What's it like to watch sports games from 9:30 a.m. ET to 1:39 a.m. on the rare day when all four major U.S. pro leagues are in action? Finding that out was my mission.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, the most recent Sports Equinox—aka the best day of the year—the calendar featured 11 games in the NFL, seven in the NBA, three in the NHL and one in baseball, the fifth game of the World Series, which turned out to be a classic. (Thanks to the vagaries of pro sports calendars, we have had four Sports Equinoxes in the last three years. They used to be scarce: Fans went without one from Oct. 28, 1985, until Nov. 4, 2001. Now, though, thanks to Thursday Night Football and an earlier start to the NBA season, we can expect them every year.)
Our Puritan forebears banned all recreation on Sundays. I'm more of a Calvin Johnson guy than a John Calvin guy, but I still have enough guilt to want not to spend the bulk of the Sabbath in front of the TV. And yet that is exactly my responsibility today.
I have chosen to do my watching at home, and here I should point something out: I don't have a man cave. I view games semi-comfortably from my bed. Blame the real estate market in Manhattan, where a plebeian is lucky to be able to afford a man closet.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average adult male spends one hour each weekend on recreation, exercise and attending sporting events. He spends 31 minutes each weekend reading (so thank you for making it this far). But he spends 7 1/2 hours watching television.
On this day the Browns and the Vikings kick off from London at 9:30 a.m. I give the game 15 minutes, which is more than it deserves. I decide to go to the gym and ride the exercise bike for half an hour, knowing that I will strike a sedentary pose the rest of the day. (Minnesota would win 33–16, to send the Browns to 0–8.)
How peculiar it is that other people's athletic exertion is so bound up with unconstrained sloth. The apotheosis of sports fandom is sinking into your couch as you chew Papa John's and wash it down with Bud Light—eventually becoming one with your furniture. The Lord's day, indeed.
When it comes time for the 1 p.m. games, I put the local Fox game, Falcons-Jets, on the big screen and Red Zone on my laptop. The football today turns out to be better than expected. Not the early games (my deepest sympathies to anyone who watched Panthers 17, Buccaneers 3), but among the late matchups is a quarterback duel between the Seahawks' Russell Wilson, a superlative rookie five years ago, and the Texans' first-year man Deshaun Watson (who would tear his right ACL in practice four days later). Each quarterback throws for 400-plus yards. In a wild fourth quarter both teams score two touchdowns, with no drive taking more than 3:32. With just under three minutes left and the Texans ahead 38—34, Houston cornerback Marcus Williams picks off Wilson. But the Texans punt, and the Seahawks need only three plays to travel 80 yards and take a 41—38 lead. With just 21 seconds left, the score holds up. That game will likely be remembered as the best of the year.
Recalling that football is only part of my assignment, I scramble to put on the Knicks. They're up on the Cavs. Good for them! I boot up Jets-Penguins on my laptop. Winnipeg's up 5–0. Good for them! I order chicken from my favorite takeout spot and get some exercise by walking to the elevator, pressing the down button and handing the delivery man my money. Carrying the takeout bag does wonders for my biceps.
As Game 5 of the World Series looms at 8:15 p.m., I take stock. I have enough food and seltzer to get me through a normal baseball game. The baseball gods, though, have different plans. The top of the first lasts 25 minutes; at the end of the inning the Dodgers have a 3–0 lead, which, it turns out, will be good for nothing. A home run from Astros first baseman Yulieski Gurriel ties things at four in the fourth; Kershaw is chased in the fifth; and Kenta Maeda, his replacement, serves up a three-run homer.
Great playoff baseball is understood to be premised on dominant, careful pitching and scarce offense. This game looks nothing like that. It's video-game baseball. But it's scintillating all the same. Los Angeles goes up 8–7 in the top of the seventh; Houston forges ahead 11–8 in the bottom. To the ninth we go, 12–9, with the Astros unsure where to turn for a clean inning. Chris Devenski stays in; a Yasiel Puig two-run homer, an Austin Barnes double and a Chris Taylor single later, and the game is tied at 12. It's past 1 a.m. Even though I have barely moved in the past 12 hours, I make a note to investigate whether I can get hazard pay for this. In the 10th the Dodgers are retired after one hit. Kenley Jansen, the superb closer, stays on for L.A. He gets the first two men, but then he hits Brian McCann and walks George Springer, bringing Alex Bregman to the plate. Bregman ropes the first pitch he sees into left, scoring pinch runner Derek Fisher. Houston wins 13–12.
I roar. Which emotion precisely I am expressing, I do not know. I am delirious. It is 1:39 a.m. I reach for the remote and search, fruitlessly, for another game to watch.