Scott Simon takes the stage at the Somerville Theatre with Bill's photo in the background. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Scott Simon takes the stage at the Somerville Theatre with Bill’s photo in the background. (Robin Lubbock/Only A Game)

Scott Simon, host of NPR’s ‘Weekend Edition Saturday,’ gave the opening remarks at the Only A Game 20th Anniversary Live Show on May 12. 

Bill Littlefield grew up in Upper Montclair, N.J. and was a fan of the New York Giants and Willie Mays. Bill played baseball, hockey and tennis. He was never mistaken for a prospect. He got kicked in the head playing intramural soccer in college, at Yale, where he also studied under Robert Penn Warren.

Bill moved to Boston in 1972. A little over a decade later, he found himself covering the Boston Red Sox and interviewing Fenway’s heroes … like Bill Buckner.

Bill wrote poems from the start, though he calls them doggerel. Well, dogs have good ears for poetry, don’t they? Poems are a fine way to celebrate some of sports’ most unlikely moments:

It wasn’t God; He can’t take sides
When two teams come to play.
But who’s to say the gods weren’t present
On that fateful day
When Flutie spotted Phelan through
The wet Miami air,
And, as the clock ticked down to nothing,
Launched that final prayer?

On the strength of such lines, Bill was asked to create a weekly sports program. At first, his was not a voice and delivery you could confuse with Al Michaels’. Bill Littlefield wouldn’t say “Do you believe in miracles?” He’d go, “You know, a lot of skeptics think that miracles are scientifically unsupportable.” But Bill’s spirits picked up when it became apparent that Only A Game was going to last.

Since then, Bill has interviewed many of the biggest names in sports, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, and Serena Williams. Here’s what Dr. J had to say after Bill asked him when he first knew he could fly:

“Probably when I got to high school, and I dunked the ball in a basketball game as a junior, and I was one of the players that was coming off the bench – you know, the crowd went crazy, and the coach gave a sign of approval,” Erving said. “And that was probably the first time I felt like I had flown.”

Another time, Bill asked Ms. Williams what she thought when Wimbledon acknowledged the inclination to put the most physically attractive female players on center court.

“Obviously I feel like I’m super hot,” she said. “I don’t think you can get better than my body. So, let’s face it, you know.”

Bill and his talented crew have created a show that delights, informs, and distracts listeners across the country.

Bill Littlefield has been thoughtful, but not stuffy; knowing, without sounding know-it-all; and a lover of sports who sees its weak spots and appreciates the way sports can uplift us, and often infuriate and, I think, always amuse and entertain us.