NOT SO LONG ago, sports junkies grabbed a bowl of popcorn and a drink and hunkered down in the recliner to watch whatever game happened to be on television.
Nowadays, you don't need to be anywhere near a TV to catch all the action. With a point and a click on the Web, you can get text descriptions of every play, every pitch and every shot delivered in "real time" directly to your desktop. (Of course, you still might want that bowl of popcorn.)
Here are just a few of the sites where you'll never miss a play:
The self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports" is at the forefront of the online sports world as well. The ESPN site carries the NFL's official GameDay Live real-time presentation. The opening screen shows a graphical view of the field, the game situation and a description of the most recent play, along with a photo of a player involved in that play. Those descriptions are also prefaced with a statistic; when Detroit has a first down, you learn that the Lions run the ball on 46 percent of their first-down plays. ESPN also provides some NBA action and more in-depth real-time coverage with NBA GameFlow, available only to subscribers of ESPN's Insider service.
The joint venture of Cable News Network and Sports Illustrated offers real-time play-by-play descriptions and links to enough statistics to overheat the calculator. Click on an NFL Livecast, and the opening screen shows a scoreboard, the down-and-distance situation and time remaining, along with current individual statistics. Click on any player for links to career and season stats. Links lead to team and defensive statistics, scoring highlights and a play-by-play account of the game.
At March Madness time, a big Web attraction is the official site of the NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments. The site features real-time action from every game at every venue--from the first round to the national championship game. Developed by Total Sports in conjunction with NCAA Online and Host Communications, the site garnered 81 million page views during the 1999 tournament.
This site from Total Sports Inc., a Raleigh, North Carolina-based new-media sports information company, captures every Major League Baseball run, hit and error via its TotalCast. The opening screen shows a scoreboard and lists the current pitcher and batter for any game in progress. The batter is represented by a computerized figure--accurately batting left- or right-handed, depending on the player. Next to him is a "strike zone" box that shows the sequence and location of every pitch. Click on the "Charts" link and you get a field diagram showing where and how every ball was hit--a star for a fly ball, a triangle for a line drive and a square for a grounder. Other links lead to up-to-the-minute box scores and play-by-play.
Ever felt like following a golfer around the course for an entire round? Here you can do it for any PGA, Senior or Buy.com tour event without leaving your chair. Click on the tournament leaderboard for updated scores and links to every player in the field. Click on a player's name for a hole-by-hole scorecard, from the first round to the most recent hole completed. Each player's page includes interesting, novel and at times obscure statistics. A click on Steve Flesch's scorecard during the Buick Challenge in October revealed that he ranked 75th on tour in putting average.
Get real-time NBA coverage, complete with current statistics, play-by-play and shot charts on CBS SportsLine, which has a promotional and content agreement with CBS. The site's NFL GameCenter also gives users an up-to-the-minute look at any current NFL game. The opening screen shows a simulated scoreboard, individual statistics and a scoring summary. Team and defensive statistics are just a mouse click away. During the World Series, Sports-Line's real-time Baseball Live coverage debuted a "3D Pitch Tracker," showing every pitch in 3-D graphics and from a variety of angles.
Can't get back to the ol' alma mater for the big game? No problem. This site--which merged with Internet giant Yahoo! in July--carries live play-by-play radio broadcasts from more than 100 colleges and universities. (You might need to download RealPlayer audio software.) It's an equal opportunity site, too; traditional football powers Notre Dame and Nebraska are featured, but so too are Dubuque and the University of Sioux Falls. Missed last week's game? Again, no problem; previous broadcasts are archived. Yahoo! Broadcast also carries audio of live horse racing and major sporting events.
The official site of West Point athletics is on the march with real-time football and basketball. Though not as visually snazzy as some others, the site gives fans every play, as recorded by the statisticians in the press box. Army uses a program developed by Stat Crew Software Inc. to put its live sporting events on the Web. Stat Crew also produces software to create real-time statistics for volleyball, hockey and baseball. For a list of other clients and sports, check out the Web site at www.statcrew.com.
Start your engines! Every lead change, every caution flag and every lap is tracked during a RaceCast on the official site of the National Association For Stock Car Auto Racing. The opening screen shows the "Field Summary," with race position order, along with the lap condition and the number of laps remaining. Click on the "Closer Look" link for a simulated overhead view of the top five cars and their track position. Wondering which drivers have led the race? Or how many laps have been raced under caution? It's all in the "Summary" on the main screen. And when a caution flag comes out, a "Race Alert" pops up to tell you what happened.
If cricket is more your cup of tea, this is the site for ball-by-ball action. In late October the site carried every ball of the New Zealand vs. India match, updated every 30 seconds.