If you don’t already listen to Bill Simmons‘ podcast, we recommend doing so (if you’ve got the 50 minutes a day to spare, anyway). As chic as it is to hate Simmons, he’s one of the best sports podcasters in the business, and engages his (high-profile) guests as well as anybody. Credit where it’s due and all.
His latest guest yesterday was ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, and as two neurotic writers are so often wont to do, they spoke frequently about their own fears. For Kornheiser, it’s flying. And while TK wouldn’t explicitly cite it as a reason for his departure from the show, it does sound like his departure was awfully good for his mental well-being.
From Tuesday’s podcast (pops directly to audio):
Here’s what would happen to me if I had to fly that night or tomorrow morning: I could get through most of the game, except the halftime, you know, because then I wasn’t occupied at halftime. And the moment the game was over, and the lights went down, and they took the makeup off, I would quiver… because I knew what was next. I’m pretty good at tasks and at compartmentalizing my life and denying what comes next until it’s actually upon me.
The fears that you have, literally, they haunt your dreams. They don’t allow you to sleep. And you wake up soaking wet, and you go, “Oh, no.” You can talk yourself back to sleep - we’re all adults - but there is that loss of control like that, that is certainly unpleasant.
Kornheiser then opined that most people have similar phobias; we’re not so sure. Perhaps it’s just the last vestiges of youthful delusions of immortality, but my worst fears (Real talk? I’m deathly afraid of having my teeth broken and/or knocked out) play but a small role in my daily life, consciously or subconsciously (like, it’s not like I won’t eat crunchy food or anything); observations of other peoples’ behavior lead me to believe that such a minor effect is closer to normal than Kornheiser’s reactions.
As for his approach to MNF now that Jon Gruden has replaced him, Kornheiser compared it to a girlfriend, and that he “[doesn’t] want to see her yet,” but the dynamic of replacing a sportswriter with a former coach in search of higher ratings isn’t lost on Kornheiser:
I wish Gruden all the best, it’s just an entirely different show. I mean, you go from a guy who’s looking from the outside in to a guy who’s looking from the inside out. That’s all.
When asked if Kornheiser’s status as never having played football mattered:
It’s amazing to me that the very people who say that are the people who never played. If Gruden or [Ron] Jaworski tried to explain something to them the way that they explain it to each other, none of these viewers would have a clue what they were talking about.
If it doesn’t read as a full-throated defense of Kornheiser’s tenure and role at Monday Night Football up to this year, it isn’t; TK is far too nuanced a thinker (and far too neurotic) to insist that nothing was wrong with his performance or that Gruden didn’t deserve the spot over him. But somewhere in his statements, there’s a glimmer of something between regret and resentment that he didn’t have a place at an imaginary roundtable of people best qualified to talk during Monday Night Football.