Time shifting with the NFL

I want to tell everyone how happy I am that NFL football is back on television. And I’ll do that, right after this message.

Ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, beer and not-for-children films abound on pro football telecasts, upsetting parents worried about the harm to younger viewers, the Associated Press reports. Earlier this year, a national media monitoring group urged the NFL to “clean up their act” after reporting that half the commercials featured sex, drugs or alcohol. A league spokesman said “we are comfortable with our policies and those of our network partners,” while the CEO of Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, noted that referencing possible side effects such as long-lasting erections was a hard and fast FCC rule.

Despite the best efforts by advertisers to lure me into watching their commercials by featuring sex, drugs, and alcohol, I’ve reached the point where I can no longer stand to view a live televised game. The way they mess with such a basic concept as the passage of time leaves me so disoriented at the end of a Sunday afternoon that I feel like a serf living in a prehistoric cave, preparing for the next day’s manned flight to Mars.

A football game supposedly lasts for 60 minutes but is slotted in the programming schedule to run for a full three hours, which it usually exceeds by another 15 to 30 minutes, unless there’s overtime, and then it could run into next month. The action itself — the time during which people are running frantically about and crashing into each other — is far less than an hour in length, since the game clock continues to progress between many plays. The clock is frequently stopped for time-outs, during which slow-motion or stop-action replays are often shown. Referees have even been known to put time back on the clock, tooting their whistles in blatant defiance of Newtonian cosmology.

Though the commercials might be entertaining, you’ll quickly tire of their adolescent themes and wish they’d hurry back to the part with the jiggly cheerleaders. A few years back, the quest for advertising dollars reached the point where, after showing a touchdown, there’d be a series of ads, then they’d return for the kickoff, and then head back to another round of commercials. This was more than even my bladder required.

Now, with the advent of the digital video recorder, I too can be a lord and master of time control. I can record the particular game that I want to watch and play it back later while skipping past the ads, the Burger King halftime update (“whoppers are still bad for you”), the news insert, the background profiles, and the statistical breakdown of which players have been suspended for having dog-fights in their pants while drunk-driving with a shotgun. I can cut right to the chase, watch all the highlights and learn the final score in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

There are some complications in watching sports on a tape-delay basis that I’m still learning how to handle. One has to do with the tense of my rooting. Most games that I record will feature one team that I prefer to win and another that I prefer to lose. So the convention is that you verbally exhort your favored team to perform well, even though — as my wife reminds me — it’s unlikely they can hear you, or would be considerate enough to accommodate your request even if they could. Since the action I’m watching has already occurred and the game outcome is decided, it really does no good to express standard cheers such as “go!” These have to be modified to a conditional past tense — “have gone!”, for example. You can’t yell “you suck” at the quarterback who just threw his third interception of the first half (you can probably tell I’m a Carolina Panthers fan); instead it has to be “you have sucked at some point in the recent past.” Even harder is the case where you accidentally heard that your team has already won, and you’re watching a decisive play that was later overturned by the instant-replay official: “You would have stunk!” is difficult to shout with much conviction.

I try to avoid hearing the outcome in advance, as it tends to ruin the suspense. I had a friend once whose wife had already learned that his favorite team was the winner of a key game, so he attempted to explain the concept of time-shifting to her as the reason he didn’t want her to tell him the score. She apparently didn’t get it, since she responded “I won’t tell you anything, but I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome.”

If you’re a really rabid fan, you also have to beware of the subtle cues that the rest of the world may be putting out. If you run out to the grocery store in the interim between the actual game and the one being played in your own private universe, it’s best to avoid eye contact with fellow shoppers, lest their look of  despair over the price of green seedless grapes be misinterpreted. I tried tape-delayed viewing one year when my hometown team was in the Super Bowl, and practically had to wrap my head in gauze to avoid clues about the results. If I’d heard shouting crowds and thunderous explosions in the neighborhood, it would’ve been a certain indication that either Pittsburgh had won, or else laid-off steelworkers were storming the mills to regain by force their rightful place in the U.S. economy.

When you find yourself in the position of being able to master time and space like this, you can not only speed past the boring parts but also prolong the drama of the game’s turning points. One of my favorite techniques is to hit the pause button, then advance the on-screen action one frame at a time. This is most effective when you’re watching the potentially game-winning field goal sail from the foot of the kicker into the direction of the goalposts. The ball seems to be heading wide left! Then one frame later, maybe it’s curving back toward the posts! Then one frame later, it appears President Kennedy has been shot!

Often the outcome is decided way in advance of the final gun, yet you hold out thin hope that a miraculous comeback from a 45-3 deficit can still be achieved in the remaining 5 minutes. So you run the game at triple-speed, concentrating not on the hulking Keystone Kops that have taken over the field but on the score and time remaining displayed in the banner across the top of the screen. You glance back and forth between the plummeting clock and the score, and suddenly get excited when the game has somehow become a tight 2-1 affair, only to realize they’ve interspersed scores from other sports, and you wonder who the hell is Manchester United?

At least I can take some comfort in the impending arrival of the post-season baseball playoffs. The passage of hours and hours during America’s traditional pastime is so much more predictable than what football can offer. Intense action on the field is much like the diamond itself; rare and compressed and not really something that goes with your faded Florida Marlins jersey. Capturing the essence of a 12-inning scoreless pitcher’s duel in a compressed DVR format is so ridiculously impossible that you might have better luck drinking water vapor from the air. It certainly has to be more entertaining.

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One Response to “Time shifting with the NFL”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    Time shifting occurs with newpaper reading as well. I religiously read my hometown newspaper Monday through Friday, at least I read the shrunken facsimile of itself that it has become. But I have to skip all the national news because its all so day-before-yesterday.
    And what is up with people who watch “Classic” games from like 20 years ago? Perhaps their heads really HAVE been wrapped in gauze.

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