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If you have not yet discovered the little piece of paradise that is the NFL Network's new RedZone channel, a magical place where it is possible to watch only the most entertaining parts of multiple games going on simultaneously, you might argue with my contention that it is the greatest invention in the history of mankind.
To which I say, name a more significant boon to civilization. Fire? Overrated. Put on another sweater. The wheel? Sure, it makes transportation easier, but who wants to go anywhere when RedZone is on? Electricity? Close, but only because without it, RedZone wouldn't be possible. Other than that, RedZone is a dozen kinds of fantastic, a first-ballot inductee into the I-Can't-Believe-I-Ever-Lived-Without-This Hall of Fame.
I don't mean to suggest that I get overly excited while discussing RedZone, but I do keep a paper bag handy in case of hyperventilation. For roughly seven hours every Sunday during the regular season, from the beginning of the early games until the end of the later set, RedZone brings viewers all the action within the red zone almost at once. Any time a team marches within 20 yards of the goal line, RedZone takes you there. If more than one team is inside the 20, you are there, there and as many other theres as are necessary—viewers either get a split screen or the channel moves from game to game to game between snaps.
RedZone, which is carried by most cable providers, also makes sure you see any spectacular play outside the 20 within moments of its occurrence. The NFL created RedZone for the benefit of fans who don't have access to the league's Sunday Ticket package on DirecTV. (The satellite package shows every game in its entirety and has its own version of the channel, Red Zone.)
RedZone debuted at the start of this season, but my first exposure to it didn't come until a few weeks ago. The first play I saw was Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Steelers. Moments later I was watching the Colts finish a drive against the Ravens with tight end Dallas Clark making a one-handed catch. A few blinks after that, the Packers-49ers game had materialized and Ryan Grant was ripping off a run deep into San Francisco territory. Then I heard angels singing and I began to redefine my concept of heaven. RedZone is, as one fan tweeted, "as if God was holding the remote control." The only thing the channel doesn't do for you during an NFL Sunday is make you a meatball sub, which is for the best, because if it did, you would want to propose.
Even better, the moment there is a lull in one game—a timeout, a replay challenge, the end of the quarter—the channel switches to another in which the score is close or the quarterback is on a roll. This is when the paper bag comes in handy, because ... give me a second here ... that means there are no commercials. No more 60-second reminders of the mysteries of middle-aged men's plumbing. Goodbye, Cialis. So long, Flomax. "You get a bucketful of 100-percent concentrated football awesomeness," says Scott Hanson, the studio host who deftly sets the scene each time RedZone switches games.
Hanson's enthusiasm seems boundless, even though inmates at Leavenworth have a cushier setup: During his seven hours on the air he gets only a two-minute bathroom break and, if he's lucky, a bite or two of a sandwich. "People just get excited when they talk about this," Hanson says. "It's like when you have a great meal at a restaurant. The first thing you want to do is tell everyone you know so they can have the same experience." By his own admission, Hanson sounds like an infomercial pitchman when he talks about RedZone, but who doesn't? Take Wolf Blitzer, the CNN broadcaster. Serious journalist. Hasn't smiled since the early '80s. Apparently even he gets charged up on the subject. Blitzer's tweet from earlier this season: "For crazed pro football fans, NFL RedZone is amazing. Have you seen it?"
The only hint of criticism about RedZone comes from those who wonder whether consuming the tastiest morsels from every game is better than getting a full-course meal from one. Maybe it's football for people with attention-deficit disorder, but at this point, isn't that all of us? It's the perfect channel for an instant-gratification culture. And if you prefer not to miss a minute of your favorite team in action, RedZone is more than happy to fill in the rest of your Sunday.
There's something that feels almost too good to be true about RedZone—perhaps because it's hard to imagine the NFL ever approving it. This is a league that blacks out games in the home team's market if they aren't sellouts and cracks down on sports bars that pirate the full complement of games. Getting RedZone from the NFL (albeit at a nominal fee) is like receiving a great Christmas gift from the dour aunt who always gives you socks. You get the feeling that if the league realized how much fun the channel is, RedZone might get yanked away.
On second thought, RedZone is just O.K. Nothing special. Forget I brought it up.