I woke up before 6:00 a.m. this morning (intentionally) for the first time in God knows how long. Given I work the evening 2:00-10:00 p.m. shift at the paper, this is no mean feat.
Not only was I awake and out of bed – albeit briefly – I had my computer on my lap and I was logged in to Twitter, both things I could normally give less than a damn about at that ungodly hour.
But there was definitely a good reason to do so: A little sporting event at home called State of Origin.
Now to be honest, I battle to keep up with everything that happens in the news and sporting worlds on a day-to-day basis here, and I’m immersed in that for eight hours a day, so I can’t say I’ve been staying abreast of what’s happening in our the various Australian sporting codes.
But Origin? That’s the exception. It’s arguably the biggest stage for rugby league, the version of “footy” I grew up with. The catchphrase is “state against state; mate against mate.” If you’re not Australian and otherwise unfamiliar with Origin, the three-game series pits players representing my state – Queensland, for those of you not in the know – against the godless heathens from New South Wales.
It’s intense, it’s physically brutal, it’s often a low-scoring, grinding affair. It’s the best rugby league you’ll ever see, far greater than the NRL finals or the World Cup. And as it happens, Queensland has won each best-of-three series for the last eight years, an unprecedented reign of dominance.
This morning, or Wednesday night at home, was the first game of the 2014 edition as the Maroons look to make it nine straight series wins. The only official broadcast in the U.S. was through Fox Soccer, which a) my basic cable doesn’t get and b) isn’t worth paying the subscription for just to watch three games over the course of the next six weeks. So I had to improvise.
Thankfully, the miracles of modern technology meant I had other, unofficial, means at my disposal, and so I was able to stream it live online instead of just following score updates and snark on Twitter (which is also fun, of course). And sure enough, within minutes I was back to being swept up in the action – somewhat to my surprise.
You see, when I left my job in Australia last August, I was burned out on sports. I’d spent four years on the online sports desk at ABC Grandstand, which essentially reduced my favorite games – cricket, football and basketball – to mere tasks. I was basically unable to watch a game for leisure in my spare time; it had become too much like work. Looking for the “storyline” to slot into a formulaic match report at the final siren or whistle or fallen wicket.
After four years of spending every Friday and Saturday night behind a keyboard, watching the same games on TV over and over, I was ready for a change. I’ve certainly got a different role now, but my care factor for closely following sports hasn’t really returned. And aside from some of the people, and the camaraderie (and hell, the paychecks), there aren’t a great deal of things I miss about the job itself.
But between watching the game this morning and tweeting wisecracks for two hours, I found myself kinda yearning for one of the parts of the gig I liked the most: live-blogging big contests like State of Origin, or Test cricket. For me, it was the perfect combination of fast-paced production, sports writing and being a mild smart-ass for a captive readership. I almost decided to blog along with the game here, for old time’s sake, but I figured it wasn’t the right audience. Instead, I had a bit of a laugh on Twitter with some wise-ass jokes and left it at that.
As I’ve said many times on the blog and in my column, it’s still surreal to me that this is where my career and life paths have taken me in such a short space of time. By the time State of Origin came around last year, I knew for certain that it would be the last one I’d cover for ABC Grandstand Online, but I don’t think it really hit home. I had a great time in my final year at Grandstand, all the day-to-day bullshit aside, because I got to do a ton of big contests (mostly) my own way.
Things are so wildly different just 12 months on. I have an all-new body of work that I’m immensely proud of, both in print in the newspaper every couple of Sundays and on this ol’ blog thing. And hopefully by this time next year, there’ll be a book too.
But it’s fun to take a look back in time to reflect on the cool shit I used to do for Australia’s national broadcaster. I might not have been getting recognized at the gym from my writing, but to be able to be a part of huge coverage like that was definitely a wild ride.
Oh, and for the record? Those filthy New South Welshmen won 12-8. They were the better team on the night, but it’s not over yet. And recent history isn’t on their side – the Blues have been up 1-0 in the series three times in the last eight years and ended up losing all of those series 2-1.
And, in case you’re interested (and can overlook my violently obvious self-promotion), here’s the live blogs I wrote during last year’s State of Origin series.