Watching Sports Requires an Iron Butt

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Notes from a heavy sports weekend:

Time required to watch a professional tennis match in a major tournament: Four hours. Time required to watch a major-college or pro football game from start to finish: Four hours. Time to watch a football game, tailgate, and drive to and from: Eight hours.

Tennis first. The Novak Djokovic semifinal Saturday went five sets and tested the stamina of the fans as well as the players. Today’s U.S. Open final between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal looks like a potential four-hour affair because the players are evenly matched, they hang tough in long rallies, and they take their time when it is their serve. I preferred the Serena Williams match in the women’s final Sunday because it was best of three instead of best of five. It went the distance, and was over in about two and a half hours, including a close tiebreaker in the second set and some face time for lean-and-grey Bill Clinton who got the biggest celebrity ovation of the day. The second set was suspenseful because it was a potential decider with multiple match points. In a five-setter, the early sets are often just building blocks to the good stuff in the fourth or fifth sets — like the first three quarters of an NBA game. Walk the dog time, make a sandwich time, get a life time.

Now for football. A week ago I was in Nashville to visit a friend who went to the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game. The game was a thriller, with hot action in the last few minutes, but all my friend could talk about was how long it took to get to that point: an 8:15 p.m. kickoff dictated by ESPN, a game crammed with television timeouts, and a conclusion well after midnight.

Four hour games are the norm. Super Bowls used to be completed in less time. I watched part of the Michigan-Notre Dame game at Jack Magoo’s sports bar Saturday. Another screen was showing other, lesser games at the same time, and I would swear there was twice as much action in the lesser games and twice as many commercials in the big game. What a pay day it was for Michigan and Notre Dame, with 115,000 people in the stands in Ann Arbor and a national television audience. And what a late night for fans who sat through the whole thing and had to drive home after it was over.

There was a very good crowd, by recent University of Memphis standards, at the Liberty Bowl Saturday for the opener against Duke. In fact, it seemed to overwhelm the parking lot attendants on Central Avenue and the concessions in the stadium, where at least one of them ran out of cold soft drinks at half time. You can see why Memphis football boosters keep giving it a go. The upside is considerable, and the infrastructure is already there — the big stadium, the jumbo scoreboard, the parking lots, the access streets. If there were 35,000 people there Saturday, that’s 25,000 more than most games drew the last few years, at roughly $50 a head for tickets, parking, and concessions including $7 beers. Lot of money changing hands. If Memphis ever uncovers another DeAngelo Williams . . .

It’s water under the bridge, but the stadium renovation mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) looks so unnecessary. ADA seating now basically encircles the stands at the middle level. Most in evidence within my view on the west sideline were, in order, empty spaces, fans in portable companion chairs, fans in walkers, and fans in wheelchairs. The DOJ, which strong-armed Memphis into compliance and expansion, should take a more scientific survey.

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