Wednesday morning I woke up in Cape Town, went online, headed over to ESPN.com and saw the Lakers score from Tuesday night: Detroit 88, Lakers 85. I read the recap and checked the boxscore – 8-for-26, Kobe? I then went onto Twitter and read back through the evening’s excitement: Both South Dakota State basketball teams are headed for the NCAA tournament. Or is that San Diego State?
I wrote a few emails. I disconnected from the Internet, which at my in-laws’ means yanking the connection cord out of my computer with a flourish. I left the house. I was online for about 15 minutes.
It’s tough following the American sports world from half-a-world away. In my week and a half in Cape Town I haven’t watched any television, which breaks a personal record set back in the first week of my life in 1975. Our Internet situation means I can’t spend six hours online watching videos or following boxscores or monitoring Twitter. And the time difference – Cape Town is seven hours ahead of New York and you can do the math for what it means with West Coast games – makes it nearly impossible for me to stay awake while the games are actually being played.
It’s tough to follow. But somehow it’s easy to accept. Maybe it’s the sun or maybe it’s being around family I only see every two years or maybe it’s being surrounded by people who care about rugby and cricket instead of football and baseball or maybe it’s the fact I’m just enjoying my vacation, but the stress that afflicts the sports fan during an average day in the States disappears when you’re so far removed from the action, the scores, the players and the fellow fans who care so much. The Lakers lost to the Pistons? Fine. Kevin Love stakes his claim to being the best power forward in the league? Great. The Saints channel Buddy Ryan and are exposed for running a bounty system? Ridiculous, but somehow not surprising. What’s the next headline? How much Internet time is left? We’re off to the beach? Okay.
I feel disconnected from it all. The games somehow feel…less real. When I wake up early in the morning and check the previous night’s scores – did the Lakers really blow a 21-point lead to Washington? – many of those games have just finished, the emotions that come with victory or defeat still fresh, for those who played the game and those who watched. I can picture the broadcasters with bad hair giving their recaps on the local sports and can imagine the ESPN anchors screaming out bad puns. Here it’s already the start of a new day and the results already feel old.
Maybe that’s just the way vacations go. You should relax, kick back, enjoy nature and family. You should explore your surroundings and a different culture. You could do that an hour from New York, too. You could – I couldn’t.
So perhaps it is the time difference that explains it all. The last time I came to Cape Town – in January 2010 – I arrived on the Sunday of the NFL conference championship games. Despite my exhaustion from the flight, I told myself I was going to stay up until the early-morning kickoff of the Vikings-Saints game. That year I had become a born-again Vikings fan and was convinced this was the season the purple would return to the Super Bowl. Instead I passed out at about 9 and woke up shortly before 6 a.m. Damn it.
Before going online I tried to see if I had a “feeling” about the Vikings game. I did not. I could envision them winning by two scores or losing on a last-second touchdown. Nervously I logged on. In a few minutes I’d discover if the Vikings had erased three decades of frustration and put themselves in position for the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. Back in Minnesota, everyone already knew the result. My dad and his brothers and all my friends who had been Vikings fans their whole lives would either be thrilled or devastated. The game had either been a new chapter in a new book on Vikings history or simply a new chapter of an old story about Vikings humiliation. Hank Stram, Old Man Willie, Drew Pearson, Darrin Nelson, Gary Anderson, maybe it had all been erased.
The game had not been over long. First I saw the score, then saw it had come in overtime. That alone meant it had been heartbreaking. Then I read the details and read about all those fumbles and the Saints abusing Favre as if they had a bounty on his headand the 12 men on the field and…the interception. No. And then the coin toss and a march down the field and a field goal and it seemed – just from the words on the screen – that this had been one of the most devastating defeats in team history. Again.
It was late in the night in Minnesota and early in Cape Town but I still decided to call my parents to get the eyewitness details and to talk to my dad, who had been dragged back into his Vikings fandom after a hiatus of several years. Mom picked up and said it had been a tough game and dad hadn’t taken it too well. When he got on the phone he dissected the terrible turnovers and the terrible penalties and the terrible ending and the team’s terrible history. I could hear the disappointment in his voice but I also knew he’d be all right – after all, this really was nothing new for a Vikings fan.
Over the years I have been able to watch a few American games while in South Africa. In 2007, while staying at my brother-in-law’s house, I stayed up late – until past 3 in the morning – watching a satellite feed of the Colts defeating the Patriots in the AFC title game. And if the Lakers are playing a big game and it’s actually in the afternoon – like they did Sunday against the Heat – I’ll monitor the Internet more closely, checking the box score and Lakers message boards as often as possible, as if I was cooped up in my New York City apartment instead of relaxing in Cape Town. I still get upset, too. I admit I swore when I saw that Pistons-Lakers score Wednesday morning.
But then I log off and go about my day. On Wednesday it was golf. Thursday will be wine-tasting. Next week I’ll be back in New York and I’ll have my cable and NBA League Pass and 24-hour access to the Internet and the NCAA tourney will begin and I’ll follow the Minnesota hoops tournaments and I’ll watch Tiger Woods try to again become Tiger Woods and everything will return to order.
And I’ll be missing Cape Town more than ever.