I’ve never been a guy who likes watching sports in large group settings. If it’s a team I care about — if it’s the Lakers, in other words — I need to be alone, where no one will get hit when I fire a pen or a pillow across the room. Listening to my fellow bar patrons complain about Kobe Bryant’s off-the-ball defense doesn’t interest me. I want to be able to turn the game off if I have to, whether out of disgust or in an attempt to change the fortunes of the game. And if they’re winning I want to celebrate alone, silently, with dignity.
Super Bowl viewing parties have never interested me much, my fellow guests overanalyzing the famous commercials proving just as annoying as the six-hour pregame that overanalyzes the game. One tragic gathering, which doubled as a sort-of going away party for me the first time I moved to NYC, found a group of us watching the 2002 conference title games. The night ended with me faking a hamstring injury so I wouldn’t lose a sprint down the streets of Sartell, Minnesota, and with our host for the festivities — who won our race — vomiting under his wife’s disgusted watch. Also, the Patriots and Rams won and later that night I watched Black Hawk Down in the theater.
But now I love watching games with hundreds of other people, provided it’s through social media and not real-life social interaction. Twitter has greatly improved my viewing experience (perhaps Facebook has done the same for others; being that I’m not on Facebook, I will have to take their and Mark Zuckerberg’s word). The NFL Divisional round proved amazing last weekend. Controversial coaching decisions, terrible interceptions, legends on their last legs — and arms — new superstars, the Packers losing, amazing endings. On Twitter, it was 12 hours of jokes, analysis, quips, historical tidbits, cracks about announcers and so much more. It makes it feel like a communal experience, even as I sit alone in upper Manhattan. And I don’t have to share chicken wings with these people.
Twitter can make today’s news old news before the day’s even half-over. Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah airs today, but it already feels past its expiration date, simply because Armstrong talk dominated my Twitter feed from the moment it was announced the disgraced cyclist would sit down with America’s favorite tear-gathering shoulder. We still don’t actually know exactly what Armstrong told Oprah. We know he admitted to doping but the little details remain a mystery. Yet my desire to watch the piece has dropped dramatically, simply because of the Armstrong overkill on Twitter. As the interview airs I’ll probably follow along online, reading the jokes, quips and links to past Armstrong stories and interviews. By the time you read this, the Manti Te’o story will probably be old, or at least all the jokes will be.
Lakers debacles are much easier to take as well. Instead of being surrounded by people decked out in James Worthy throwback goggles who throw back shot after shot at the bar while complaining about Kobe throwing up shot after shot on the court, I can follow their craziness on Twitter, where the criticism becomes so over-the-top it makes their struggles amusing rather than enraging.
A fellow St. John’s grad named Dan Murphy — who I actually only know through Twitter, email and texts – gets upset at writers who tweet too much play-by-play during games that are broadcast. There is a fine line for beat writers. No one — seriously, no one — wants to read 100 tweets about every single play that happens, even if we can’t see the game on TV. It clogs the timelines and the tweets are mind-numbing, if not soul-crushing. Dan focuses on games that are on TV, which are accessible to millions. Here I have to disagree with my fellow Johnnie. Take Vikings games, for example, and Vikings’ writers, an occasional target. Yes, most people are watching the action and don’t need to see on Twitter that Christian Ponder just threw an interception. But for someone out of the viewing area — someone like me — I find those tweets helpful, provided they focus on the big plays and aren’t overwhelmed by 140-character descriptions of three-yard runs.
It’s difficult to remember when 50 people are cracking jokes about Brent Musburger in your Twitter feed, but Twitter isn’t the world. Not everyone is watching and tweeting and thinking the same things. Will Leitch wrote about this during the Olympics, when people on Twitter expressed outrage day after day about NBC’s tape-delayed follies. The reality was, most people didn’t care. They weren’t online during the day tweeting their frustrations and were happy to get home at night, sit down and watch Michael Phelps win a race he finished six hours earlier.
I understand it’s an echo chamber; I’m following people who, for the most part, share my sensibilities. Wandering into other areas of Twitter, while enlightening, can prove simply terrifying. Witness Skip Bayless, who I do still follow, for reasons unknown. But it’s a new way to follow the games. It’s fun, ridiculous, informative. It makes you feel less alone, even when you want nothing more than to be watching the games all by yourself.