Last Thursday, I had a classic moment of technological frustration and deliverance that embodied the new era of football viewing that has been thrust upon all of us who hold the NFL near and dear to our hearts.
As a proud satellite dish owner, I had no problems accessing what turned out to be a fantastic Jets-Pats battle in the comfort of my own home. Imagine my delight when the game went into overtime with the score tied at a whopping 31 points apiece -- more of a good thing? Sign me up!
How I laughed when the announcing crew bellowed, "We're going to overtime!" as my wife Robin turned to me and said; "If you listen really closely, you can hear every housewife in America groan ..." True 'dat, and tough tomatoes, beautiful. It was my football world and she was just living in it ... until something truly awful happened. The DVR recorder on our gi-normous flat screen flashed a message so horrifying I'm having a hard time even typing it: "Your recorder needs to switch channels in order to record Kath & Kim, and Kitchen Nightmares."
Gut punch? Try a steel toe boot right in the Chiclets! That's right, my dream of watching OT all the way through to the awkward Belichick-Mangini handshake was suddenly being usurped, because both of my Dish feeds were being pre-programmed to gather up chick shows!
Marone, what a catastrophe! I wanted to turn to her and say, "If you listen closely, you can hear every husband sneaking out to the closest topless bar that has a dish ..." However, I wisely kept my yapper shut and opted to do the smart thing for once. Realizing that I already had my wifi-connected laptop sitting beside me as I tracked the live game stats as they impacted all seven of my fantasy football teams (dork!), I had a brainstorm, logged on right here to NFL.com, tuned in the game, and didn't miss a play, or an angle, thanks to the shot options, baby. A shameless homer plug? Nope. Even if I worked for soccer.org, I would have jumped up and kissed the dot-com right on the lips, because thanks to the little URL that could, I went from watching Kath & Kim strolling through the mall shopping for Spanks to a whole new universe of game watching.
What an amazing age we live in! It didn't even have to be my computer -- I could have watched the game on my freakin' phone! I won't be surprised if next year I'm watching a hologram of the game as I travel to work with my jet pack.
It's important to take stock of just how rewarding TV can be when I think about all the current TV trends I can do without. It's a long list, but I'll toss you three:
1. Now that I'm a dad, I can't believe how many police procedurals base their storylines on stolen and abused children. Do people actually enjoy watching this stuff? I guess so; because I don't buy for a minute these plots are conceived to "raise awareness." I find them uninformative and abhorrent.
2. I also remain baffled to see HBO fall into a time-honored manhole: Americans don't want to see Brit and Aussie comedians in drag. Never have, never will, it just doesn't translate here. We actually like our comic female characters to be played by women, and yet we're getting cross-dressing misfires shoved down our throats like Summer Heights High and Little Britain USA, which boasts tons of fat-guy-in-drag stuff, and also treats us to a couple of Brits' takes on a country they seem to have only experienced through equally-presumptuous Tracy Ullman specials.
3. And I still hate the modern TV drama's required ending: A three-minute, dialogue-free playout accompanied by a maudlin, crybaby rock ballad. Seriously, don't we all instinctively reach for the remote the minute some Ben Folds song kicks in as series regulars exchange tragic, knowing glances, walk alone down a rainy street, place toe tags on corpses and shut the drawer, and watch party favors float away into a sad, sad lake?
So it goes without saying that as far as I'm concerned, all is not perfect in TV land. All the more reason to rejoice in the viewer-rewarding advances in televised football. That's the beauty of sports -- it's not interpreted by writers. The broadcast is entirely ruled by a simple, good thought: What makes this reality better to watch? Yes, you get stuck with a remarkably long list of unsatisfying announcers, but the technology makes it all worthwhile.
High-def is the definition of the old saying, "A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity." It's hard to go back to the farm after you have counted the whiskers on a quarterback's chin, seen each blade of grass on the field articulated, and counted every rotation of a spiral headed to the back corner of the end zone.
It may no longer be novel, but I still love the first-down laser line.
I am only okay with the dotted line indicating the kickers range because it aggrandizes the soft way to win. I don't want to like the red zone graphic that paints everything inside the 20-yard line in red, yet I can't help it.
I feel the down-and-distance red arrow imposed on the field is cool, yet redundant because that info is usually on the game clock grid, and I don't love the bottom of the screen crawl during games. I can't focus on both, and I find myself pulled away by a score down yonder, then I have to hit my replay button over and over to get back to what happened on the playing field.
Nothing beats the aforementioned TiVo DVR -- a magic machine that not only lets you record a game, pause live action, and scoot through the commercials -- it also gives football fans the ultimate revenge: The ability to jump across the worst thing in broadcasting, when the network takes a commercial time out after the two-minute warning, with only 18 seconds to go before halftime. I experienced one of these last week, and the only thing that saved my TV from going out the window was that beautiful little forward button on the TiVo remote. Take that, greed machine!
However, I do have to admit that watching a recorded game that has already finished is strangely disconnected from the visceral energy of watching it live in real time. Even if you found a way to get off work and all the way home without hearing a word about the score, there is a nagging awareness that you are "simulating" bliss. Still, compared to missing it, I think I'll live.
I also happen to be a big fan of local radio announce teams -- they get a terribly bad rap in the industry, denigrated as "homers," but for my money I'll take the voice of a team over the pallid, passionless and impartial national TV crew any day of the week ... and I can do it, thanks to Sirius Satellite Radio and NFL.com, where I can track down the home and visiting radio broadcast of every NFL game. Syncing it to picture can, at times, be problematic, but it's tweakable, and always delivers a livelier, involved game call. Try it, you'll like it.
Those with the DirecTV NFL package know you can also enjoy eight games at once, via the octagon split of the Game Mix channel. Great idea, but it's not for me. I have a huge TV, yet each game is too small, and I find the focus gets really dissipated when four of the game channels are showing commercials. Far better in my estimation is the Red Zone channel -- I have often waxed rhapsodic about this feature in these virtual cyber pages. All the action, across the league, ably transitioned by the talented Andrew Siciliano -- I am a big believer.
I have also grown addicted to NFL shortcuts, which boils every game down to just the snaps and plays. Missed a game and want to see what really happened for yourself? It only takes about 30 minutes, and here again is yet another tool that allows today's fan to be specifically informed in ways we used to only dream of. This means you, fantasy football owners. You can read a box score and see that an RB only gained 43 yards, but when you see the way he did you might come away impressed, and when you see that the starter in front of him just went down with a bad knee, you are sitting on a sweet waiver wire pickup.
Now if we could only come up with some viable tiebreakers so we never have to see a game end knotted at 13, then we'd really be ahead of the game ...