffer from a lack of dreams, that's what begets their courage.
Well, we'll dream for you: Billy, Charlie, and Shea. Katie, Rembert, and Alfred Peirre. Sleep well.
Good night, and #RIPGrantland, as the kids would say today.