Why do once in a generation things happen so often in sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

My girlfriend convinced me to watch a Golden State Warriors game last night by saying that teams as good as them only come along once every twenty or thirty years. I watched the game. They were legitimately great but it seems like sports fans have something they need to watch for that reason pretty frequently. Why do once in a generation things happen so often in sports?

Thanks,
Cesar


Dear Cesar,

The Golden State Warriors are a magnificent basketball team. They won the championship last spring and, unlike many championship winning teams, have started this season strong. They’ve won their first 23 games. In doing so, they obliterated the previous record for consecutive wins to start a season, which two other teams had set at 15. They’re closing in on the Los Angeles Lakers record for wins in a row, (any time during the season,) which is 33 and has been since the 1971-72 season. Their start also has the folks over at Five Thirty Eight frantically modeling to see how likely it is that the Warriors match or beat the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls season record of 72 wins and 10 losses. The conclusion they come to is that the Warriors certainly can but will probably choose not to, since breaking that record is likely to be a harmful distraction from their true goal of winning another championship. The Warriors streak is so impressive, that the Harlem Globetrotters (who were once a very real, very formidable competitive basketball team but who now only play exhibition games against a team of stooges called the Washington Generals,) jokingly worried on Twitter about the safety of their own “record”:

Beyond numbers, the Warriors are a wonderful collection of characters to root for. Their super star, Steph Curry, is barely big enough to make you look twice at him if he passed you on the street, and yet he’s as unstoppable a force as any the NBA has known. He is the best long-range shooter in NBA history and plays with a fluid, captivating style. He’s surrounded by teammates who benefit from and augment his skills. Klay Thompson, who pales in comparison to Curry, may also be one of the top 20 shooters in NBA history. Draymond Green was a popular college basketball player who most thought would not amount to much in the pros. Now he’s the new prototype for a power forward, one who can do a little bit of everything well enough to be extraordinarily effective. The next five best players on the team, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livington, and Festus Ezeli all have their own talents and their own attractive stories. From a sports fan’s perspective, the Warriors really are a comet passing through space: rare and wondrous. To give you a sense of how much people want to see them, their presence as the away team playing against the Boston Celtics this Friday has launched tickets on the secondary market from starting at between $13 and $20 to starting between $150 and $200.

Your question wasn’t about whether the Warriors were amazing, it was about how rare they are. There’s a saying I love: “You’re one in a million… which means there’s a thousand people just like you in China.” One in a million seems like a giant rarity, but not when viewed against a country with a population of over a billion! The same thing is true about sports. Say the Warriors truly are a generational team. That would put them alongside the Chicago Bulls that set that 72-10 record in 1996. That’s awfully convenient, because it was 20 years ago, exactly the number most people use in estimating a generation. Go back farther, and most people point to the 1985 Celtics as another generationally good team. That’s only 10 years before the Bulls, but that’s okay, sometimes data falls randomly in clumps. No big deal. The thing is, sports fans follow many sports. Most fans follow at least three of the big four American professional leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) pretty closely. Add a college sport or two, international competitions like the Olympics and World Cup, as well as a few individual sports like tennis, golf, boxing, or car racing. That’s close to 10 sports that a fan will follow. The chances of a generational event (one every 20 years) happening in a sport, if you follow 10 of them, is 50% in any given year.

Of course, when something this eventful happens in a sport a fan doesn’t follow closely, there’s a good chance that she’ll hear about it on Twitter, Facebook, Sports Center, from a podcast or a friend, etc. And anything so magnificent, so rare, as a generational sporting event is worth following, even from an unusual sport! There are also two or three close calls for every one truly generational event (the Carolina Panthers are 12-0 in the NFL right now… if they get to 16-0, they will be only the second team to ever do it. Earlier this year Serena Williams almost became the first person to win all four major tennis tournaments in a year – called the Grand Slam – since 1988). So, if you’re a sports fan who wants to see something with the potential to be truly remarkable, you’ve legitimately got a chance to watch one every couple of months at most.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

 

How can I tell what NFL football is on TV in my area?

Dear Sports Fan,

How can I tell what NFL football is on TV in my area? Each week there are a whole bunch of games on but I’m never quite sure what I’m going to be able to get at home on my television.

Thanks,
Tracy


Dear Tracy,

The NFL schedule is a tricky beast each week. If you’re a big football fan, like I am, you need to know what’s going to be on television so you can decide whether to stay home and watch, or if the best games aren’t on locally, to go to a bar where they pay to get all the games. If you’re a moderate fan of the NFL, probably the healthiest choice anyway, you need to know what your options are so you can decide what game to watch and know what channel it’s going to be on. If you’re not a fan at all, the information can still be useful if you live with a fan. Luckily, there is an amazing resource for NFL football TV schedules. It’s called 506 Sports! I am a complete and utter fanboy of their coverage of NFL television and probably go to their site four or five times a week during football season. If you become a convert, you can follow the site on Twitter or the site’s creator, JP Kirby.

During my Pitch that Game podcast last week, I tried to use 506 Sports’ NFL guide with my guest and we ended up talking for a while about exactly what each chart and map meant and how to best use them to figure out exactly what NFL football is on TV in your area each week. Here is a step by step guide.

The quick explanation for how to tell what NFL football is on TV in your area using 506 Sports

Go to the 506 Sports NFL table. Click on the correct number week to get to a set of maps. Look at your part of the country in each map. You will usually have three options, two on CBS and one on Fox or visa versa. The early game is at 1 p.m. ET. The late game is at 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET. To tell what time the game in the map labeled CBS Single or Fox single is, go back to the table.

How to use the 506 Sports NFL table

The first thing you’ll see when you go to 506 Sports’ NFL page is a giant table.

 

506 Sports NFL Table

This table is divided into major horizontal rows that correspond to each week in the NFL season. The weeks are labeled primarily by their number, but there’s also a helpful date which helps you identify which week you want to focus on. The date is the Sunday of the week. To make things a little easier to follow, the table alternates light and medium gray at the week level. Find the current week. We’re in Week 3 right now, so that’s the one we’ll use for our example.

It’s unintuitive, but let’s start with the three columns on the far right of the table. Each one of these columns (with a few exceptions) will have one and only one game in it. That’s because each column corresponds to a day or time when the NFL usually only schedules a single game. The first of these three columns is for the Thursday night game, the middle for the Sunday night game, and the right most for the Monday night game. All of these games are televised nationally. ESPN owns Monday night, NBC, Sunday night, and Thursday is shared by several networks, so the network is included in the box. All of these games start around 8:30 p.m.

Now we’re ready (I hope) to tackle the two columns on the left. These columns are labeled with a network name, not a day of the week. Every game in both columns starts on Sunday afternoon, either at 1 p.m. ET or 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET. The 1 p.m. games are referred to as early games and the 4:05/4:30 games are called late games. The early and late time slots are shown as mini-rows within the weekly row. CBS and Fox divide these games between themselves in a complex, hotly negotiated way. Luckily, we don’t need to understand that. What we do need to know are a couple basic principles. The schedule is set up so that ideally, you should be able to see three games on Fox and CBS in your area each Sunday afternoon. The stations alternate weekends so that one weekend Fox will get to show games in both time slots while CBS shows games in only one and the next weekend will be the opposite. The second principle is that each team’s home games should be shown without competition in their area of the country. This second principle can sometimes override the first and limit the options from three to two.

Okay. Now we’re ready to see the maps and figure out exactly what is happening in your part of the country.

How to use the 506 Sports NFL maps

When you click on a week’s number on the 506 Sports NFL table, you get to a page with three maps. This is where the rubber hits the road. Each map corresponds to a channel and time slot. CBS or Fox, early or late. On a weekend when CBS has the double-header, like this one, there will be a CBS Early and a CBS Late map above a third Fox Single map. The schedulers have attempted to show everyone in the country two games on CBS at 1:00 p.m. ET AND 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET and one on Fox at either 1 p.m. ET OR 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET.

Within each map, the games in that time and channel are shown in a color-coded key below the map and the areas where they will be shown on TV are filled in with the corresponding color on the map. Most of this will probably make geographic sense.

CBS Early

For example, in the top map, the CBS Early map, we see that the New England vs. Miami game will be shown in all of New England and Florida. Likewise, the yellow Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens game will be shown in two little puddles around Cincinnati and Baltimore. Some things make less sense, like the strip of land in Texas which has to suffer through the Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns game or why most of Oregon gets the Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans game. Why? Who knows?

An important color to track on these maps is grey. In the first map, the CBS early map, New York City and its surroundings are grayed out. This means they will not get any early game on CBS, even though CBS is the channel with the double-header that day. When this happens, jump down to the bottom map, the Fox single map, and the reason should become clear. Fox has the rights to the New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles game which, as we know from the table, is an early game. The second principle, that teams’ home games deserve to be shown in their area without competition, takes precedence. The Jets game must be shown on Fox at 1 p.m., so CBS cannot provide an alternative to that market. The same principle applies to the other grey areas on the first map: Dallas, Houston, and Charlotte each host early home games on Fox.

Thanks so much for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Dear Sports Fan turns four

Four years ago today, I published the first two posts on Dear Sports Fan. One, written by my friend, pseudonymously known as Dean Russell Bell, answered the question, “Can you explain the popularity of NASCAR? How can people watch a four hour race?” The second, which I wrote, answered the quite reasonable query, “My friend’s favorite team is out, why is he still watching so much sports?” For the rest of the month, a grand total of 15 people read those posts. The next month, Bell and I were joined by John DeFilippis and Lisa Filipek. We wrote 20 posts that covered topics from the arbitrary nature of basketball fouls to what being offsides means to whether a new father should try to become a sports fan. It was a lot of fun and we were thrilled with the response, not just from our friends and family who followed us on Facebook and Twitter but also from people who went to their computers, wondering something about sports, and found our writing through Google or another search engine. That second month, we got 1,227 views.

Today, Dear Sports Fan is a close to full-time job for me. I publish between two and four posts every day, although I do take weekends. Over four years, the blog has been viewed over 120,000 times and it keeps growing. Last week was my biggest week yet, with over 3,200 views. The traffic is still 90% from search engines although I have a wonderful group of people who interact with me on Facebook, Twitter, and the sports-only social network, Fancred. So both non-sports fans and fans alike enjoy reading our posts. I am thrilled by this discover and am continuing to try to figure out where Dear Sports Fan’s sweet spot is in this diverse audience. One thing is for sure. My passion for sports and desire to make the sports world a friendly, understandable world for everyone who ventures into it remain strong. In just the past couple weeks, here are a few ways in which sports has intersected in my life that have reminded me that the goals of Dear Sports Fan are relevant and worthwhile.

  • As a new resident of Boston, I’ve been looking to make new friends and business connections. So, I’ve been going to some Meetup groups. One of them was an entrepreneurs group that met at a candlepin bowling alley. Within five minutes of getting there, I was helping people understand how the scoring worked. After a pleasant evening of networking and bowling, I went home and wrote about how candlepin bowling works. Playing sports can create and cement friendships.
  • This week, I am spending some time with a sick relative. She napped most of the day yesterday, and was generally a little bummed out and distracted until late afternoon when her head snapped back and her eyes lit up, “What time is the hockey game tonight?” Following sports can be a passion throughout life.
  • Of course, it’s not always smooth. Living with a sports fan, as my girlfriend does (although, to be fair, she is also a sports fan, just one who spends less time watching sports on TV) can be a challenge. And even someone who thinks and writes about how to best cohabitate in a mixed-sports-passion relationship, doesn’t always get it right. Sports can bring people together but it takes thought and care, just like other parts of a romantic, familial, or work-related relationship.

Four years may seem like a long time but I hope it’s just the start of the journey. There’s so much more to explore and explain. In the next few weeks, I’ll be working on hard on the upcoming Women’s Soccer World Cup. The World Cup is an ideal event for Dear Sports Fan. It’s an international event with competition at the very highest level. The U.S. team is a wonderful group of athletes on a mission to recapture the first World Cup Championship since 1999. To date, I’m about half-way through profiling each of the women on the U.S. team (I’m attempting the rare feat of profiling female athletes only as athletes, with no reference to gender or gendered stories). So far, these profiles have been a hit. One athlete, Shannon Boxx, even retweeted my profile of her! This was awesome, because it helped me connect with a group of passionate women’s soccer fans. You can find all of the profiles here. I’m also compiling the material I’ve written over the past four years and creating a series of soccer email courses: Soccer 101, 200 level courses on soccer culture, crime and punishment, events and leagues, and positions, and a 300 level course. Keep an eye out for those in the next couple weeks.

So, happy birthday to me, and thank you for reading, doing social networky things, and above all, asking questions!

 

Why is the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao scandal erupting now?

Mere hours before the most highly anticipated boxing match of the decade, a scandal erupted. Two prominent journalists from ESPN and CNN have had their press credentials, those magical passes which grant them access not just to the arena but to the fighters themselves to ask questions before and after the fight unexpectedly revoked. Fellow journalists around the world and internet have rallied to their defense. #boycotthefight began trending on Twitter. What’s the fuss about? The short answer is that the two journalists in question are women and the fighter who is being blamed for pulling their credentials is a well known abuser of women. The long answer? Well, about that long answer…

As with many situations in life, it’s helpful to tell one of my father’s jokes.

A person from a big city is visiting some friends of theirs who live in a tiny town. She gets in at night and enjoys a few hours of sitting by the fire and drinking beer while letting her friends regale her with all the scandalous goings on of their small town. She learns about the Smith’s strange sexual proclivities, the Borden’s habit of sleep driving, that Dan Trent is cheating on his wife with his dental hygienist, and many many more stories. In the morning, the big city visitor awakes, refreshed after a good sleep. She walks down to the breakfast table where her hosts are already eating. They’re laughing at something in the local paper. The visitor asks what it is. She’s told that the local gossip columnist has printed a story outing Dan Trent as being a cheater. The visitor says, “but that’s not news, you told me everyone in town already knew about that. Why do they bother printing it and what’s so funny about reading something you already know?” Her friend wipes the tears from his eyes and says, “Yes dear, we already know everything, but we still like to know who got caught!”

Classic Dad joke. Not funny, per se, but useful nonetheless. The problem with the presently erupting scandal is that we already knew that Floyd Mayweather was a misogynist, egotist with a long history of abusing women. Why should it matter now that he “gets caught.”  That’s all this is — it’s society “catching” someone for something we already knew about. On one hand, this is good. The more abusers we collectively shame, even if we can’t lock them up, the better. On the other hand, manufacturing outrage now feels hypocritical — as if revoking press passes were some how worse than abuse.

For background on Mayweather, please read some or all of these articles, they are both wonderful writing and much needed journalism. Thanks to those who wrote them.

The Boxer and the Batterer

by Louisa Thomas for Grantland

If you only read one thing about Floyd Mayweather or this fight or boxing in general or just anything at all this weekend, this should be your choice. Thomas writes a completely engaging, objective, and most of all, true story about the contradiction of a man whose boxing success has been built by controlling his rage within the ring, who expresses his rage freely on the faces and bodies of women in his life.

On Saturday, Mayweather will take on Manny Pacquiao in a fight that has quickly become the biggest, most important event in recent boxing history. What’s so striking to me isn’t the spectacle of it but the dissonance around it. A sport that is increasingly marginal is dominating SportsCenter. A fight in a stadium that holds only 16,800 and is available only on pay-per-view could generate $300 million. A boxer who wins like a dancer allegedly beats women like a pugilist.

What are you supposed to do with this?

This Is How Las Vegas Protects Floyd Mayweather

 

by Diana Moskovitz for Deadspin

A long, exhaustive, and brilliant investigative attempt to counteract Mayweather’s refrain that if he had really abused women, there would be pictures of it.

There are pictures, though. In at least two cases of domestic violence, official records show pictures were taken. In one case, a police report explicitly says that the photos show a victim’s injuries. But authorities in Las Vegas, a city poised to make millions off Floyd this weekend, have either destroyed the photos or haven’t released them.

This is perhaps the cruelest part of the victims Mayweather chooses. They’re mostly women who have emotional relationships with him, sometimes even children with him. They still care for him, despite the bruises, concussions, and death threats, because domestic violence is a cycle of power and control that is difficult to escape. Like many domestic abusers, Mayweather wins them back with apologies, lavish gifts, and promises he’ll never do it again—taking advantage of his power and control over them—and then hits them again.

The same feelings that make it so hard to break out of an abusive relationship make it hard to release the surest proof that Mayweather beats women. It’s easy to throw everything you have at a stranger on the street who slugs you in the face. It’s not easy to do the same with the father of your children.

Floyd Mayweather Bans Michelle Beadle, Rachel Nichols From Covering Bout

by Daniel Roberts for Deadspin

The best article (at this time) about today’s scandal.

Stop and process this for a moment. Showtime has denied press credentials to two of the most prominent reporters for three of the world’s most important television outlets, including HBO, which is co-producing the fight, and ESPN, which has invested huge chunks of its prime schedule this week promoting the fight in infomercial-like fashion.

While it is Mayweather’s team that is pulling the strings, it’s Showtime that owes the world an explanation. Why have they continued to sanitize their coverage of Mayweather’s history of domestic violence while continuing to unhesitatingly promote other aspects of his outside-the-ring lifestyle? Why did they allow Mayweather to air a one-sided self-produced infomerical in which he denied any responsibility for his convictions? Why are they blackballing important female journalists for having the temerity to question Mayweather about what everyone else seems to recognize is a legitimate topic…

Why do football fans get so excited about the NFL draft?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why do football fans get so excited about the NFL draft? The television ratings for it are always incredibly high but as far as I can tell, it’s just people talking in an auditorium. What gives?

Thanks,
Gabriel


Dear Gabriel,

Excitement over the National Football League draft is one of those elements of sports fandom that needlessly alienates people who aren’t sports fans. You’re absolutely right that watching the NFL draft seems totally crazy to non-sports fans. It is, as you say, “just people talking in an auditorium.” Yet for the more than 32 million sports fans who watch it, it’s one of the most exciting nights of the year, even if this year’s enthusiasm should be dampened by the first pick almost definitely being a rapist. The best way to understand the draft is as the ultimate piece of crossover fiction.

Here’s a topical analogy that might help explain the NFL draft phenomenon. The second Avengers movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron is coming out on Friday and it’s likely to be a blockbuster hit. I personally know lots of people who have already purchased tickets and made plans to get to the theater early so they can be sure of getting good seats. The Avengers is a team of superheroes that includes characters like the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk. Each of these characters has their own comic books and movies and in fact, they existed before the Avengers. Fans follow along with these characters individually. Part of what makes the Avengers movies so exciting is the coming together of these well known characters. How will they interact? Will they fit together well or will there be infighting? Who will take a leadership role? Who will fall back from their normal position in the spotlight to become a supporting character?

This is almost exactly the same thing that fascinates football fans about the draft. College football is an incredibly popular drama in its own right and its characters are well known to sports fans. The NFL draft is the moment when these characters get scrambled up and cross over to become a part of another, even more popular drama, the NFL. This sparks the same type of speculation and questioning as the coming together of the Avengers. How will a star college football player fit into his new NFL team? Will he become the new leader or learn to take a back seat? How will he interact on the field and off with the already established characters on that NFL team? In the highly competitive universe of NFL teams, will the addition of a new super hero tip the balance in favor of their new team?

If you’re not an Avengers fan, there are lots of other examples of the allure that this type of scrambling or crossing over in popular culture. The incredibly popular book and movie 50 Shades of Grey began as fan fiction built on top of (no pun intended) the world of Twilight. The excellent 1995 bank robbery movie, Heat, was much anticipated because it finally brought the actors Al Pacino and Robert Dinero, who had played father and son in The Godfather Part II (in different eras) together in a single scene. And of course, there are lots of examples of television show crossovers that people love or love to hate, the appearance of George Clooney and Noah Wylie on Friends chief among them. Even when or especially when the crossover never actually happens, the idea of a crossover is obsessively interesting. My own nerdy detective novel favorites are the theory that Rex Stout’s detective Nero Wolfe may have been the son of Sherlock Holmes or perhaps his brother Mycroft. I am sure there is an example in nearly every fictional world. What would happen if the Stringer Bell met Tony Soprano? What if Olivia Pope took Frank Underwood as a client? What if the Dunphys were transplanted into the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead?

Just like fantasy football is a nerdy statistical role playing game disguised as sports, the NFL draft is a combination of crossover fiction, fan fiction, and super-hero team comic books surrounded by a sportsy shell. We might not all be into the exterior shell but we can all understand the appeal of what’s within.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Sports Stories: Meet Jehangir Madon

Everyone has a sports story. As part of my mission to create peace in the world between sports fans and non-sports fans, I am doing a set of interviews of people on both sides of the line. Whether you’re a die-hard fan with their favorite player’s face tattooed onto their body or someone who is not a fan but whose life intersects with sports in some way, you have a valuable story to tell. Sign up today to tell your story on our easy to use booking page.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Jehangir Madon. Jehangir is a man of international sports fandom whose enthusiastic and thoughtful nature make his sports story worth learning. You can read a synopsis of our interview below or listen to it in full here.

 

Name: Jehangir Madon
Current Location: Brooklyn
Home town: Bombay (now called Mumbai,) India

Teams:

  • The Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL
  • India in international cricket
  • The Williams team in Formula One racing
  • Otherwise, teams wearing blue.

How did you become an Eagles fan?

“I became a fan of the eagles for two reason within five plays. I had never really watched football before I came to America. It was on TV a few times and I was like, “Ehh whatever.” But then one day, I was home and it was the playoffs and there was nothing to do in the afternoon. So I turn on the TV, and there was this playoff game between the Eagles and the Giants, I think it was the 2000 playoffs. And on the first play the Eagles kick off and the Giants take the ball and run it all the way back for a touchdown. Now I would normally have rooted for the Blue team, you know, I like blue, but I was a little older so I say, “I’m going to cheer for the team that’s losing” and that was the Eagles. And then they had a black quarterback who was running around and I had never seen that. I did not know that Randall Cunningham existed. I didn’t know about anybody before McNabb who did that. So I thought, “Oh my God, this guy is so cool, I’m going to cheer for him.” And then I did cheer for them the whole game… and they lost.”

What’s your earliest sports memory?

“My earliest sports memory is the 1994 football World Cup. It was the final between Brazil and Italy. We took our TV from the living room and put it in the kitchen because I lived in a house with ten people and the kitchen was the only place where nobody would sleep… So me, my Dad’s brother and his son took the TV and we watched this really interesting and engrossing match… A zero zero draw, and I was cheering for Italy because they were wearing blue… and they lost… I was living in India, that match was going on at 2 in the morning I think that’s why I remember it because it was such an odd time for me to be allowed to be awake.

How do sports play into your family life? What about your group of friends? or dating life?

“Dating life, it’s mostly me watching sports while my girlfriend just lies in my arms and goes to sleep. She enjoys it and I enjoy it.”

“With my friends, during the NFL, I like to hang out, get a drink and watch some games. It’s a nice social thing. I think that’s why I like sports. I just remember sitting in my house with my uncle and my brother sitting and just watching a game very intently it’s something you do together and it’s fun to cheer for something. Or cheer against something, it’s great, especially when you win when you’re not supposed to.”

What do you think being an Eagles fan says about you? What makes Eagles fans different from everyone else?

“Somehow you just believe that this year you’ll win even when all of the statistics say that there’s zero chance. But there’s always this hope.”

On fidelity to a sports team:

“When you choose a team you cannot switch, nobody respects your fandom then, especially yourself.”

How does rooting for the eagles fit into your weekly routine?

“During the NFL season, it’s all NFL. I try to catch the game at a friends house or lately I haven’t been watching because I’ve been in New York and there’s lots of nicer things to do on Sunday… What’s changed over the past four years is fantasy football, it really pulls at you and makes you want to cheer for weird things.”

“It’s become less intense. I remember in 2004 or 5 when the eagles were really good, it was like, this week I’m really excited. Because once you start losing a lot, it makes it hard to look forward to, you know, the pain that’s coming if you’re going to lose.”

During the offseason — “There’s nothing going on, it’s just nonsense stories, there’s no reason to keep up with it. And that’s the best thing about the NFL you can really really be into it and it’s only one third of the year.

Who is your all-time favorite player from the Eagles?

“Donovan McNabb. He just seemed like a funny nice guy and no matter what happened, he always took the blame. I always liked him because he was a leader and when he was younger he did really amazing things. I think we just forget when we see somebody like Kaepernick doing these things now, we’re like, “oh my God, it’s never been done before” although it’s been done every three years, McNabb has done it, Vick did it. And when [McNabb] was in his prime, he was the best at it.”

Who is your all-time football nemesis?

“Fantasy football makes it hard to hate anybody. cause you can have them on your team next year. I think fantasy football has tempered my love and hate for people in the nfl because I know they could be on my team next year so I can’t really hate them and I don’t want to love them too much because I know they could be gone. It’s made me a more moderate football watcher.”

What’s the most important thing you’d like non-sports fans to understand about sports?

“Most of us realize that it’s just sports and when it ends its okay but that doesn’t mean when you’re cheering you don’t cheer with all your heart. Cause the real extacy you only get when you really want someone to win and you don’t expect them to win and somehow they make it and there’s few things in life that are that good.”

How March Madness and the NFL have switched places

Once upon a time — not so long ago — sports fans watched professional football and college basketball on television. That may not sound so different from today, but before the internet took over the world the way we were presented with these two sports was just a little bit different.

In the past, if you wanted to watch March Madness, you tuned your television to CBS. There it would stay, from around noon on the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament until whenever the nets got cut down in celebration… or you ran out of beer… or had to eat. There was no channel hopping. All the games were on CBS, even if not all the games were televised since many of them overlap in time. The people who ran CBS would pick what they thought the best game would be and go with that. As the day went on, they reserved the right to switch from one game to another if the other was more exciting. As games neared their end, sometimes simultaneously, this resulted in a frantic back-and-forth telecast, that at its best was more exciting than watching a single game. Certainly part of what made March Madness so great — and specifically the first round of March Madness with its 32 games in 48 hours so great — was its overlapping, buzzer-beater-every-fifteen-minutes, relentless nature.

If you wanted to watch professional football, you had lots of options each Sunday during the fall, but they were heavily constrained by where you lived. Over the years, games were televised on every major broadcast network, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, plus cable channels like TNT and ESPN. Games were on at 1 p.m. ET and 4:30 p.m. ET every Sunday — usually about seven games at the earlier time and three or four in the later time-slot. The thing was, you only got access to one or sometimes two games at a time. No matter how bad the local team (and if you didn’t have a local team, you were assigned one) was, when they played that was the only game you could watch. When the local team was idle, the networks decided what game you had access to based on what they thought of the game and your geography.

Then, in 2009, everything changed for football viewers. The NFL launched a new cable channel called the NFL RedZone. From 1 p.m. ET to whenever the last 4:30 p.m. ET game ended, usually around 7:30 or 8 p.m. ET, the RedZone would show football, all the football, and nothing but the football. With one brilliant studio host, the RedZone captivated its audience, by steering them from game to game based on how exciting the game was; making sure they saw every score and almost every meaningful play. Watching the RedZone was an amazing experience and despite its ability to leave your brain spinning and your eyes aching, it was and still is incredibly popular. It changed the way people watch football. No more were they trapped watching a boring local game — no more were they even trapped watching a single game. The RedZone captured the exhilaration of those few frantic minutes of buzzer beaters in a March Madness broadcast and translated it to football viewers every Sunday.

Meanwhile, things were also changing in the world of college basketball. One of the tricky elements of March Madness for sports fans had always been how to watch the first round, given that much of it happened between noon and the end of work on a Thursday and Friday. In many offices, this meant widespread breakouts of bronchitis or ludicrously long lunch meetings. At some point though, some brilliant person at CBS realized that what most people have at work was not a television but a computer. CBS started streaming the games over the internet. Aside from the fact that early on, most places didn’t have the bandwidth to handle the sudden influx of people trying to stream video, the shift to internet created one vital difference in how people consumed March Madness: the curated channel experience that jumped the viewer from game to game was gone. In its place was a simple interface for you to choose which game you wanted to watch. Watching a blow-out? Want to check in on the other game? It was only a click (and usually the required viewing of an advertisement) away.

Within a couple years of this innovation, CBS made a similar shift in its television coverage. In 2010, CBS was forced to renegotiate their agreement with the NCAA to cover March Madness and as part of that negotiation, they agreed to share the rights with Turner Broadcasting System. Instead of using one channel to cover multiple games, they now used multiple channels simultaneously. When games overlapped, they were simply televised on different channels: CBS and TNT, TBS, or TruTV. The television experience now mimicked the online experience. The games were all available but you had to manage your experience by flipping from one game to another yourself.

These parallel evolutions in how professional football and the NCAA Basketball Tournament are presented to viewers each have their benefits and their disadvantages. Critics of the RedZone channel would say that the pace and narrative consistency of watching one football game at a time has been lost; that people no longer care about what team wins, just about individual plays and players. Proponents of the RedZone may point out that old-fashioned game-based television is still as available as it ever was and that the RedZone allows people to watch teams they could never (or less frequently) have seen in the past. Proponents of the multi-channel approach to March Madness will argue for its obvious superiority by saying that it has made every minute of every game available to viewers who otherwise would not have had a say in what they were watching; that it has democratized the viewing of college basketball. Critics of the multi-channel reality may argue that availability without curation simply cannot create the gasp-inducing thrill of the old way; that having to manage your own viewing experience in this way is like going to a restaurant and being forced to choose the ingredients for your dish instead of relying on the expertise of a chef.

What all sides should be able to agree on is that it’s curious how technology and time have popularized a curated experience in football while simultaneously eradicating a similar experience in college basketball. The moral of the story is that progress rarely moves in a straight line but usually twists and turns and doubles back on itself. What’s old is new and what’s new is old more frequently than not.

The End… for now.

What is a trade deadline?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve seen a lot of articles over the last day or two about the NBA trade deadline. What is a trade deadline? Why do sports leagues have them?

Thanks,
Anne


Dear Anne,

It’s hard to define what a trade deadline is without using the words trade or deadline! The trade deadline is a particular date and time after which teams in a professional sports league cannot agree to exchange players or draft picks with other teams. It’s exact date varies by league and by year but each sport has a standard for when it falls in their calendar — half-way through, three-quarters of the way through, etc. It’s an exciting time for sports fans, because, like the day of the draft, it’s a time when fans of every team in the league can be feel hope.

The NBA trade deadline in 2015 is on February 19 at 3 p.m. ET. By this date, most teams will have played between 52 and 55 of their 82 game seasons. They are around two-thirds of the way through the season. The NHL trade deadline this year is on March 2, also at 3 p.m. ET. By then, teams will have played 63 to 67 of their 82 game season. That’s a little farther along — more like 77-82% of the way through the season. On the other end of the spectrum is the NFL, which places its trade deadline right after week eight of 17 or 47% of the way through. What’s the impact of this choice? Well, teams usually decide to be more of a “buyer” meaning they are willing to sacrifice future prospects for players that would be of use this season, or “sellers” meaning they are willing to trade the present for the future, based on how well they’re doing each year. The later a trade deadline falls within a league calendar, the more sure teams will be of their chances to win a championship this season and therefore which role they should play in trades. A later trade deadline creates more and more impactful trades.

Aside from tradition, it’s not entirely clear why teams are not allowed to trade players year-round. I think there is a sense that should be cohesive units before the playoffs begin. During the playoffs, the intensity of emotion and physicality of sports increases. Team allegiance starts to feel more like a matter of identity than choice. Having unfamiliar players on your team at the start of the playoffs or even seeing players move from team to team during the playoffs would break the spell. There’s also the question of competitive balance. Teams might be willing to sacrifice a lot of their future assets on the last day of the season if they were in a position to acquire a player they think could help them make the playoffs or qualify for the next round. Sports leagues understandably may want to protect rash team owners from hurting themselves and their fans for the next five or ten years for a short-term gain.

The day of the trade deadline and the day or two before it are among the most exciting days in sports. If the team a fan roots for is terrible, by halfway to four fifths of the way through the season, its fans are probably a little sick of watching it play. At trade deadline time, the team can interest them again by making moves to get better next season. For fans of teams that seem like they have a chance to win a championship, it’s even more exciting to speculate and then witness what the team does to make itself better for its playoff run. Every fan likes to think of themselves not only as an athlete on their favorite team, the coach of their favorite team, but also the general manager too! Speculating about trades before the trade deadline is an exercise in imagination. What player from an opposing team would fit best with your favorite team? Who could your team part with without losing their essence?

Trade deadline day is covered obsessively online, primarily on Twitter, and also live on TV. Sports channels are happy to devote time during a week-day to a panel of “experts” who blab and blab all day about the trades as they are reported to the league office and the media. The excitement (I know I sound a little cynical about this, but I do get really excited too) peaks right around the time of the deadline and for a few hours later as information about trades which were executed right before the deadline comes out through the media to fans.

If your colleagues are more distracted on February 19 or March 2 than they normally are, you’ll know why!

Thanks for asking,
Ezra Fischer

Why watch downhill skiing?

I watched an hour of the Women’s Downhill skiing race at the Alpine World Championships today. It was enjoyable and exciting but exactly why this was so, was not totally clear to me. As I watched, I started listing some of the reasons why it shouldn’t be exciting:

  1. Aside from Lindsay Vonn, who is American and famous and dates Tiger Woods and who I am largely ambivalent about, I didn’t know anything about any of the ski racers before I started watching. There’s not much of a chance to get to know them either, they are wearing full-body suits, helmets, and goggles that cover most of their faces. They are on camera pretty much only when they are skiing, except for the current first-place skier, who is periodically shown expressing relief or anguish as they stay in first place or are replaced by another skier.
  2. The difference between first place and tenth is only a few seconds. The course is around one and a half miles long. There’s no way any casual viewer could tell, without the assistance of the announcers and the time differences that are shown periodically through the race, who is winning and who is losing. It’s basically watching the same thing twenty times.
  3. The entire time I was watching the race, I was torn between wanting the racers to finish safely and the desire to see something truly spectacular, like a big crash. Unless you really know what you’re looking for, a crash is more interesting and compelling to watch then a safe finish. This is a weird line to walk, because it makes me feel bad about myself. I guess the difference between ski racing and football is that when you watch a ski race, you can tell if someone has been injured, whereas in football, even if you can’t tell, someone probably has.

So, why would I keep watching? I guess there were a few reasons for that as well:

  1. It’s an international competition, so there are built-in reasons to root for one person over another. I reflexively root for the United States. Because it is a snow-based event, I will also root for people from most Scandinavian countries. I root half-for and half-against the Canadians. I root against the traditional powers of skiing, the Austrians, Germans, and Italians.
  2. Even though you couldn’t actually tell who was winning without the announcers and the clock, you have both those things! It’s exciting to get a check on what place someone is currently in five or six times during the minute and a half down the hill.
  3. You also get to learn some of the intricacies of how to know who is going faster. Like any racing sport, the person who is slipping through the air, water, snow, sand, etc. with the least disturbance to the material around them, is the one going faster. You can watch how much snow a skier is kicking up on their turns and get a feel for if they are going to win or not. As each successive racer goes down the course, you also get a sense for which line or path down the mountain is better. There are trade-offs — if you take one turn wider, it can get you into the next turn faster, but then you might be in trouble at the following turn. There is a line which is the best, but sometimes a skier is able to take a unique line and make it pay off.
  4. As with all sports, there is the possibility of seeing unexpected greatness as well as the certainty of . Downhill skiing is such an incredibly demanding athletic achievement, that although you become desensitized to it quickly, it’s worth appreciating each racer who gets to the bottom. I’m pretty sure I would be a) too scared to go down that steep of a mountain, b) would have to stop about ten times on my way down because my legs would be burning, and c) would actually tear ligaments or tendons in my knees if I could even somehow take a turn at that speed. Once in a while, a racer will do something that’s uniquely remarkable to watch. In downhill skiing, I’ve mostly seen this when racers look like they are absolutely going to fall but somehow torque their body around, with all their weight on one leg, going at ninety miles an hour, and avert disaster.

For those of you who are interested in watching some skiing, here’s a full TV schedule of the 2015 Alpine World Championships.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

What should I watch now that football is over?

Dear Sports Fan,

What should I watch now that football is over?

Thanks,
Leah


Dear Leah,

Once the Super Bowl has passed, there is a period of about a month and a week that is very quiet in terms of sport. Oh, sure, there are lots of interesting sporting events if you’re a die-hard sports fan but none of them are truly vital. If you’re an unaffiliated sports fan, I can give a few recommendations for exciting events to watch. If you’re a sports fan living with a non-sports fan, my best advice is to give way in the entertainment choice arena.

If you’re a sports fan living with one or more non-sports fans, you’ve probably been a little selfish recently. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you (and the power of the National Football League) probably dominated in terms of choosing what was on the television over the last few months. You’re probably going to want to have your way again in a month or two when college basketball enters its conference championship season around March 11 and then March Madness begins on the 15th. Later in the spring, the basketball and hockey playoffs will be on. It’s time to, for the purposes of fairness and as an investment for future television domination, watch some other stuff! Here are some non-sports possibilities:

  • Downton Abbey is back! In some ways, this show is the antithesis of sports. It’s hard to imagine Lady Mary or her grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, putting on shin guards and cleats to play soccer. At the same time, it’s not hard to imagine David Aldridge doing a post-game interview with either of them after a social event. “You got a couple of real zingers in there against cousin Isobel. What were you thinking when you made your move?
  • Watch The Station Agent! I know, I know, it came out in 2003, but I just recently discovered it and it is wonderful! Not only is it an enjoyable and off movie (starring Tyrion from Game of Thrones) but it’s also one of the best representations of my home state, New Jersey, that I’ve ever seen.
  • How about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? Another oldie, once you get past the title and the fact that it’s science fiction (unless you’re into that stuff) this show has everything you could wish for. Great characters, real issues, the fate of the human race, etc.!

The important thing is not what you watch, it’s that you make sure the people around you know that you appreciate their giving way during football season and that you are willing to pay them back now. Whatever they want to watch, give it a chance!

Now, if you are an unaffiliated sports fan or someone who got into football and is now wondering what other sports there are to watch, you’re in luck. Although the major national must-see sporting events don’t start back up for another month or so, there are lots of compelling smaller events between now and then. Looking at our handy 2015 in the United States of Sports map there are eight featured sports things between now and March Madness.

  • On February 13, the USA Sevens rugby tournament begins. This is an international tournament of the faster and easier to follow seven person version of rugby. It’s lots of fun to watch, although the U.S. probably won’t win.
  • The NBA All-Star Game and skills competition is in New York this year on the weekend of February 14 and 15. Although the game itself can barely be called a competitive sporting event, it often is good entertainment.
  • On February 18, the North Carolina Tarheels play the Duke Blue Devils in men’s basketball. Although this is just a regular season game, the word “just” can barely ever be used to describe the atmosphere when these rivals meet up. This year, both teams are very good, so the rivalry will be even more tense than normal.
  • If you’re into fishing or watching other people fish, the Bassmaster Classic on February 20 is the event for you. If you’re a fish, stay away!
  • On February 25, Rhode Island hosts the US Figure Skating Synchronized Skating Championships. This sport is surprisingly mesmerizing. If you’ve ever wanted to see what 15 Russian women dancing in unison on skates to Whitney Houston looks like, you’re in luck!
  • March 4 is the official start of college basketball conference tournaments, including the Women’s SEC Basketball Tournament in Arkansas.
  • The most famous dog sled race in the world, Alaska’s Iditarod, begins on March 7. If you’ve ever wanted a behind-the-scenes look at that race, you should read Brian Phillips’ piece on it from 2013.

There you go! Football may be over, but there are plenty of wonderful entertainment options in the sports world and beyond!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer