By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Editor's Note: This article appears in the December 20 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Our games were all over the place this year. We were thrilled when the Red Sox crushed The Curse, but chilled by the big BALCO mess. We watched in awe as Armstrong attacked the Alps, then ran for cover when Artest climbed into the stands.

So our year-end challenge here at The Mag? Pick the 100 stories that mattered most -- polling ESPN writers, editors, researchers and producers -- then stir. But just when we thought we had the list in order, disorder prevailed: Conte dropped the veil of mystery, Notre Dame dropped its coach, Sheridan dropped her towel. At this point, who even remembers the wardrobe malfunction? We do, actually. Jump in to find it.

ESPN 100
Check out all 100 of ESPN The Magazine's top stories of 2004 at ESPN Insider!

  • Nos. 2-50: From Ron Artest (2) to BALCO (4 and 5) to Phil killing the monkey (7) to Peyton's pace (20) and Terrell and Towelgate (47), we recap the rest of the Top 50.

  • Nos. 51-100: From Gibbs' return (54) to fourth-and-26 (66) to a fabulous frosh (71) and our birthday in Bristol (100).
  • The Red Sox won the World Series. I always imagined how that sentence would look. Have you ever sent an e-mail to a buddy with a goofy phrase in the subject heading, something like "Steinbrenner and Clemens are headed to jail!" or "Shawn Kemp knocks up the Olsen twins"? I do, all the time. But I never typed those seven words. Not until the night it happened.

    That sentence has changed my life. People have been congratulating me for weeks. Long-lost college friends, extended family members, former co-workers ... everyone paid their respects. I felt like The Godfather. Two weeks after the final out, my dog and I were finishing a walk when a neighbor emerged from his house and shouted, "Hey, I never congratulated you!" Is this what having a kid feels like? I keep waiting for the happiness to subside, but it hasn't. I actually feel lighter. I own four different victory T-shirts, two hats, two DVDs, one jersey, one sweatshirt, one commemorative baseball and three pictures that need framing ... and I'm just getting started. There have been about 200 times when I've said to myself, "Holy crap, I can't believe that happened!" I have the same giddy conversations with the same giddy people. Every Red Sox fan is the same -- we can't believe what happened, we can't get over what happened, we don't want to get over what happened.

    Johnny Damon
    A sight many Red Sox fans thought they'd never see.

    There was a laughable misperception that we couldn't handle this, that we'd aimlessly search for a new identity, a little like Red after getting paroled from Shawshank. Nobody thought we could make it on the outside. That's ridiculous. Don't you understand what this win means? No more "1918" chants. No more smug glances from Yankee fans. No more Buckner clips or Babe photos. No more worrying about living an entire life -- that's 80 years, followed by death -- without seeing the Red Sox win a Series. I mean, would you miss a migraine? We never defined ourselves by the failures of our team. It was others who did. And we were exhausted by it.

    Trust me, we're doing fine. I can't imagine a group of fans milking one moment longer. At a recent Celtics game, David Ortiz, sitting courtside, headed to the men's room. Finishing his business, he emerged to find 250 people, waiting to cheer for him. When chairman Tom Werner brought the trophy to a Santa Monica bar, some West Coast transplants waited six hours for a picture. People have lost their minds. Do you realize how many babies named Johnny, Curt, Manny and Theo are being born right now? Just last week my friend Hench sent out an e-mail organizing a Sox banquet -- steak dinner and some pops followed by corny toasts about the team. Oh, and I'm not going to that?

    We're stuck in a state of arrested bliss. Here's an e-mail from reader Brian Holmes: "I was walking down the cereal aisle and saw a Wheaties box with David Ortiz on it. Honest to god, I blubbered like Tony Soprano when he saw the ducks in his swimming pool. I had to keep walking around until I dried up. I didn't want the checkout girl to see me. Has anyone else e-mailed you with stories like this? Should I see a shrink?"

    Keith Foulke & Jason Varitek
    The joy from this moment will last for a very long time.

    No, Brian, you don't need a shrink. The same thing happened to me. As I watched the World Series DVD for the first time, my face started to quiver like Maverick's after Goose died. I couldn't take it. This is the franchise that never caught a break. For every Fisk homer plunking the foul pole, a Perez moon shot waited to trump it. For every Hendu, there was a Mookie lurking around the corner. Tony C's beanball, Pesky's double-clutch, the sale of The Babe ... these were the stories I grew up with. During that traumatic Game 3 against the Yanks, I wondered if it would be fair to raise my kids as Sox fans. Why would I do that to them? One day later I cheered Derek Lowe as he loped to the bullpen, holding onto a sliver of hope like everyone else. My father was next to me, closer to 60 than 50. You couldn't blame him if he heard the clock ticking. That's the thing about the Sox -- they always made you take a deep breath and say, "We'll get 'em next year," and then 10 years would zoom by. Nothing has made me so consistently aware of my mortality. Nothing.

    Ten days later, the Red Sox won the World Series.

    I stare at the words and it all comes back. There's Dave Roberts inching off first, studying Mariano Rivera like a figure skating judge as the crowd leans forward. There's Papi rounding third, flipping off his helmet with a smile that stretches from Section 33 to Section 1. There's Schilling limping to the mound, our resident Roy Hobbs, to try to grind out one more inning on a ravaged ankle. There's Keith Foulke hauling in that final grounder, pausing for a second in disbelief, then lobbing the ball to Minky like a hand grenade. There's my dad screaming on the phone, "It happened in my lifetime! It happened in my lifetime!"

    The Red Sox won the World Series. Seven words that changed my life. Yes, I'm handling it fine.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.