"Oh," he said, "I'll probably go and play golf instead."
I stood there for a second, stunned, before I decided that he had misunderstood me.
"No," I said, "I'm talking about the Chiefs game. Where are you going to watch it?"
"I don't think I will. I'll have to go to a sports bar, and I don't like going to sports bars."
Now, I can somewhat understand his reluctance to visit one of these establishments. I have to go one for about eight games a year since I'm too cheap to buy NFL Sunday Ticket, and I'm convinced that all sports bars are operating under some sort of federal grant to study the effects of bad food and bad service on restaurant patrons.
But of course, sports bars don't have to offer good food and good service. Why should they? They've got the goods. You don't see many crack houses with valet parking, do you? It's the same principle. Sports bars provide a television signal so I can watch the Chiefs. Crack houses provide crack. I get jittery and agitated when I can't watch the Chiefs. Crack addicts get…well, you get the point.
The bottom line is that if I have to visit a sports bar to see the game, I will unhesitatingly do so. If, as part of the package, I must also submit to the indignity of begging for scraps that are akin to the stuff served during the Siege of Leningrad, then I will do that, too. The people running sports bars know this will never change and I know it will never change, at least not until other technology options become available.
Truthfully, though, sports bar or no sports bar, there's not much reason to miss a Chiefs game nowadays. You can go to the game if you live nearby, or you can watch it on TV if you're in the local area. If you're like me and live outside of the local market, you can go to a sports bar or buy NFL Sunday Ticket or even keep up with the game live on the Internet with up-to-the-minute drive charts and statistics.
If you know someone who knows someone who knows someone, you can also download a TV signal over the Internet, as (ahem) "a friend of mine" did just a couple of weeks ago on a vacation to Paris. Rather than fruitlessly searching for a Parisian sports bars that's open at midnight and favors American football over Hungarian team handball, this person just brought a laptop to the hotel, found someone who knew someone who knew someone, and voila! (that's a French word, by the way), "a friend of mine" got to watch the Chiefs live on a glorious, full-color, three-inch window. (I'm sure that somewhere along the line, someone also gained the express written consent of the National Football League.)
I love this brave new world of technology. I can watch the Chiefs anywhere. I can get real-time information on them. I can get stats and interviews and find out what Priest ate in the press box and who Junior Siavii spit on and basically any other detail that I could possibly want. This is a golden age of Chiefs access.
This environment of convenient viewing was not always the case, however. In fact, it's relatively recent in the grand timeline of professional football. In the 1970s, as the Era Of Great Sadness began for the Chiefs, I still lived in their television market, so I could watch them play, even if I often did it with my hands over my eyes, peeking between my fingers.
But I lived on the unsettled frontiers of Chiefsland, actually closer to St. Louis than Kansas City, so as the Dark Ages swept over the land and the sky rained frogs and the draft crops died year after year, my local TV stations started replacing the Chiefs games with the games of the old St. Louis Cardinals. In that day and age, this left me high and dry. I had no alternatives. I couldn't even watch them on the Internet, because at the time I couldn't afford to devote two rooms of the house to a Univac 6000, with additional rooms to house all of the technical support crew.
For several years my Chiefs access was limited to watching Conrad Dobler bite people while waiting for the announcers to mention the scores of "other games". Then I would watch the 10 pm news with feverish hopes of seeing some minor clip of Chiefs action, and I would read the newspaper the next day to see the stats. When you combine that with the fact that we couldn't get Internet news, there was no ESPN and there were few sports magazines, there were times in the late seventies when a player would start on opening day and I would have no idea who he was or where he came from. To this day, I'm not positive that I ever saw Todd Blackledge play, though in the big picture, I'm not sure anybody can really make that claim.
To a great extent, this was the case up until the late 1990s. If you lived outside the Kansas City market and wanted to see the Chiefs play, you had to do one of the following:
1. Get somebody to record the game on a VCR and mail it to you.
2. Travel to Kansas City
3. Hire a playwright and a troupe of actors to perform a dramatized re-enactment, which was never very good since most actors worry more about character development than just playing the game. ("But what really drives Rich Scanlon? Why is he so aggressive? Is it his relationship with his parents that drives him to violence?")
It wasn't until the Internet and Fantasy Football really took off in the mid-nineties that the plethora of news and information channels popped up, and then when satellite television took off the information flow became nearly perfect. You young whippersnappers under 35 may not realize how great you've got it now. With a few minutes on Google, you can find out about histories, players, stats, Rich Scanlon's relationship with his parents, draft histories…anything. You can watch all of the games from home if you want to shell out some money, and if you know the right person who knows the right person who knows the right person, you can even watch the game online from Paris.
So if this is the age of easy access, what does the future hold? Surely we haven't reached the apex of football civilization. Surely we haven't invented everything that there is to invent. And if not, what's left?
Plenty, I think. When you watch your game, whether at home or in Paris or at a sports bar, you still watch the same thing that you watched 30 years ago: mostly a camera placed at press box level, augmented by other cameras placed in different locations, unless it's a game involving the Cardinals or the Browns. In the USFL and XFL, you might have also benefited from a Linebacker-cam or Quarterback-cam, but the bottom line is that you watched what the networks gave you.
That will change in the football of the future. Imagine a game where you can control the cameras, where you can control how you watch the game. It would be just like those Madden games, but with a game system that doesn't stink to high heaven. Or imagine if you could pipe in the rest of the game experience: the drunk guy next to you yelling obscenities, the steep steps where you worry that if you fall, you'll go right over that little rail and into the lower deck, maybe even the smell and taste of fresh brats. Perhaps you'll be able to have the game piped directly into your brain, so you can watch it by just sitting and staring at your daughter's dance recital, or by appearing to study a spreadsheet at work. Does it get better than that?
Our future looks promising. The game experience will become more and more accessible to those of us who don't hold tickets. We'll be able to see the game, hear the game, smell the sweat and the beer and the brats and perhaps even transmit our voices into the crowd noise on key third downs. But will it be the same as actually being there? I'm not sure.
Technology is great, but who doesn't revel in the feeling of walking into the great bowl of Arrowhead and seeing the bright reds and greens spread out below you? Who doesn't get chills when the A-10s or the B-2s or the alien hovercraft roar overhead to end the national anthem? And of course, there can be no substitute for standing in the Mecca of Chiefs football on third down and long, watching the opposing team skulk to the line of scrimmage and hearing 80,000 voices rise in unison to create the best home field advantage in all of football.
But even being there by proxy is enough to bring a grin to my face. If I can't be there in person, I'll watch it on TV, even if it's in a sports bar eating overpriced, soggy nachos and a watered-down soda. Heck, I'll even pay to do it, and while I'm there I'll raise a toast to all of the engineers and inventors who have moved me forward from watching Conrad Dobler and the evening news.
Playing a round of golf instead? The concept is unthinkable.
This article originally appeared in Warpaint Illustrated the Magazine. If you want more information about the only Magazine Dedicated to the Kansas City Chiefs, hit the banner below to learn how you can get 56 issues of Sports Illustrated when you order Warpaint Illustrated the magazine.