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Saturday, July 10, 2010
Feeling misty-eyed about covering it live

Posted by Chris Jones

JOHANNESBURG -- I first saw Cover it Live (our live interactive game application inside GameCast) on a big screen in a boardroom in New York City; I sat there and blinked a few times and decided it was stupid.

That meeting also marked the first time I met Leander Schaerlaeckens, this young Dutch kid who spoke more languages than I knew existed. I decided he was stupid, too.

Then came our first game here in South Africa, the host nation against Mexico at Soccer City. Leander and I sat next to each other, luck of the draw, and we ended up doing Cover it Live together. We stepped on each other's toes a little -- mostly, I stepped on his -- and I didn't quite understand that readers could see only the comments we posted, so there were a few hiccups there.

But we had a good time. I came around. For me, Cover it Live was actually a good outlet. It was a way of sharing my experience with people I came to regard as friends. Being at a World Cup game was a lifelong dream of mine, and it was fun to vent my excitement, even if it was via hastily typed semi-sentences.

Leander and I worked the next game together, and the game after that, and we gradually found our rhythm. It just kind of happened. Leander mostly worked play-by-play, using his actual soccer knowledge to fine effect. I mostly played the goof, responsible for sorting through the comments and ragging on people. Leander was Conan O'Brien, in that he's tall and has a ridiculous name. I was Andy Richter, except not funny and without my own critically acclaimed but ultimately unsuccessful spin-off. It all felt very comfortable. It felt like home.

And much to my surprise, Cover it Live took on a life of its own. I'm pretty sure we were responsible for whole percentage drops in the American GDP. We had so many people watching along with us from their office cubicles, from counters at car rental companies, in hotel rooms and the backs of their biology classes. Thousands of comments rolled past; sometimes I felt like Lucy juggling chocolates. At one point, "Leander Schaerlaeckens" was the fourth-most searched name on Google. When the U.S. played Algeria, we had something like a million hits and 18,000 comments, around 200 a minute. It was nuts, but a good kind of nuts, like cashews.

At the end of that game, when Landon Donovan scored, it felt like that YouTube video with people erupting in bars across America, except it was all contained on my laptop screen, vibrating across my desk.

But the best part about Cover it Live for me has been the sense of community that has developed with it. Running jokes became part of the deal, rewards for people who had watched with us from the beginning. During boring games, we riffed on '80s music, childhood snacks, breakfast cereals and -- in a particularly bizarre edition for me -- my pants. (Thanks to Jemele Hill for that one.) My wife began logging in. Even when people were at home and could watch the game with their own eyes, they clicked through our little conversations.

It became, I think for both Leander and me, our favorite part of covering the World Cup. I ended up doing Cover it Live from my hotel room when I wasn't at the game, just for the sense of connection across the water. I did one of the semifinals from a curry house in Durban. I needed that fix. I wanted that sense of belonging.

Now we have only two games left. I can't believe it's almost over. I'm actually pretty broken up about it. People have asked whether Leander and I will work other games, other sports. I have no idea what the future holds. This might be it for us. If it is, it was a fantastic time in my life. I wouldn't change a thing, except for eating that curry in Durban. I probably wouldn't do that again.

So thanks, Leander Alphabets. I'm sorry I thought you were stupid.

And thanks to the hundreds of thousands of you who were here with us: Guy on the 47th Floor, kipa, Kyle, Elizabeth, Fat Lady, Chris' Pants, Emily, Jonathan, da weef …. We'll see you tonight, and we'll see you tomorrow night, and then we'll see you when we see you. I'll miss all of you in the meantime, and everything else about this crazy, beautiful ride.

It's time to get to work.