NFL TV experience still doesn’t compare to being at a game

I took the family to a Bears game a few weeks ago. I froze despite wearing long underwear; I had limited perspective with seats in the endzone; and somebody forgot to put the chocolate in the hot chocolate I ordered at the concession stand.

And I loved being there.

There has been some concern of late that the TV production quality for NFL games is so superior that people will choose the comforts of their couch over popping for those high-priced tickets. None other than commish Roger Goodell said: “One of our biggest challenges is the fan experience at home. HD is only going to get better.”

ESPN’s Outside the Lines dedicated Sunday’s show to the issue with a report from Darren Rovell.’s Rick Reilly gave more reasons to skip the drive to the stadium. He writes:

7) The yellow first down line.

8) Your comfy couch. Have you sat in an NFL seat for three-and-a-half hours lately? They’re approximately the size of American Girl Doll tea chairs. This makes no sense. American seats are getting wider while American stadium seats are getting narrower?

I’ve heard all the arguments, and I saw the fans in Rovell’s report who gave up their tickets to watch the games at home.

And I’m here to say that it is not the same.

Watching the game at home still is a mostly passive experience compared to being in the stands. I could doze off or watch 20 minutes of Rudy while channel surfing.

If I really care about the game, I’m definitely focused in. But I’m not nearly as engaged as being there.

I’m not standing up with 60,000 of my new friends on third and 1. I don’t feel the emotional swings of the game as intensely.

I’m not taking in all the colors on the field and in the stands, a scene that can’t be replicated on television. There’s still something unique about walking up the ramp and seeing everything for the first time on that particular day. Watching Chris Berman during the pregame definitely doesn’t compare.

In my mind, TV has been good for a really long, long time. Probably since the NBC peacock announced the upcoming game would be shown in “living color.” The fact that it has improved dramatically only makes it that much better.

I bow to the alter of Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone, the best creation since….beer?

But it isn’t the same as being at a game.

As Rovell pointed out in his report, the NFL needs to enhance the fan experience to keep up with the times. At the game I attended at Soldier Field, I required better Internet access to follow my terrible fantasy team. During breaks, I wanted to see more RedZone-like highlights on the video board. There were too few of them.

And I wouldn’t have minded some chocolate in my hot chocolate.

I’m not saying I want to go to every game. I’m fine with one or two a year and definitely not in late November or December.

I know it can be a hassle with traffic and parking. And sometimes you might sit next to an idiot.

Some things in life, though, are worth making an effort. I think plenty of people agree. Despite the Bears’ horrid effort last night, the cheapest tickets for the Chicago-Minnesota game at Soldier Field Sunday are listed at $120 for high endzone on Stubhub. There’s still something special about being there.

I will be watching from the comforts of my couch Sunday. And I know it won’t be the same.









Wilbon on why he still writes: It’s who I am; does columns for

Part 3 of my Q/A with Michael Wilbon:

Michael Wilbon was at Soldier Field to write a column off the Bears-Houston game last Sunday. And he plans to be at San Francisco to do the same drill for the Bears-49ers game Monday.


I am not alone in asking this question. Wilbon already has a packed schedule with two shows at ESPN: Pardon The Interruption and NBA Countdown. And he has various other duties, projects and speaking engagements that keep him plenty busy.

Wilbon earns crazy money, as in excess of seven figures annually. He isn’t grinding out 80 or so columns per year for the money. Knock a couple zeros off of Wilbon’s contract, and that’s what a sportswriter earns.

And Wilbon isn’t even writing for ESPN’s biggest online platform. Most of his columns run at Hence, his coverage of Chicago sports.

Yet there Wilbon is, trolling the press boxes of his hometown teams. Going down to the lockerroom; checking sources. It can be hard and difficult. Grunt work, for lack of a better term.

Why wasn’t he relaxing at home Sunday night instead of catching a post-midnight ride in the rain outside of Soldier Field?

The answer, Wilbon says, is simple. Even though he has gained fame and considerable fortune on TV, the former Washington Post columnist says, once a writer, always a writer.

Here’s my Q/A.

You don’t have to do this. Why do you continue to write?

Because it’s who I am. I love it. I’m not exaggerating. I’m terrified at the prospect of not writing. That’s who I am. That’s what I do.

What about those TV gigs? Plenty of scribes in the press box wouldn’t mind trading places and paychecks with you.

I’m happy with what I do for ESPN. I’m grateful to do it. It’s fun. The fun level for PTI is a 10. The satisfaction level is a 9. But is that who I am? No. I aspired to be a columnist, not a talker on television. I didn’t grow up with that.

What is it about the creative process of writing a column?

You can’t develop a thought on TV. You have to go to something else. It’s sound bites. It’s 140 characters. It’s tidbits. I kid Bill Simmons about writing 6,000 word columns. You don’t necessarily have to do that, but with a column you get a chance to develop a thought.

I go out of my way to write because I still love it. I live in complete fear every day that I’m not as good at it.

How so?

I went to the Olympics and wrote every day. 20 columns. I loved it, but that’s it. I’m not going to do the Olympics anymore. The writing is harder now. Now I know what the coaches mean about getting the reps.

Once I wrote 230 columns in a year at the Post. Another year, it was 208. When you go down to 80, you’re not going to be as good at it. The words don’t come as quickly on deadline.

At the Bears game Sunday, I told the driver to pick me up at midnight. I walked downstairs at 12:28. It took me an hour-and-half to write that column. That’s twice as long to write what I used to write. And I worried all night, was it any good?

What if they asked you to go to Brazil for the Olympics in 2016?

In four years? Are you kidding? I won’t be able to produce any copy. It’ll take me a week to write a column.

How come you’re writing mainly for and not for

They’ve got a ton of people over there. I’m not anyone. I’m just a guy who argues on TV.

My first thought  when I (started writing for ESPN) was that I would do more national stuff. I don’t think anyone cares or wants me to. I did not think it would evolve in this direction. I still do some pieces that run nationally. They’ll call me and, ‘Can you write a big picture piece (for’ But I’m glad it worked out this way because I care about what goes on in Chicago.

So you’ll be in San Francisco for the Bears game Monday?

I volunteer to cover stuff if ( is going to be there. The writing still is important to me.








Mariotti reappears with Bears column on Chicago site

If several Chicago-area athletes, coaches and owners woke up with a headache Monday (Jerry Reinsdorf probably had a migraine), here’s the reason: Jay Mariotti is back.

Well, sort of.

The former Chicago Sun-Times columnist reappeared in ChicagoSide, a relatively new site launched by Jonathan Eig. He weighed in from California on the Bears-Packers game.

It was typical Jay. He even professed to want to be positive, but that other Jay (Cutler) spoiled the mood.

Preparing for this article last week, I was hoping the Bears would beat the Packers and allow me to share in some rare warm-and-fuzzy glow. But in my 17 years as a Sun-Times sports columnist, topicality and necessity forced me into the corners of harsh reality way too often. This column is no different. I’ll be accused of Mariotti negativity, and some people will complain just so they can have something to be mad about. But so what?

Besides, it may take the heat off another Jay.

As for how Mariotti wound up writing for ChicagoSide, Eig said, “It is simple.”

“I invited him to submit a story if he ever felt the urge,” said Eig in an email. “He submitted one and I liked it. I don’t know if he’ll write for us again, but if he produces additional stories as good as this one, I’d be pleased to have them.”

Mariotti is pictured in a relaxed pose, an empty beer glass in his hand with the Pacific in the distance.

Life is good, right?

Mariotti has been in relative obscurity ever since a domestic violence incident cost him high-profile jobs with AOL Fanhouse and on ESPN’s Around the Horn.

Here’s what his bio says on ChicagoSide:

He lives in Los Angeles where he works on media projects. His recent e-book about his life and media career, “The System: A Manual on Surviving Liars, Loons, Law, Life,” is available on

Here’s a link to the book. The cover features a sunset, an odd choice considering the hard-hitting title.

Perhaps Mariotti has mellowed out and is enjoying the good life in LA, drinking beers by the ocean. It represents quite a lifestyle change from the columnist who would have written three columns per day if given the chance.

It’ll be interesting to see if Mariotti does more for ChicagoSide. It definitely won’t be for the money, because ChicagoSide doesn’t operate that way.

Rather, I expect Mariotti will do it so he can be heard again. He’s been silent for a long time.