Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When fantasy sports become reality

I can’t even imagine life without fantasy sports these days. In fact, I would place “fantasy sports” right below “eating” and slightly above “going to work” in my hierarchy of “things that are important to lead a productive life.” Obviously, I have great perspective.

Seriously though, three weeks ago, the NFL season began, and I cannot adequately describe how exciting it was. Six years ago, before I started consistently participating in fantasy leagues, I also found the opening of the NFL season to be delightful, simply because I could watch professional football games, root for the Giants, and spend some quality time with my family or friends. I was so naïve.

Because now that I think about it, what was the fun in watching Jerry Rice if all of those great stats went only to…Jerry Rice? How selfish of him!

Three Sundays ago, on the opening day of the NFL season, I spent the early morning juggling three fantasy teams – my baseball team was in the playoffs, and I was preparing my respective lineups for the two fantasy football leagues I was in. I had so many windows open on my computer that no appliances in the house were functioning. At that point, it was the apex of my fantasy career, since I had never before been in multiple football leagues. Coincidentally, the apex of my fantasy career did not coincide with the apex of husband career. But that is not to say that I don’t try and involve my wife in my fantasy sports life, often asking her questions like, “Should I play Stephen Davis or Lee Evans?” to which she may reply, “Why isn’t the toaster oven working?”

It’s not like I’m new to the fantasy sports scene either. I was in a league back when I was 15 years old, when we had a live draft, all of the stats came from the newspaper box score and were computed by hand, and I had to walk two miles, uphill in both directions, to school. Candy bars cost a dime. But then it stopped for some reason – probably because it was too much work - and by the time college came around, fantasy sports (football in particular) were out of the question, since getting out of bed at halftime of the 4pm NFL games kind of defeated the purpose.

But now, involvement in fantasy sports is at an all-time high, not just for me, but also for the entire nation. Everything is geared towards appeasing the fantasy sports players, which is a genre growing by the millions. There are the constantly running stats on the “ticker” during televised games, fantasy magazines that cost $10 so you can get important advice like “Priest Holmes is good when healthy,” an infinite number of websites providing leagues and useful information, and the acknowledgement that a guy like Jake Plummer actually has some redeeming football value. I mean, before this season started the ESPN anchors even had a live, televised fantasy football draft, in which Susie Kolber selected Brett Favre in the second round, which was surprising considering that quarterbacks who close their eyes and hope for the best before they throw passes usually don’t start going off the board until at least Round 11. But hey – whatever.

The point is, everybody is participating in fantasy sports these days, and one need look no further than peoples’ obsession with fantasy football when trying to explain the recent surge in the popularity of the NFL. And why haven’t potential strikes, steroids, and overall incompetence ruined Major League Baseball? Well, fantasy baseball may not be THE reason, but it’s certainly part of it.

So what is it about fantasy sports that’s so great? Well, for one thing, you’re infinitely more involved in almost every actual game than you would be from just a fan’s perspective. You’re an owner, or a manager, or a player or whatever you want to call it, but YOU have the power. You have guys you can call your own, and when those guys have a good day, YOU have a good day. And you don’t have to do anything except set your lineup (always fun), participate in the draft (which often involves pizza, beer, and trash talk), and watch sports. And, unless you’re one of those people who joins an online public league so you can compete against total strangers, most leagues consist of friends and family. In fact, I would say that 99 percent of the conversations I have with my male cousins, brothers-in-law, friends, etc. involve fantasy sports. I would even venture to say that I have no relationship with most of my male cousins outside of statements like, “I really need a complete game shutout,” and “Did you see what Duce Staley did?…Who has him?” Furthermore, fantasy sports bring out the competitive side in people whose athletic careers may currently be limited to seeing how fast they can climb up the stairs without tearing an ACL. Not to mention the potential to win money. In short, fantasy sports are the most fun you can have without getting arrested.

Of course, there’s something strange about taking extreme pride in something somebody ELSE did professionally, or not being able to focus at work because you benched Willie Taveras and he hit a triple. Fantasy sports can also cloud your rooting interests, and force you to make insane statements like, “I hope the Yankees win, but I need Jeter to go 0-4, and hopefully Mussina gets killed, only to have Matsui bail ‘em out with three grand slams.” But hey – you take the good with the bad.

There is no doubt that life is much better with fantasy sports. I mean, watching Peyton Manning play football is fun, but watching Peyton Manning play football when he’s your fantasy quarterback is infinitely more satisfying. But he better not throw any touchdowns to Reggie Wayne, because my brother-in-law Joe has him, and I’m playing against him this week. Maybe I’ll get lucky and Wayne will break his ankle on the opening drive of the game.

Obviously, I have great perspective.

3 comments:

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CMB said...

I can not stop laughing! As a fellow FS player, I completely get it. At this point, the only things I talk to Steve about are my Fantasy Football team, Chicks Only Football pool and dirty diapers.