As unlikely as that might sound to those born after 1980 who are used to finding sports on television any time of the day or night, it's true.
From this vantage, a sizeable portion of credit for 24/7 sports programming (or curse, if it's not your cup of tea) belongs to Simmons, who died last week at age 81.
When ESPN debuted, nationally televised regular-season Major League Baseball games were largely a once-a-week affair, usually only on Saturdays except for rare occasions when ABC broadcast Monday Night Baseball.
Until the mid-1980s, some NBA playoff basketball games weren't broadcast live; the networks choose to show them via tape-delay. I remember taking steps to avoid learning the score lest the thrill of watching the game late into the night was spoiled.
Back then, the notion of watching dozens of college football games on a single Saturday, every game of the College World Series or every round of the NFL draft was a fantasy. I should know. As a teen who combed through The Sporting News every week as if clues to the secrets of life were hidden within, that much televised sports was a blissful dream.
Now, 31 years later, we are awake and living in a new world.
ESPN, the short version of Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, is now a household name. No longer merely one channel, ESPN offers a host of options, including one for Spanish-language viewers and another dedicated to nothing but sports headlines.
Other competitors have staked a claim alongside the pioneering ESPN. They include channels dedicated to hunting and fishing, auto racing, adventure sports, golf and tennis. The major professional leagues have their own channels. General-entertainment cable channels such as TNT, WGN and TBS carry NBA games and big-league baseball.
The big networks have taken their games from tape-delay to prime-time. An NCAA official recently noted CBS' $6 billion contract to broadcast the men's college basketball tournament equaled a huge share of the NCAA's budget.
Even college football, once the exclusive domain of Saturdays in the fall, can be viewed on practically any day of the week. And on Saturday, eager viewers can start with a pre-game show at 9 in the morning and not leave the couch for the next 15 hours.
Oh, and then there are the vintage sports channels, the ones dedicated to showing classic games from the past. So what if we know how the 1985 Iron Bowl turned out? Let's watch it again.
The perpetual answer to, "Is there a game on tonight?" is, "Yes, yes, yes." The caveat is if the viewer is willing to pay the price for satellite or cable.
As a University of Alabama student in the mid-1980s, I got the chance to visit with Simmons. He was by that time no longer with ESPN or his other groundbreaking innovation, the United States Football League, the highly entertaining early 1980s springtime rival to the NFL.
Simmons spoke about his time as head of ESPN, and before that NBC Sports. He looked back at the juggernaut he had helped to create. In less than a decade, ESPN had become a well-known brand. It was starting the transition away from oddball, time-filling programming — anyone else recall Australian Rules Football? — to more mainstream fare.
He spoke of an arms race among network sports divisions, each trying to outdo the other. He recalled during his time with NBC Sports kibitzing with top execs from a rival network during a Super Bowl week in the 1970s. The discussion went something like:
We're using a dozen cameras to cover the game this year.
Oh, yeah, well, when we do it next year, we'll have 15 cameras.
For the record, networks now regularly employ more than 35 cameras at a Super Bowl, and that's not the only thing that's growing.
The appetite of viewers of sports appears to have no limit.
We live in a fractured land. We are divided by politics, religion, where we shop, what blogs we visit and even what food is on our plates.
Games on TV are one of the few uniters left. Events like March Madness can keep coworkers chatting for hours, the same with NASCAR, the NFL and so many others. It seems odd that contests with at least two sides are one of the few things that can still bring us together.
Simmons understood that while the "S" (sports) was the drawing card, the true value of ESPN was the "E" (entertainment).
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.