Friday, September 30, 2011

The game I missed

Chuck Klosterman wrote a piece for Grantland a couple weeks back in which he explained why watching recorded/DVRed/tape-delayed sports seems to lack that indescribable feeling you get when you watch something emotion-torquing. His primary theory is based on the following premise: The reason most of watch sports (in a very general sense) is for that feeling, that thrill you get from seeing something you've never seen before, either athletically or dramatically.

Here's the takeaway:
"If this game has already ended and I don't know anything about what happened, it was probably just a game": This sentence is so obvious that it's almost nonsensical, but I suspect it's the one point that matters most. It's the central premise behind the entire concept of "liveness," which is what this whole problem comes down to.

What I've come to accept (and this is both good and bad, but mostly bad) is that — for the rest of my life — I will never not instantaneously know about any marginally insane event. There's just no way to avoid the information. ...

If I record Thursday's Mavs-Heat game and wait until Friday morning to watch it, will I be able to avoid discovering that Miami won in overtime? Probably. I could probably avoid hearing the score or knowing that it was an especially thrilling game. But could I avoid hearing that LeBron James scored 85 points? Could I avoid hearing that Dirk had 51 at halftime? Could I keep from learning that the roof of American Airlines Center tragically collapsed? What if Miami never missed a single field goal for the entire second half? What if Mark Cuban grabbed the PA microphone seconds before tip-off and publicly announced he was gay? What if a bear broke into the stadium and started attacking players on the court, forcing Shawn Marion to tackle the bear and break its neck? Is there any chance I could avoid hearing that news before pressing "play" on the DVR remote? No. No way. There's no possible way I could avoid hearing about any of those situations. And — sure — those scenarios are preposterous and implausible. But so was the possibility of an earthquake happening during a World Series game. So was the likelihood of an NBA title game being interrupted by the LAPD slowly chasing a Hall of Fame tailback down the freeway to arrest him for double homicide. So was Monica Seles getting stabbed in Germany, Reggie Miller scoring eight points in less than nine seconds, and the conclusion of the 1982 Cal-Stanford game.

It's difficult to project fictional scenarios that are more oblique and unexpected than the craziest moments from reality. We all understand this. And that understanding is at the core of the human attraction to liveness. We don't crave live sporting events because we need immediacy; we crave them because they represent those (increasingly rare) circumstances in which the entire spectrum of possibility is in play. They're the last scraps of mass society that are totally unfixed.
That last bolded portion says it all.

Twice in about the past four weeks, I've been reminded in mind-blowingly spectacular fashion why I watch sports. The first (shocking!):

The second (yes, I do occasionally consume non-college-football sporting events):

I couldn't have gone back and watched either of those events the next day and felt what I felt at the time, sitting and watching and not having any idea of the ridiculousness that was about to transpire and then reveling in the outcome afterward with a bunch of people who saw the same thing in real time.
. . . . .

Eight years ago, I was still a wee laddie fresh out of Grand Valley State working a crappy day job and covering high school sports as a stringer. It was a thoroughly unexciting existence with few memorable moments.

But I remember one Friday night in particular. It was early October and I was covering a high school football game -- I think it was at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, but I don't remember for sure (and it doesn't matter anyway). Michigan was supposed to play at Minnesota the following day, but because the playoff-bound Twins got first dibs on the Metrodome and were scheduled to start the ALDS at home that Saturday, they booted the Michigan-Minnesota game to Friday night. I wasn't super thrilled.

My plan was the plan we've all made 6,000 times: Tape the game (lol VCRs), avoid all references/scores/updates (this was easier before Twitter and the world of the omnipresent internet), hurry home after filing a story and watch the tape with my cousin, who was at the high school game with me to keep stats.

Everything went according to plan. We started the tape around 11, fast-forwarded through the commercials, etc. And then the fourth quarter came along ceased to exist. Minnesota scored on the last play of the third to go up 28-7 on the best Michigan team since 1997 as I shook my head in disbelief ... and that was the end of the tape. Apparently I'd left the VCR on "slow" (or whatever it was only gave you two hours of recording time). This was half "SO MUCH ANGARRR" and half "whatever, we were getting killed anyways." This was also the point at which I gave up on the original plan and -- with no real alternatives -- headed to to get a final score and assess the stupid damage.

At least I didn't miss much:

Thanks a lot, VCR. You totally deserved to get technologically usurped.


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