I've heard it said that one of the hardest things for an adult male to do is make friends. Personally, I'm going with washing the dishes I put in the sink "to soak." But this "friends" thing is coming from experts on such things, so who am I to argue? A few years ago, no less a source than the Surgeon General of these United States declared that the number one cause of death among grown men isn't heart disease or cancer or having dirt on the Clintons; it's loneliness. Because guys tend to go through that stage in life where they start families and lose contact with the guys they knew from school, and don't have the same skills at staying in touch or making new connections that women do.
I use this as a lead in to say that one of the great blessings of my life came when I jumped aboard a little pirate ship in the form of a free bi-weekly newspaper named Barstool Sports some time around 2004. At that point, it was Dave Portnoy and a couple of other supremely talented writers, Jamie Chisholm and Pete Manzo. I was the fourth guy. I was also very much an outlier in that I was already in that child-rearing time of my life where the weekends revolved around whatever activity the kids were involved in. And on the rare occasion I was granted shore leave by my lovely commanding officer to go hit a bar with the guys I grew up with, it was typically at a local dive with the owner's name on a PBR sign above the door and a jar of pickled eggs next to the cash register.
What changed all that was Barstool. Specifically Barstool growing its audience as Dave find new and better ways to promote it. With glossy editions featuring Boston's sexiest bartenders. A pageant of sorts to pick the Cover Model of the Year. A radio show. Trivia nights. And above all else, parties. Three or four of them a year, at some of the more popular clubs in the city. Which I was reluctant to go to, since I have always been blessed/cursed with a strong sense of self-awareness. The first time Dave asked if I was coming to one, I told him I don't think I should, because I didn't want to come across as "THAT Guy." Showing up in what I think people are still wearing, like that Seinfeld bit about how you can tell when your dad's life peaked because that's when he stopped buying clothes. Or worse, trying to blend, like a living version of the "How do you do, fellow kids?" meme before Steve Buscemi ever turned his hat backwards and put a "Rock Band" tee on under his flannel. But Dave insisted. He said I'm part of this crew and belong at these events.
And for that, I'm eternally grateful. Prior to those, I'd never met any other other writers. Or the Stoolies who were turning us from a little sports/gambling rag for distracting 30-year-old cubicle monkeys during their over-stressed, underpaid work days into an actual community. A lifestyle, even. Back then, we knew the people in from the comments section. They populated our message board. They made friends. Fought. Hooked up. Got together. Bad mouthed the writers sometimes. Especially as Dave switched us from just a print edition to a daily blog and the amount of content exploded. But I never took part in that aspect of Barstool life. I had enough on my plate between a family, a job, and producing content to want that side salad.
But I did manage to make friends. Especially the fifth writer to walk up the gangplank and step onto the deck. Adam Cormack to those who know him personally. Uncle Buck to the rest of the known universe.
If you're too new to this site to remember his work, I pity you and how hollow and empty your existence must be. For you, no explanation will suffice. If you were there, none is necessary. Buck's many skills included, but were not limited to, referring to himself only in the third person, a didactic memory for pop culture references, and a talent for finding sexy celebrity photos that is unmatched in recorded history. He used those skills to create the "Wake Up With ..." feature that started every morning here. Sometimes with 125 or more photos of a single, often obscure actress. Every one of them a violation of somebody's copyright, but it was the Wild West back then. On a few occasions he was busy and asked me to fill for a day or two, and it almost broke me. It was exhausting work. I'm not even kidding. And yet he did it day in and day out. And his tireless efforts in this field helped us achieve break out of Earth's orbit and sent us on a trajectory toward the moon. Which we now own.
Two things about Uncle Buck's blogs. One, if I saw some actress who I thought might be worthy of him, I'd Google "wake up with" and her name. Almost never did I find someone he hadn't already done. One Saturday night, I came home late from doing a stand up show, put on HBO to unwind, and came across the Eli Roth film Hostel 2. One of the supporting roles was played by an actress who may have had some physical attributes that appeal to certain superficial men. So I searched her name and found Buck had already posted a 100-photo gallery of her. Two years earlier. Another time came right when Season 1 of Heroes was the biggest thing on TV. And star Hayden Panitierre, the It Girl of that moment in time, had just turned 18, making it not at all creepy for websites run by men in their 20s and 30s to turn the male gaze toward her. And while I was hanging out with the other writers at the Stool's March Madness day-drinking party, UB posted brand new photos of Panitierre licking the Stanley Cup. As one of them turned to me and said, "Uncle Buck has his own internet. One that exists entirely for him." It was the only explanation for how he found such things.
Eventually, he and I got together at one of the parties, and it was one of those situations where you feel like you've always known someone you're just meeting for the first time. He was also married with kids, so there was that connection. But it was more about liking the same things. Understanding the same obscure references. Being able to have whole conversations built entirely out of lines from The Simpsons. We'd text each other to coordinate ideas for the blog and so forth in a way that I didn't necessarily with the other guys. Or even with Dave, who was busy running an empire while I was just shirking my duties at my day job. More than anything, it was that sense you get from other people, if you're fortunate enough in this life, that they have your best interests at heart, want nothing out of you but a friendship, and make you want to do likewise.
So it's been a decade and a half now of Pats games, Sox games, golf outings, trivia championships, podcasts at the radio station I used to work for, and being on multiple text threads together that would get anyone involved shunned by polite society if they were ever made public. And eventually, to yesterday at Gillette Stadium:
Adam and Jessica got engaged a month or so ago. A second marriage for both, they wanted something informal. They're Patriots season ticket holders, so they came up with the idea of doing it at the tailgate scene and asked if I'd be willing to perform the ceremony. I guess based on the fact that I know them both well. And maybe also because I've got a history:
Between the time I posted this in 2019, and yesterday, I'd done four more weddings. One from a family of Stoolies I'd never met but who read the blog and asked if I'd do their daughter's. Every one of them was a profound honor. Each was special and unique.
But one involved marrying one of the best friends I'll ever have. In one of my favorite places on Earth. For the ESPN cameras. That's a life experience I never expected to have when I emailed a guy publishing a newspaper, sent him a writing sample, and got the reply, "You're hired. It doesn't pay anything, though" almost 20 years ago. It's just more evidence for the hypothesis I'm working on. And that is, when Tom Brady got hit and fumbled in the Snow Bowl against the Raiders, I slipped and whacked my head on the wood stove, and the last 20 years have been a coma dream. And any moment now I'm going to wake up in a hospital with two kids in preschool, a job at a courthouse, and the Patriots going on 42 years without a championship. And Drew Bledsoe back as my starting quarterback.
And for those reasons and more, the wedding was a real Circle of Life moment for a lot of us. It certainly was for me. From the opening, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the presence of this stadium, with those six banners, and downwind from these Port-o-Pottys," to the final "I Dos." And please note the slide away from the couple before the "You may now kiss one another" part, so I don't end up in the photos standing between them like some creep gawking at PDA in the park. That veteran move is the Jerry Thornton Difference you don't get from just anyone.
It felt like a culmination of sorts. Not of my professional involvement with this company (that's still to come, I hope), but my personal involvement with it. The fact it's brought me relationships that I sincerely cherish. Not just Adam and Jess, but legendary Stool fan and part-time MMA blogger Soog was there. Kati Cawley, who became our first female columnist and is one of my best friends. We stood in the sun sipping beers and talking about the simpler days when Barstool was just a thing that was beginning to take off and no one could've imagined a day when it would be a multi-million dollar, multi-media corporate giant and sports gambling enterprise that has the New York Times - the New York bloody Times! - doing hit pieces on its founder.
The fact that it all took place at this particular spot, this tailgate parking lot, made it all the more surreal for me. They say "The boy is father to the man." And the boy that I used to be found his calling at that same tailgate. When my older brothers would take me to Pats games as a kid. Long before I ever set foot inside Fenway, I'd go to the obsolete, concrete toilet seat that the old Schaefer (later Foxboro) Stadium was. To watch the brokest, least successful franchise in all of pro sports. Because tickets were not only available, people were literally giving them away. But that team and those memories imprinted on me like a kid falling in love with a stray dog. Every time I go there, the smell of charcoal and the sounds of music, happy yelling and footballs hitting windshields kicks in sense memory in me as powerful as any you get from the smell of a Christmas tree or visiting your old school.
I fell in love with a football franchise on that spot as a kid. As an adult, I found a way to do what I love, which is talk about that team. Then years after that, I get invited to help people I love express their love for one another in front of the world. If this really is a coma dream, don't wake me. I'm fine right with this reality, thanks.
Congrats to the happy couple. Thanks for the opportunity and the friendship. And to everyone who's ever supported what we do here, past and present: Viva la Stool.