Even before Bill Simmons was a national pundit with an HBO deal and his own podcasting network, back when he was just the Boston Sports Guy, he was including his friends in his columns. It’s a big part of what created the every-dude persona that served as the foundation to Simmons’ career: He talked about the games like you did, about how he and his buddy J-Bug watched the Celtics, or how he fought with Jack-O about the Yankees.
Or how his buddy Joe House loved the Washington teams.
As Simmons’ profile got bigger, his buddies not only remained a part of his anecdotes, they started appearing on his podcasts and, once he was running ESPN’s boutique Grantland imprint, contributing articles or starring in videos. Now, despite having a day job in consulting totally unrelated to sports writing or commentary, Joe House has a regular weekly podcast with Simmons and a public profile with a huge following on Twitter. Which, in turn, is how one of the most downloaded sports podcasts on the Internet winds up spending a few minutes every Friday discussing D.C. sports while dishing out betting advice and statistical trends.
Fascinated, I reached out to House for an explanation. He sums the situation up pretty bluntly: “The increase in opportunities I’ve had to interject my corny two cents into the ceaseless cycle of voices and pixels boils down to one simple fact of fate: I’m a dude who is friends with a dude who worked his ass off for two decades (and counting) to achieve a national voice.”
Don’t underestimate that voice. Simmons’ podcast, even without the benefit of an ESPN boost anymore, has a half-million regular listeners and racked up 27 million downloads in four months on his own. It’s near the top of most podcasting charts.
House is D.C. through and through—enough so that he won’t call himself a D.C. native because he grew up in Silver Spring, even though he went to high school in D.C. and has lived in the city since 1994. His D.C. sports memories sound like the montage from a local sports TV special: Capitals games in the mid-1970s and “Thank Brooks Day” at Memorial Stadium in 1977; Bullets games in ’79 and Pigskins games from the early Joe Gibbs years.
Let’s put his Twitter audience in perspective: At 42,000, House has more followers than Washington Post Pigskins beat writer Mike Jones (28,000) or ESPN Pigskins beat writer John Keim (32,000), and is close to a popular local radio voice like Chad Dukes (55,000). As a person discussing D.C. sports, House has as much reach as anyone, a fact that he seems more amused than impressed by. “The day everything got real for me was the day @wzzntzz started following me on Twitter,” he says (which is about as D.C. sports fan as you can get).
“It’s obviously fun having a place to say bad things about Dan Snyder that people all over can hear,” he notes, but then immediately turns the conversation to the woeful state of D.C. sports in general. He’s low-key about his on-air contributions, namechecking a half-dozen different writers he reads to inform any analysis he does, also noting that he credits them on the show when he cites them. (Here he is last week, talking about Steph Curry’s electric performance against the Wizards at Verizon Center.)
This is House’s favorite experience as part of his quasi-celebrity: When Simmons and his Grantland crew met President Obama at the White House, House managed to get a spot in the group. When the time came for a photo with the president, House, a tall guy, lined up behind Obama and Simmons to avoid blocking anyone.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” House tells me, “The Prez took me by the shoulder saying ‘No, no, no one in back,’ and slid me in next to him bumping Simmons over a spot. So the pic is of a whole crew and me next to the president. Lifetime achievement. Simmons has never forgiven me.”
Speaking of trading places: Simmons’ rise in the media world has been matched by his hometown’s ascent from lovable sports wasteland to insufferable city of champions, while House has been stuck in the D.C. sports doldrums that whole time.
“It has really been a challenge over the years to take the relentlessly underwhelming/mediocre/disappointing/under-delivering dose that the local teams have served up, while each and every goddamned Boston franchise has won at least one title,” House notes. “I have enjoyed it as much as an enema.”
The parallel is not lost on House. “When Simmons and I were in school in the late ’80s [and] early ’90s,” he says, “the sports scene in Boston was in a pretty similar place as D.C.” Now, however, it’s been such a long drought that he says he has “literally no idea how I’m going to feel when one of the locals finally breaks through.”
Whenever it does happen (he’s hoping for this year’s Caps squad), at least he’ll have the opportunity to easily tell an awful lot of people all about it.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @matt_terl.