Relativity, spacetime, and live sports

Being mildly obsessed* with a sport that takes place half way around the world is tricky, because you cannot expect them to stage events at convenient times for our audience of three people. In the case of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, that would mean staging games at some obscene hour of the morning in order that we see it in primetime here on the East Coast. And who would want to watch a bunch of over-caffeinated, droopy eyed players slogging around a football pitch at 3 am local time, anyhow? We are actually fortunate that the games are taking place at 2:30 pm EST, especially after the FIFA World Cup finals in 2002, which were staged in South Korea and Japan and made game times particularly difficult to schedule. My schedule during WC2002 was, get to work late at 9:30 or 10 am, work until around 6 or 7, grab some dinner, try to sleep around 8 or 8:30 pm, and wake up for the 1 am, 3 am, and 7 am games. Rinse, repeat.

Unfortunately for yesterday’s epic semifinal, I had a string of meetings that kept me from watching the game live, but in our world of digital media, watching the game on delay was a reasonable option. A couple of friends of mine decided to go on news blackout from game time until we could sit down and watch the replay at 11 pm at a bar in my neighborhood. It’s a dangerous thing, the news blackout, and it’s difficult to do. For the most part, it means no email. No internet. No phone calls. Avoid all of the Europeans in our math department. Avoid all televisions in public places and try and avoid conversations. The “televisions in public places” rule is a difficult one, since TVs blare in all manners of eateries out to the public streets constantly. The conversation avoidance is easier but more random, since while most people don’t even know the US is in a thing called the Confederations Cup is going on (is that as important as the World Cup, I’ve been asked this week), it is still the United States team, and pride abounds, even for “soccer.”

3 hours after kickoff: At 5:30 pm, I was sitting in my office when a professor wandered in with a huge grin on his face, “Did you guys hear about the game?”

“No!” we yelled, covering our ears immediately to avoid any hint of news, “And don’t say anything!”

He backed out slowly, probably thinking we were a little nuts. Another office mate of mine ran after him to find out the outcome of the game. We immediately left, knowing that we would be bombarded by other likeminded bearers of some brand of news about the game. My office mate caught us in the hall and said, “Ecuador scores a touchdown in the last seconds of the game,” taunting us with this unrelated nonsense that, of course, I coupled with the goofy grin of the professor to mean that the United States probably prevailed in a dramatic, late goal fashion. But I did not know and couldn’t wait to see the game.

5 hours after kickoff: While looking for a restaurant, we had to avoid any kind of bar and most restaurants with televisions. We ended up at a Jewish deli that could have been the perfect setting for indifference to the beautiful game.

7 hours after kickoff: Afterward, we wandered down to a bubble tea place that had a TV on silent and was showing the Sox game. On the way out, someone noticed that they were showing the highlights of the game. I backed out sideways, to avoid looking at the television. A close call.

8 hours after kickoff: However, one of us would fall. As a friend was getting out of a car, she overheard four popped collars (yeah, those guys) talking loudly about the game on the street, blurting out the results and talking bracketology. She had made it eight hours and knew the result but not the score. One down.

9 hours after kickoff: We arrived at the bar, a few minutes late so that we would not catch another TV blurting out the results. We found a small corner of the bar for the three of us to perch and watch the game uninterrupted. We had made it this far, on blackout. Several minutes into the match, the ESPN ticker showed the score to the game on replay! Ridiculous! How stupid can they possibly be? I was the only one who took a glimpse at it, and two of the three of us were down.

10 hours after kickoff: While watching the game unfold, we cheered and winced as if the game were live. We yelled at the refs and players like they could hear our jeers echoing through spacetime. For us, it was as if the game were live. Goals were celebrated loudly, and the second time the ball crossed the goal line and appeared to seal our place in the finals, some moron called out to us, “This game was played earlier, that’s the final score.” No kidding! Why do you think we’re in a corner of the bar avoiding all other televisions and watching the game intently? Three down.

Nevertheless, we finished out the game and despite all knowing the final score line, it’s part of the game to see how things unfold and how the story develops. Importantly, our midfielder was red carded and ejected late in the game and won’t be playing in the final. Despite the ESPN screw up with the score, they were right in calling the game an instant classic. It was one of the best United States performances, specifically in defense, and well worth the wait. I might even watch it again.

* Ok, maybe that’s not a reasonable qualifier.

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