I went to the Red Sox-Yankees game on Thursday night.
The tickets were bought months ago, when the NFL wasn’t on my radar and the thought that I’d miss the Packers-Seahawks game — the first game of the NFL season — never crossed my mind.
Out of professional obligation/general interest I DVR’d the game and planned to watch it when I got home.
I got back at 11:30 p.m., early enough to watch the Seahawks score a touchdown to make it 36-16 with 2:30 left to ice the game.
I started the game from the beginning at 11:45 p.m., and watched every play, fast-forwarding past everything that wasn’t football. By 12:20 a.m. I’d watched the entire thing, and it was one of the most enjoyable and illuminating football-watching experiences I’ve had.
Here was my fast-forwarding strategy:
- Fast-forward through the down time in between plays and replays/reviews (using the single-fast forward function, in Time Warner Cable DVR parlance).
- Double fast-forward through commercials and timeouts.
- Quadruple fast-forward through halftime.
- Watch punts and kickoffs at single-speed fast-forward, only going back to watch the play at regular speed if something notable happened (fumble, a long return, etc.).
It takes some trial-and-error to get the fast-forwarding in between plays thing just right. Because your standard DVR backtracks a few seconds once you hit PLAY after fast-forwarding, it’s easy to watch a lot of unnecessary standing around if you stop fast-forwarding too early. At the same time, you risk missing a vital chunk of the play if you let it fast-forward a little too long. The trick is to stop fast-forwarding about halfway through the play you’re about to see — an action that will place you perfectly at the moment the ball is snapped.
I’d DVR’d games before, but never made such on honest effort to watch a game all the way through while also fast-forwarding as quickly as humanly possible. Consuming a game in this way takes away a lot of things that makes the NFL so fun to watch, but it also highlights some of the inherent flaws of televised football.
Here’s what I learned.
1. On NFL broadcasts, nothing is happening most of the time.
This is the most obvious takeaway, so let’s just get it out of the way first.
I watched the whole game in 35 minutes. According a 2010 Wall Street Journal report, the average NFL game features 11 minutes of actual gameplay. So I spent about 24 minutes fast-forwarding and 11 minutes watching football. That’s better than the real-time ratio of 149 minutes of nothing to 11 minutes of football, but even fast-forwarding as diligently and skillfully as possible, I still spent more than twice as much time not-watching football as I did watching football.
The last nine minutes of the game were particularly devoid of football. The Seahawks (who were trying to run out the clock) ran 13 plays in 7:00 minutes of game time on a touchdown drive. That’s one play every 32 seconds. With the average play lasting four seconds, that drive was 52 seconds of football and 6 minutes, 8 seconds of game time that didn’t involve football.
2. Not knowing what the announcers are saying in between plays is glorious.
The majority of an NFL broadcast is filler. You spend more raw time listening to a commentator tell you about the game than you do watching actual gameplay. The commentator is both the interpreter of the game and the author of its primary narrative.
There’s something freeing about skipping all the filler in between plays — when the commentator goes about the business of telling you what’s really happening. The game is instantly easier to analyse because you’re only relying on your own interpretation. You aren’t trying to reconcile the commentator’s vision of the game with your own.
3. Trends in the game becoming glaringly obvious when a) there are no commentators, and b) the plays are happening in quick succession.
When you watch every play back-to-back-to-back, it becomes much easier to identify trends.
The Seahawks pretty much never blitzed. The Packers offensive line was awful once their right tackle got hurt. Aaron Rodgers simply refused to throw it to Richard Sherman’s side of the field. … All of these things are crystal clear when you watch 50 plays in 15 minutes, but are harder to identify when those plays are spread out over three and a half hours and obscured by constant commentary.
4. I cannot believe I sit through those commercial sandwiches.
There were times when there was a commercial, a single play, and another commercial. That’s insane. It’s almost 10 minutes of real time with almost no football. Somehow these are even more infuriating when you fast-forward through it.
5. You should still watch the games live.
The DVR will never kill live sports. Watching games live is still vastly superior. Unpredictability is a big reason we watch sports, and you can only hold onto the hope that you’re about to see something you’ve never seen before if you watch the game as it’s happening.
That’s why the price of TV sports broadcast rights continues to skyrocket, and viewers continue to watch sports in large numbers while television audiences for every other type of programming are in decline.
DVR’ing NFL games illuminates some weird annoyances about watching football on TV, and saves you a ton of time, but it doesn’t replace the real thing.
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