Understanding Fantasy Football: I Play with Electronic Dolls
“Fantasy Football is like Dungeons & Dragons for jocks.” So sayeth many of our hipster, nerd, and indie-rock friends.
Let’s begin by rendering the term “jock” immaterial because it is commonly used not to describe someone who is or was at any point in his or her post-pubescent life an athlete, but rather anyone with decent posture, who generally speaks and acts with conviction (i.e., one whose speech isn’t riddled with “um” and “sort of” and whose statements aren’t issued with the inflection of a question: “Um, the movie was, um, like, sort of good? You know?” No, I don’t know. That’s why I asked you about it, you uninformative sack). But I digress.
Though I played football as a younger fellow, I am no more a “jock” than someone who likes fantasy role-playing games is a wizard or a cleric. (Note: Dude, I’ve got MAD dexterity and some fairly respectable constitution). So I’d like to lightly revise the opening statement: Fantasy Football is like Dungeons & Dragons for people who enjoy football.
Or, as my card-carrying nerd wife likes to put it, “Are you and your friends having fun playing with your electronic dolls?”
My Fantasy Football life began as a freshman at Syracuse, 1989, with some guys in the dorm. (Day Hall 7th floor, bitches!) This was an extension of Rotisserie League Baseball which some of us had played in high school. Everything was done manually, with paper and pen – including how we posted the standings on each other’s doors — with a weekly rotating statistician assignment and the agreement that we’d stick with the box scores from USA Today.
Later, in ’94, it got fancy. While managing a warehouse for GE in Jersey City, I was in a league with some financial sector guys in NYC and with an electric typewriter and a dot matrix printer in the office, I faxed the stats and standings to everyone on Tuesdays, complete with my editorial pieces like “Bum of the Week” and the players’ names accented with Burmanesque nicknames like “Herschel Walker, Texas Ranger” and Barry “Colonel” Sanders. Good times. The salad days.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century, where Fantasy Football is a multi-billion-dollar industry. We’ve got the internet for virtually unlimited stats and research, and real-time updates as detailed as this: “LeSean McCoy (bruised thigh) participated in practice today (Wed.), but all his reps were in pass protection. Advice: monitor the situation, start with caution as his workload Sunday may not bring a lot of carries.”
There’s a healthy handful of free league-hosting websites in such mainstream places as Yahoo, CBS, and NFL.com. With a variety of scoring systems to chose from, dozens of sites which offer “expert advice,” player rankings and projections, every major sports media outlet from ESPN to Sports Illustrated has segments and pages dedicated to it. There’s even a popular Fantasy Football sitcom on FX, “The League.” Monday and Tuesday morning water cooler talk has migrated from, “Can you believe (normally hapless team) covered (the point spread) last night?” to, “I knew I shoulda picked up (player most casual fans haven’t heard of but who had a breakout game yesterday) on the waiver wire!”
Fantasy Football provides a structure and a vehicle for football fans to be dialed in to their game. I drifted away from football for a couple years, not because I loved the game any less, but simply as an incidental byproduct of life and its hectic juggling act. Fantasy football forces me to indulge the hobby of watching and following a lot of football. I get the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which means the living room gets every game in HD, plus the greatest media creation since the television itself: The Red Zone Channel.
Commercial-free, the Red Zone Channel brings us to whichever game is currently most interesting or exciting, making for a virtual real-time highlight reel. In exchange for hijacking the living room from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every Sunday, I clean the house and do all the laundry every Saturday night. During this weekly domestic engineering festival, I also catch up on new music and whip up a batch of homemade stew for my dog.
Fantasy Football keeps the peace at home. My life is never more regimented and the house is never as clean and orderly as during football season. And Champ eats like a king.
What’s bad about it? I suppose like anything, a Fantasy-obsessed person can let it wreak havoc in his or her work and/or personal lives by spending too much time on it, obsessing and such. As I find things more compartmentalized during the fall, courtesy of Fantasy Football, I don’t identify with this. To anyone who experiences trouble at work or home while trying to manage your roster, I say, “Get it together, kid! This ain’t rocket surgery!”
The ever-present conflict between where you stand as a football fan and what you must do as a Fantasy Footballer are absolutely unavoidable. Born and bred in Boston and having spent 10 magnificent years in Chicago, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Patriots and Bears fan. When my FF opponent of the week has a member of one or both of those teams in the starting line-up, I am conflicted. I currently play in four leagues, which means that, invariably, every Sunday forces me to root for ridiculously specific things while watching football:
Wife: “The Bears just scored – you must be happy!”
Me: “No, I’m not happy.”
Wife: “But you love the Bears! You’re wearing a Bears shirt right now! You went into debt to be at the Super Bowl for them!”
Me: “Yes, but it woulda been nice if someone else scored that touchdown. Troy (this week’s opponent in one league) has Greg Olsen, who just caught that (touchdown pass). Johnny Knox (Bears wide receiver) is on my team in that league and he was WIDE OPEN! (shouting at Bears quarterback Jay Cutler through the television) “What are you lookin’ at, Jay? Johnny was right there!”
Wife: “Okay, who are we rooting for now?”
Me: “Well, I can’t win for losin’ right now. The Patriots are driving. If they score, that hurts me in (league 1) because I have the Jets, the defense they’re playing against. But if they do score, it’s gotta be on a passing play because I have (Patriots QB) Tom Brady in (league 2). HOWEVER… if the touchdown pass is caught by #83, Wes Welker (Patriots wide receiver), it more than offsets because (league 3 opponent) has Welker, so I’ll get 4 points for the Brady TD pass in one league but someone else I’m playing against in another league gets 6 points for Welker’s reception. So ideally, Tom will throw a touchdown to anyone but Welker. Or Moss, because Lester has Moss in (league 4). It’s best if Brady throws to some no-name guy that nobody has (in any of the four leagues). Except Hernandez, because nobody has him — except me — but Hernandez is on my bench, so forget him.”
Wife: “Why forget Hernandez? He’s on your team, right?”
Me: “Yeah, but a guy like that, he’s a sleeper, he might score a few times all season and I don’t need his production wasted when he’s on my bench. I have (Atlanta tight end) Tony Gonzales, so I just need Hernandez to conserve what’s sure to be his limited but great-for-a-rookie scoring for when Gonzo is on a bye week. Or hurt.”
Wife (concealing laughter): “What about #33 – he seems like a good player – what if he scores?”
Me: “That would rock, especially if it’s on a pass. That’s Kevin Faulk – love that guy – I’d get the points for Brady in (league 2) AND would also get the Faulk points in (league 3). Double bonus. I don’t normally start Faulk, in fact I only drafted him to fill in for (my usual starter)’s bye week, but (my usual starter) is playing against the Steelers today, he’s got a sore ankle and nobody can run on the Steelers.”
Wife: “What if they don’t score a touchdown?”
Me: “They’re on the 27 (yard line), so they’re at least likely to kick a field goal.”
Wife: “That’s three points, right? So that’s good? The Pats are down by three, so that ties the game.”
Me: “Yes, but Lester has (Pats kicker) Steven Gostkowski, so I don’t want that.”
Wife: “So you don’t want the Patriots to win?”
Me: “Of course I do! Just … under a pretty specific set of circumstances.”
What was I saying? Oh yeah. I play with electronic dolls.