The Turnstile

150 days, 150 games: How a sports bucket list became something more

Jay Busbee
The Turnstile

View photo

.

Courtesy Jamie Reidy.

September 18, 2013. Somewhere outside Durant, Oklahoma. Jamie Reidy was 13 days into his quest to see a game a day, every day, across the entire United States, and all of a sudden he realized there was no game anywhere nearby. Nothing but open space in every direction. How could this be possible? How could there be no sporting events — college, high school, Little League — going on anywhere in Oklahoma on a Wednesday night? Was this quest doomed to failure before it had even gotten off the ground?

_______

It began, as most brilliantly insane ideas do, over too many beers with friends.

Reidy, a Notre Dame grad-turned-writer, was in South Florida for the 2013 National Championship game to see his alma mater play Alabama. Somewhere along the way, Reidy and his friends began discussing the sports “bucket list”: the Super Bowl, the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, and so on. Everyone agreed it was a noble aim for a lifetime of sports fandom.

Then Reidy raised prophetic question. How many days in a row could one guy actually see a live sporting event?

Eight months later almost to the day, on September 5, 2013, Reidy sat in Mile High Stadium to watch the start of the NFL season. And every day since then – every single day – he’s taken in another sporting event. He’ll wrap up at this weekend’s Super Bowl, more than 150 straight events. He’s seen everything from high-stakes NFL and NBA games to church-league softball and weekday-morning bowling. He’s helped local wounded veterans enjoy a ballgame. And along the way, he’s creating one hell of a story.

To understand why someone would attempt such a streak, it’s worth getting to know Reidy himself. A hyperkinetic 40-something, he’s a former Army officer and pharmaceutical salesman who, by his telling, perfected the art of appearing to work hard. He worked for Pfizer for many years, hawking various pharmaceuticals, until the gem of all gems landed in his lap: a little drug by the name of Viagra.

“I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t do any actual writing,” he says. “I was sleepwalking through my career when I realized I could write a book about drug sales. Stories like how I was in London for three days while Pfizer thought I was in Fort Wayne, things like that.”

Reidy compiled his adventures selling Viagra and the like into a book, “Hard Sell,” which eventually became the movie “Love and Other Drugs.” Jake Gyllenhall played the role of Reidy himself. (“I don’t think he ever read the book,” Reidy said, “but he did take me to lunch and tape-record me so he could learn how I spoke.”) Since he declined to publish under a pseudonym, Pfizer immediately fired him, but his followup book, “A Walk’s As Good As a Hit,” a memoir of his father, didn’t sell quite as well. So Reidy entered 2013 in search of both a purpose and a job.

Hence, the creation of what he initially dubbed “Sports Year,” an ambitious idea to hit every major sporting event in a year, along with smaller local events along the way. No problem, right? There’s got to be some sporting event going on every day in America, right? Not so, as Reidy would find out. He plotted his fall and winter based on the football schedule, then backfilled with NBA and NHL games, then salted in some local games to cover the final holes in the calendar. But even so, there were problems, like the Oklahoma misfire above.

“On Day 13, I’m in Durant, Oklahoma, standing in front of this gorgeous softball complex that’s completely empty,” Reidy says. “I can’t find anything to see, anything to watch. I’m thinking the journey is over before it began.” Turns out that Reidy was looking for athletic events on a Wednesday, which in the Bible Belt means church and little else. He managed to find a coed softball game in Norman, but lesson learned: a little more advance planning goes a long way.

Some last-minute scrambling led to another of the great moments in the trip’s history: the moment in a Decatur, Ga. bowling alley where Reidy nearly witnessed a 300 game. The would-be perfect bowler later told Reidy that he loved bowling, because “I met my first two wives at the bowling alley!”

Reidy has seen major-college and professional basketball and football, playoff baseball, and Olympic-level ice-skating. He’s also watched elementary school fun runs, high school soccer, and water polo.

But before he began, he realized something about this idea of his: “It was all about me,” he said. “I decided I needed to try to do more than just make it about my own personal bucket list.” With the help of local veterans’ organizations, he tracked down several wounded veterans to join him at some high-profile events. He’s brought veterans to see their favorite teams, like the Cowboys, Packers, and Bulls, and along the way gained more than a little perspective about stateside life.

“When I was in the Army, some of the most spirited arguments I ever saw were about sports,” he says. “Guys want to represent their regional locale. It’s your turf. So I wanted to get soldiers who have been wounded, give them a little break, and take them to their favorite venue. I wanted to give back in some tangible way.”

Then there are the random moments, like when he stumbled across Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart and former Laker Luke Walton playing in a pickup basketball game:

In conversation, Reidy bounces from topic to topic, story to story, with the kind of infectious enthusiasm that makes you want to pitch whatever you’re doing and head out on the road along with him. He’s used that charisma, along with some world-class networking skills, to talk his way into tickets for some of the biggest events in sports, including this year’s Super Bowl and Daytona 500.

“People are always asking me, ‘aren’t you sick of this?’” he says. “If I was in a hotel room by myself, I’d be lonely. But I’m meeting people, I’m catching up with old friends, I’m meeting their kids. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Alas, although he's driven more than 17,000 miles and flown more than 5,000, he’ll fall a little short of a sports “year.” In just the last few weeks, a work opportunity came up that’s too good to pass up. And for a guy who did everything he could to render himself unemployable by torching his former bosses in a major motion picture, that’s no small consideration. He’ll end his journey in New Jersey at the Super Bowl, poorer but wiser, and hopefully with the raw material for another book deal.

“I started this trip in debt and will end up in a lot more debt,” Reidy says. “I abandoned a wonderful woman, someone I may have been in love with, to make this happen. Will it have been worth it? It better [freaking] be.”

You don’t travel tens of thousands of miles without learning something about yourself and the world around you, though, and for his part, Reidy believes that the entire journey will be worth it once he parks the car for the final time.

“Being able to do whatever I want doesn’t mean that I should,” he said. “My selfishness certainly has its benefits, but also has detriments, and it’s hard to know beforehand what that scorecard will read.”

On a larger scale, though, Reidy learned the most not from the games he watched, but who he watched them with. “No matter what I might think, I don’t really have any problems in my life,” he said. “Spending time with five wounded veterans showed me perspective is the important thing to keep in mind, and I’m thankful to those five guys for reminding me of that.”

Want to watch the Big Game ads? Check them out here:

____

Jay Busbee is a contributor for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter.

View Comments (107)