Outlasting the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is, easily, the biggest American sporting — and television — event of the year. Over 110 million Americans watched the Super Bowl in 2013, a record for any TV program. And that doesn’t include viewers in the more than 150 other countries. Many people are watching because they like football; others just happen to catch a glimpse while eating wings or chips at a friend’s party; and still others tune in to check out the $4 million dollar, 30-second long commercials. Regardless of your motive, many, many people watch the game and news about it travels fast. The big game is unavoidable.

Or is it?

In the late 1980s, a guy named Kyle Whelliston decided to test that out. A sports fan whose interests mostly centered on college basketball, he nonetheless skipped watching the game — or, at least, the end of it — and tried to avoid all the news about the game afterward. The challenge — a self-challenge, but a challenge nonetheless — was to see how long he could go without learning who won. Even in the days before ubiquitous media (thanks, Internet!), this proved difficult, and eventually, the information found its way into Whelliston’s brain.

But the challenge must have been fun because, over the years, Whelliston repeated the challenge. At one point, he decided to blog about it on his now-defunct but popular basketball blog, the Mid-Majority. (He deleted the site after ten years of writing it.) His blog post about his challenge found a following, with many of his readers participating in the information-avoidance game in subsequent years. Eventually, it mushroomed, finding hundreds if not thousands of participants. On February of 2011, one of the participants — a Colorado man named Brendan Loy started a blog dedicated to the challenge, now called “Last Man,” chronicling the game, its participants, and its stories of information permeation. Oh, and the website also houses the rules of game:

Rule 1. The object of the game is to avoid, for as long as possible, learning a) the winner and b) the final score of the Super Bowl.  This data is called The Knowledge.

Rule 2. Don’t flee the country.  Leaving America means immediate disqualification.

Rule 3. Always play honestly.

Rule 4. If you receive information that might constitute The Knowledge, but you aren’t certain (e.g., if someone might be “messing with you” by telling you a false winner or score), you can opt not to believe the uncertain information and keep playing.  However, if it turns out that the uncertain information was correct, the game’s end point is retroactive to when The Knowledge was, in fact, known.

Rule 5. Nobody ever wins.  It’s a game you play against yourself, so it always ends in a loss, eventually.

The vast majority of participants don’t last more than a day or two, but according to Loy, at least one of the 2012 participants made it at least a year without learning the game’s final score. That’s quite the accomplishment; in 2013, Loy told Business Insider how difficult it is to avoid “The Knowledge:”

It changes day to day, and I’m only on my second day here but on Monday, you have to be very careful with newspapers, because every newspaper is going to have it on the front page. So you have to be aware of, newspaper boxes, convenience stores, anything like that you have to be sure to be sort of thinking ahead to okay, I know there’s newspaper boxes so I cant look there, I know there’s a break room in my office, and there’s the Post on my table so I have to be careful not to look at that, stay away from the break room. Also, you want to like stay away from human interaction as much as possible, because people talk a lot about it the day after. I had my door closed all day.

If that sounds like a good time to you — and watching the Super Bowl sounds like a snore — you can join the Last Man challenge by following @findthelastman on Twitter, by tweeting out that you’re playing #lastman (use the hashtag!), or by just avoiding the news — remember, you’re playing against no one but yourself. And don’t worry — Monday’s Now I Know won’t be sharing the score of the big game.

Bonus Fact: One person who won’t be participating in Last Man? Dion Rich. Who is that, you ask? Rich is just a regular guy with a weird hobby. Until 2002, he successfully snuck into every Super Bowl (except Super Bowl III, which he skipped to go skiing instead). In Super Bowl XII, he even managed to get on the field to help hoist Tom Landry, the coach of the game-winning Dallas Cowboys, up into the air, as seen here. Since 2002, Rich has still attended the games, but due to security crackdowns, now does so legally — but he does manage to find cheap tickets or, when possible, press credentials.

From the ArchivesO Say Can You Sync?: If you only watch the start of the Super Bowl — you can still play Last Man this way! — you’ll hear the National Anthem. It’ll be pre-recorded. Why? Blame Garth Brooks.

Related: “Confessions of the World’s Greatest Gate Crasher: Dion Rich” by Charlie Jones. Two reviews, each of 5 stars.