I’ve never played fantasy football. But I’m thinking of joining a league next year because I’ve always wanted my life to revolve around something silly. Since I don’t play cornhole, I don’t plank or own a selfie stick, that leaves FF.
Don’t get me wrong. I envy the escapism of fantasy football. I’m using “silly” in a complimentary sense.
It hasn’t been easy to resist the siren call of fantasy football. Indeed in 2018 playing fantasy sports has become America’s new pastime, having supplanted the erstwhile, laudable pursuits of Fidget-spinning, dabbing and searching for Pokemon.
There are an estimated 80 million fantasy football players. The market for FF is about $70 billion per year. For comparison sake the gross national product of Ecuador was $34 billion last year.
Although I don’t belong to a league I’ve been surrounded by many fantasy football players so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on it. From an educated outsider’s perspective here's what I know:
For starters, fantasy football is similar to crack cocaine only more addictive. You must live, eat and breathe FF. If you’re married and plan to join a league it’d help to get a divorce right now. A disproportionate number of my fantasy football-playing friends are divorced, which raises the “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” question.
It’s also a good idea to not have children if you join a fantasy league because you’ll no longer have time for ‘em. If you already have kids send them to live in an orphanage or to toil in a Nike Honduran sweat shop or to move in with Rosie O’Donnell during the season. (Those three options ranked from most to least appealing for the kids.) If your children truly love you they’ll understand.
There’s no doubt that fantasy football, which has grown into a full-fledged pandemic in America, makes you do crazy, off-the-rails stuff. My buddy Vic once sneaked a look at his cellphone during the eulogy at his grandpa’s wake to see how many yards Matt Schaub had passed for during a first half. (He justifies this by asserting it was “during a lull” in the eulogy.)
Another friend skipped his mother-in-law’s funeral altogether because it conflicted with his fantasy football draft. When he tried to explain to his wife that Mom “would have wanted it that way” the wife stormed out.
I’ve had other fantasy football-playing friends fly to Vegas and spend almost the entire weekend poring over NFL statistics to the point they barely even look up. I’ve heard of at least one guy who got fired from his job after being repeatedly tardy because he was up late checking stats from night games.
Some fantasy football experts earn a lucrative living telling FF participants which players to start and which to bench that week. One guy does well for himself exclusively analyzing kickers for fantasy websites. After reading plugged-in sites like Rotoworld and Fantasypros.com fantasy players often know which players on a team are injured before the coaches of the opposing team. (The actual NFL team.) There are fantasy football podcasts with large enough budgets that they have nicer sets than Kimmel or Fallon. I’m not making any of this up.
I’m pretty sure there’s more information available online about fantasy football than there is about WW II.
Another important thing to know is that FF players, a.k.a. “team owners” don’t watch games the same way as you and I. They don’t watch the Dolphins and Vikings to see if Minnesota beats the point spread, I mean, wins the game. They tune-in to see how many yards rushing, passing and receiving particular players put up. It’s math-based. The statistics are then tallied to see who wins that week’s game.
It’s easy to out the FF players at the sports bar. They’re the ones screaming “YES!” when somebody runs for three yards off-tackle with two minutes left and the score is 44-6. Even basketball fans, who set their own hair on fire and toss their baby into the aisle in excitement when the video board flashes “FREE CHALUPAS!!!” think this is dumb.
I first became intrigued with fantasy football several years ago when I saw a story on the local news about a guy who finished last in his league and had to get an embarrassing tattoo. I forget of what, but it was something like a graphic tattoo of two beavers mating. It was huge and he had to get it on a part of his body that would make it difficult to hide. For the rest of his life, whether he's applying for work or asking a woman on a date or testifying in court he's going to be the dude with the humping beavers. And that appeals to me
Just think how much better the Super Bowl would be if players on the losing team had to get a huge embarrassing tattoo? Say, Richard Nixon seated on a toilet?
This principle could also apply to reality TV. After a “Bachelorette” contestant fails to receive a rose he should be tat-branded with something like an anatomically correct mule in a party hat.
Another reason I respect fantasy football players: I admire passion and there are few people as passionate as FF players. It’s basically a religion or even World Cup soccer (minor league hockey?) and can cross the line. It’s not unheard of for NFL players to get hurt in a game and then to engage in angry Twitter spats with ridiculous FF players upset they’ve lost their best running back.
I’ve been told to not even think about joining a fantasy league unless I can devote at least 30 hours per week. It’s similar to marriage only fantasy football requires more of a commitment.
Which brings us to the holy grail for FF players: the Fantasy Football league draft.
An FF league draft can take place online or in-person. I have attended an in-person draft. Picture the actual NFL draft minus the booing of Roger Goodell every time he does something wrong, like inhale. The main difference is players are selected purely based on their perceived statistical dominance and not on their ability to perform in the clutch. For this reason, although Tom Brady is a valuable FF player, he’s not quite as valuable as in actual football. Stats matter above all. In FF, and only in FF, would an Alex Smith have been a better choice last year than a Nick Foles.
At the draft fantasy team owners logically pick the best player available on the board regardless of position. This differs from the NFL draft where the Jets front office will say something like, “We’re taking a punter named Earl and only a punter named Earl.”
How an owner’s entire season goes hinges on the draft and whether the players the owner selects succeed in putting up good numbers. The draft is life and death and that may be understating it.
OK, there you have my look at fantasy football. Critics are going to chide me for having written this column without actually participating in fantasy football. I guess that’s not asking too much when Herman Melville spent three years on a whaling expedition to prepare to write “Moby-Dick.” Still, whaling expeditions require less of a commitment than fantasy football and if I was in an FF league I wouldn’t have had time to write the column.