Funny, I don't remember buying a raffle ticket. That was my reaction to the news that I was to become the proud owner of a DirecTV satellite dish. My assignment the week after Thanksgiving was to spend five days gorging myself on the offerings of the 75 sports channels the dish pulls down and to write about the experience. A piece of cake, right?
Suggestion to my editor: The next time you do me this kind of favor, throw in a few bucks for flowers and/or marriage counseling.
I recognized DirecTV as the service hawked in television commercials by that mildly annoying man who plays Frank Fontana on Murphy Brown. In one of the ads the pitchman—his real name is Joe Regalbuto—diagrams a football play on a big board while enthusing, "I've always wanted to do this." As I spent the week spot-welded to my sofa, the 39-button DirecTV remote cradled in my palm, and flitted from NHL to NBA to NFL games, I had the same thought: I've always wanted to do this.
I am not alone. DirecTV has sold more than 1.1 million dishes since they became available nationwide 13 months ago. It works like this: First you drop at least $750 to buy your dish and decoder box and have them professionally installed. Then you decide what programming package you want and, most important, what games you can't live without. The NBA League Pass, which gives you access to up to 800 regular-season games, costs $149. NHL Center Ice, which gives you more than 500 games (but, again, no playoffs), goes for $119. The company's most wretchedly excessive offering is the NFL Sunday Ticket: $139 for close to 200 out-of-market games. (On Dec. 3, I risked a repetitive-motion injury to my right thumb by jumping among 13 NFL games.) Similar packages are available for college hoops and football; a full-season Major League Baseball package will be offered in the spring.
This assignment appealed to my love of both sports and family. During football season, you see, I am on the road three weeks out of four, often from Wednesday through Monday. Working at home, I could spend quality time with my wife and daughter. I could cut the lawn. I could seal the deck before the rainy season.
Physical labor, I soon discovered, was out of the question. The presence of the dish on the roof, coupled with my marching orders, resulted in a kind of satellite-induced torpor that made even simple tasks difficult. After several days parked on my posterior in the line of duty, I noticed that my hygiene had begun to suffer, to say nothing of my relations with the women in my life.
I spent the daylight hours of last Saturday watching eight college basketball games—as a prelude to the seven NHL and eight NBA games I would monitor that night. Even though I was around the house, it was pretty much a lost weekend, familywise. As she left for the health club at 9 a.m., my wife, Laura, bid me the following adieu: "Later, loser."
Sunday's "workday" began at 8:30 a.m. with a variety pack of coaches' shows and ended 13 games later. On Monday I began the task of patching things up with Laura.
By then, six days—and roughly 6,000 noxious Fred Edelstein plugs for his Pro Football Insider—had passed since the white CoitCom pickup truck pulled up to our simple stucco home in northern California.
"I am Bulmaro," said the stocky man who emerged from the van. "Call me Bull."