I think I may have found the only household in the United States which has cable or satellite television service — but doesn’t have ESPN.

No, I’m not kidding.

The household is that of friends of mine in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati. Our family traditionally travels there for Thanksgiving, often followed by a birthday party for their teenage son. This year, that party occurred late last Saturday afternoon.

You, being an astute reader from the state of Alabama, know exactly what was happening about that time. The most important event of the entire football season, or even the entire year. The Iron Bowl.

But for all my friends knew or even cared, it could have been the Canadian curling championships.

I felt like I had been marooned on a desert island, left only with birthday cake and pizza from Costco.

When I agreed to go to this affair, I didn’t really give it a second thought. They’ve got a TV, and surely their cable or dish has ESPN. Every cable or dish system has ESPN, doesn’t it? I think it’s a federal law.

So when I arrive at the appointed hour, I dutifully sang “Happy Birthday,” grabbed a couple of slices of pizza and politely asked, “Where’s the TV? It’s time for the game.”

“What game?” comes the blank reply from my hosts.

Oh yeah, I’m in Cincinnati. They’re thinking Ohio State vs. Michigan, except that was a week before. And not much of a game at that.

“Uh, Alabama and Auburn.”

“Is that football?”

(Gulp.) “Yeah, it’s a big deal back home,” I responded with great understatement. “It’s on ESPN right now.”

An awkward silence of about five seconds followed, then the bombshell: “I don’t think we have ESPN.”

I paused for a moment, evaluating the gravity of what I just heard.

“Uh... you don’t have ESPN?”

“Well, we have a different satellite system than most folks, and it’s really cheap.”

A quick check of the channel guide and — there it is! ESPN! But it’s an extra-cost premium channel. No, they don’t subscribe.

“Like I said, it’s really cheap,” said my host, still not grasping the fullness of the situation and the tear in the space-time continuum that has just occurred. “But here, there’s a game on this channel,” as she flipped to CBS College Sports. I think it was a first round Division II playoff between Fungus State and Backwater College, or something like that.

“And here’s the Gaither Homecoming Hour on this channel,” she adds helpfully.

But you don’t understand, I implored. This is Alabama and Auburn we’re talking about. The fate of an entire state rests on this very event, and you’re asking me to watch a 15-year-old rerun of Bill Gaither and Mark Lowry doing the gospel-music version of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis? Unless I see Vestal Goodman suit up, grab a football and run over the J. D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet on her way to a touchdown, I’m just not interested.

“Well, I’m sorry,” said my hostess, completely oblivious to the fact that she had completely separated me from the outside world.

I finally found a computer with an Internet connection, and called up the game summary. By that time — about nine minutes in, apparently — the Tide had the game well under control, to put it mildly.

At least I didn’t miss anything.

Robert Carter is the sports editor of The North Jefferson News.

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