LOS ANGELES – It began with a Sunday morning hangover, and it ended 12 hours later with a moonlit walk along Sunset Boulevard. In between, best friends Sam Lipton and Daniel Alfredson accomplished something that had not only never been attempted before, but had never been possible: attending five games in five American pro sports leagues in a single day, in a single city.
In truth, their journey had begun five years earlier. The idea first occurred to Lipton and Alfredson in 2013, when the two sports-mad Chicagoans imagined out loud how cool it would be to hit up five major sporting events, in one town, in a 24-hour span.
The schedules of our pro sports leagues simply don’t line up that way. But Alfredson, a 31-year-old finance whiz whose friends call him "Alfie," was obsessed. He knew that it could only happen in nine U.S. cities—those that had teams in all five leagues. He also knew that the key to it all was whether the end of the baseball season—the World Series—might somehow overlap with the start of the NBA season. So he made spreadsheets that listed the schedules of every team in MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS, and transposed them on top of each other to see if such a “Sports Equinox”—more rare than the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet—might one day streak past him and his friend.
Last month, they stumbled upon the magic date. On Oct. 21, 2018, five pro sports teams in Los Angeles would host five home games—if the Dodgers made it to the NLCS, that is, and if their NLCS opponent owned a better regular-season record than theirs, and onlyif the NLCS went seven games.
When Alfie looked closer, he saw that the Chargers “home game” that day would be played in … London. He texted Sam the bad news, then returned to his spreadsheets, depressed but undeterred.
His Excel grids showed him that on Oct. 28, the Rams, Kings, and Clippers would play in L.A., and the Galaxy would host their final game of the regular season.
“All we needed was for the Dodgers to make it to the World Series against an AL team with a better record,” Sam recalled. Only then would a Game 5 at Dodger Stadium be possible.
Overnight, they became Dodger fans. Dave Roberts' team swept the NLDS. They fought past the Brewers in a seven-game NLCS. If the Dodgers could avoid a World Series sweep, the planets would be aligned. Sam and Alfie were in a Chicago dive bar when the Dodgers’ Max Muncy slugged a walk off homerun in the 18th inning to win Game 3, embracing each other in celebration as Muncy’s teammates embraced him at home plate.
They flew to L.A. the next day, embarking on their Neil Armstrong-like voyage toward history. A friend of Alfie’s who runs a SoCal tequila distillery sent a case of the stuff to their Airbnb near Hollywood. How could they not partake? An impromptu Halloween party ensued. Neighbors popped in, dozens of them. Mezcal was poured. Dances were danced. Headaches formed like storm clouds as the human need for sleep was ignored.
Their heads were in full throb when a car arrived at 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning to shuttle them to a helicopter ride over L.A., provided by the city’s tourism department. If they could somehow ignore the fact that they’d only gotten three hours sleep—if they could stick to the schedule and allow their elaborately-planned adventure to unfold, they’d go down in history, if not on the level of Armstrong, then at least on par with the two monkeys who in 1959 became the first creatures to survive space flight.
The helicopter was piloted by Robin Petgrave, a generous soul who—when he’s not working on Hollywood movies—teaches kids in South Central about aviation. Petgrave gave Sam and Alfie an aerial view of each of the four arenas they would soon visit, then he landed his chopper atop a tall building in downtown L.A., two blocks from Staples Center. Sam and Alfie were escorted to ground level, where they walked to the arena, its floor covered in ice, the Kings and Rangers skating around, warming up.
9:15 a.m.: Car service arrives at Airbnb in Silverlake and takes Sam and Alfie to Compton airport
10:30 a.m.: Helicopter takes off
11:10 a.m.: Helicopter lands near Staples Center
12:30 p.m.: Kings’ game starts
1:50 p.m.: Sam and Alfie exit Staples Center, get on motorcycles
2:10 p.m.: S&A arrive at StubHub Center
3:00 p.m.: S&A depart StubHub Center on motorcycles
3:15 p.m.: S&A arrive at LA Coliseum
4:45 p.m.: S&A depart LA Coliseum, take brief bicycle cab trip to 30th & Figueroa
5:00 p.m.: S&A hop in Uber at 30th & Fig, head to Dodger Stadium
5:20 p.m.: S&A arrive at Dodger Stadium
5:40 p.m.: S&A depart Dodger Stadium, Uber to Staples Center
6:00 p.m.: S&A arrive at Staples for Clippers-Wizards
7:10 p.m.: S&A depart Staples, Uber back to Dodger Stadium
7:25 p.m.: S&A arrive Dodger Stadium for end of WS Game 5
The plan was to watch the first period of Rangers-Kings, then head to the StubHub Center, where the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo would kick off at 1:30 p.m. But a TV interview with Fox Sports Net went awry due to a broken camera, which caused our heroes to sprint through the bowels of the Staples Center with the camera crew in search of a new set.
Sam, a 33-year-old Aussie who works in IT, is by far the calmer of the two adventurers. Alfie, on the other hand, is a walking exposed nerve. He panicked when the TV snafu knocked them off schedule. The good news: they won the pumpkin-passing competition that was held on the ice during a first-period break.
From there, they hopped on two street motorcycles, loaned to them by a friend, and streaked down the 110 Freeway. The buzz of the soccer crowd was barely audible as they took the exit ramp toward the StubHub Center, which lies at the city's southern tip. They parked their bikes, removed their Kings jerseys and pulled on their Galaxy t-shirts. “We were supposed to be here 30 minutes ago,” Alfie lamented. The home team was up, 2-nil, thanks to a pair of goals from striker Ola Kamara. The stakes were high. With a win, L.A. would advance to the MLS playoffs. A loss or a tie, and their season would be over.
A playoff bid seemed certain as Sam and Alfie choked down concession stand pizza, mounted their motorbikes and returned to the freeway. The next destination? The L.A. Coliseum.
Traffic was intense, but the universe and several L.A. drivers collaborated to make way for the two motorcyclists, who squeezed between cars at 85 mph. Then they missed their exit. Alfie freaked. Using a series of frantic hand signals they invented on the spot, they managed to reach the next off-ramp, re-route, and arrive at the Packers-Rams game in time to witness a Todd Gurley touchdown that put the Rams ahead 16-13 in the third quarter.
One of their goals had been to eat indigenous L.A. food at each venue. The fried chicken sandwich they’d scarfed at the Kings game, courtesy of LudoBird, had been sublime. The street tacos at the Coliseum provided a savory second entrée. They were done driving for the day, so cocktails followed. Gin and tonic for Sam. Whiskey and 7-Up for Alfie. Clink. Three games down, two to go.
Fireworks filled the sky when the clock struck 00:00 on the Rams’ 29-27 win. Our boys were on the move again. Unfortunately, finding an Uber amidst an exodus of 76,000 fans is a bit like finding a principled studio executive in Hollywood, so they leapt aboard a bicycle taxi powered by the legs of an Angeleno named Jesus’ and traveled north a few blocks. At 30th and Figueroa, Alfie and Sam disembarked and climbed into a car bound for Dodger Stadium.
They already knew that they'd miss Clayton Kershaw’s first pitch of Game 5 in the World Series. No matter. From the outset, their goal had been to watch as much of each game as possible without jeopardizing their larger mission of seeing all five. A stranger’s Prius dropped them off at Vin Scully Avenue. Their dream was near fruition. All they had to do was witness a few pitches, then head downtown again to catch tip off of the Clippers and Wiz, and their odyssey would be complete.
They didn’t count on the thigh-scorching uphill sprint to the ballpark. But they were young, fit, and free, their veins full of adrenaline and just the right sprinkling of adult libations, and once they conquered the hill they were rewarded with baseball’s most picturesque view: Chavez Ravine at twilight, the San Gabriel mountains standing sentry beyond the outfield.
All day they had discussed whether they preferred to see a Dodgers win, which would send the World Series back to Boston, or if watching the Red Sox crown themselves champions on the road would make a better ending to their story. The score was 2-1 Boston when they entered the park for their quick peek at their fourth sporting contest of the day. A few taps of Alfie’s iPhone and they were in an Uber again, careening back down the ravine. The World Series game had emptied the streets, which enabled them to watch the Clippers’ pregame layup drills 15 minutes after seeing David Price flinging fastballs.
The ice that the Kings and Rangers had competed on at midday was now hardwood. (The Houston Dynamo, their phones informed them, had stormed back to defeat the Galaxy, 3-2.) Fatigue was now laying its heavy hands on our dauntless duo. But no lack of sleep, no amount of uphill running or logistical stress could prevent goosebumps from speckling Sam’s forearms when Staples Center went dead quiet, and completely dark, in honor of the 11 people murdered by a gunman in Pittsburgh the day before. When the lights came up, an American of East Indian descent named Raaginder Singh stood at center court and touched his bow to his violin strings, his instrument moaning the notes of the national anthem. Alfie recorded it on his iPhone and thought about adding the moment to their Instagram story (check it out: #5Leagues1DayLA), but he couldn’t find the right words. He hadn’t expected this. Today was supposed to be 100% happiness. Sam, who is Jewish, could only stand there, overwhelmed with gratitude that he was at this exact place, at this exact moment—a moment that had nothing to do with sports, yet had been provided to him, and thousands of others, by sports.
American athletics offers a tableau of juxtaposition—homeruns follow strikeouts, turnovers precede touchdowns—and the vacuum that followed this poignant interlude was quickly filled with bumping hip-hop and a laser light show as the Clippers and Wizards were introduced. The tip-off, in which Marcin Gortat (of Poland) outleaped the Wizards’ Ian Mahinmi (born in France to African-Jamaican parents), and batted the ball to Danilo Gallinari (of Italy), only added to the moment’s depth. It also completed our heroes’ gauntlet. They had done it. Their eyes, ears, and hearts had taken in professional hockey, soccer, football, baseball, and basketball, in the same town, in the same day.
Humbled and weary, but beaming, they discussed the realization of their five-year dream while an elderly Filipino Uber driver ferried them back to Dodger Stadium. “We did it. I can’t believe it.” They embraced, and might have teared up a little. They didn't say. A sudden roar welcomed them as they climbed out of the car. Were the Dodgers mounting a comeback? No. Steve Pearce of the Red Sox had just hit his second home run of the game to make the score 5-1 Boston. They watched the final two innings, each man accompanied by a beer and a Dodger Dog. Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado to end the game. Machado fell to one knee, knocked off balance by the force of his fruitless swing. Somewhere in the leftfield pavilion, our two protagonists appeared ready to crumple, too.
“We’re pretty flat, adrenaline-wise,” Alfie conceded as they departed the stadium, surrounded by jubilant Red Sox supporters.
They staggered down Sunset Boulevard, past its raucous bars and sleepy liquor stores, bound for their Airbnb, and the laptop on which they would download the day’s videos and images for Sports Illustrated. They were asked if the preceding twelve hours had lived up to a half decade of expectations. Their answers came in unison:
“It was perfect.”