For the first time in nearly 15 years, I will NOT be playing fantasy football. Call it sour grapes, call it giving up, but I just don’t see the fun in it any more. To me, it’s jumped the shark. Like a night of going out drinking at age 29, there isn’t anything that could happen that hasn’t happened before. I’ve taken home the sexiest girl in the place (Tom Brady in his 48 touchdown, breakout season). I brought home total dead fish that were all glitz, no glory. I’m looking at YOU, Joseph Addai. I discovered the sexy girl hanging out back by the pool table when I drafted Ray Rice as a rookie, a year too soon, and Tony Romo when he was Drew Bledsoe’s backup, only to see them go home with someone else the next year and stab me in the back. Finally, I owned either Jamal Lewis or Cedric Benson or both (twice) every year for 4 years, refusing to back off on my love for turd RBs, until I won a title with them, proving you can make a nasty fuck buddy into a solid relationship at least once in your life. But this story isn’t to brag about my genius, it’s to pay homage to the passing of a friend, to announce my retirement, and wish the other fantasy fuckheads out there a little luck before the season starts.
For many of my friends fantasy football begins now, the week before the season starts or maybe sometime in mid-August. For me it became an obsession that began before training camp, before positions battles even heat up, somewhere in that dead zone after the NFL draft and before training camp opens. Sometime in June I would begin scouting depth charts, mock drafting and picking out sleepers, then revised those lists all summer. But it wasn’t always this way. There was once a time when hardly anyone I knew played fantasy football.
I first learned of the mega-million dollar industry that is fantasy football at a magazine stand in a grocery store as a teen. Way back before the advent of the Internet, I’d get my rocks off by picking up some printed materials about the upcoming season, whether it was football, baseball or occasionally basketball. I picked out a magazine called “Lindy’s Football Preview” without noticing the word “fantasy” scribbled on top that meant it was a fantasy preview magazine. I only bought it because it had Reggie White on the cover, a curious choice for a fantasy mag, and I couldn’t be more disappointed when I got home. Pages upon pages of rankings of players and fake “auction” salaries. I had no idea what the hell they were. All I wanted were some team-by-team previews that talked about the big free agent moves and draft choices so I could rap about sports on the bus ride to school. Disappointed, I chucked Lindy’s rag aside and wrote it off, not knowing it would soon become the keystone for my first fantasy league.
Setting up a league wasn’t like what it is today, where your friends, coworkers, and family members are constantly recruiting people. You go to work, and someone asshole in accounts payable you barely know wants you to get in. It’s like that shitty drug dealer trying to sell you some really bunk shit. “Hey man, its only $40 to get in. You’d really be doing me a favor. Come on, just get in. It’ll be fun.” Fantasy football is like crack for people now. What else can turn perfectly decent men into stone cold zombies for 9 hours a day on Sundays? Face glazed over, staring at a computer screen or HD TV all damn day. And the Monday after a heartbreaking loss? Worst fucking withdrawal you can go through. Don’t turn on ESPN, don’t open the newspaper, and don’t fucking talk to me about your team either, unless you lost too and want to commiserate.
Fantasy football can be a gateway drug too. It might lead you to harder sports like fantasy baseball, fantasy hockey or god forbid fantasy NASCAR or golf. Fantasy hockey is worthy of an intervention, fantasy NASCAR is like finding out a friend started snorting bath salts. And it doesn’t always have to be about trying other sports. Soon, just one fantasy football league isn’t enough. You gotta join 2, then 3, soon you’re joining public leagues or second chance leagues just to get your god damn fix. I’ve done it myself. I “cheated” on my steady fantasy league, shopped around for something better only to find it repulsive. Those weeks where you start a player in one and face him in another just feels dirty. No possible outcome can make you happy. I can’t even imagine the moral dilemmas faced by managers in three or more leagues.
I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but somehow between me and my cousin Ryan we decided that fantasy football sounded interesting and we went about setting up a league. Back when Ryan and I crafted our first football league no one knew what fantasy football was so we had to make all the rules, and then explain them to our friends. Our first league was a four person league that later evolved to six. We drafted players based on a salary we found in a magazine similar to that original Lindy’s magazine I discovered earlier. A major problem was only so many players were listed in these magazines that were often printed in June, so we had to create a salary for free agents not listed. We decided that unlisted FAs would have the same price tag as the lowest listed player. This meant that annually there were huge steals to be had. Someone stole Natrone Means (Think LaDanian Tomlinson before LT) and Randy Moss’s rookie seasons at bargain basement prices. Inevitably our league would collapse by week 8, when someone would run away (it was rotisserie scoring only in our league) and everyone gave up. Part of this was due to how we set the league up, but part of it was because our league members were so weak. Example: my cousin Ryan’s cousin Dave was so clueless he drafted “Jett James” every year while slamming all of my parents’ frozen pizzas and string cheese on draft night.
Those first couple years were painstaking for me as commissioner. Back before leagues were online or you could set your lineup on your smart phone, I had to compete with Sunday morning mass to call all our managers and find out who they were starting. Dave worked on a farm so he always had chores and never could come to the phone. Besides setting lineups I had to score all the points from the box scores in the Monday newspaper (and Tuesday for the Monday night games). This process was more painful than ESPN’s coverage of RG3′s rehab or Tim Tebow coverage. It fucking sucked. Oh, and I’m sure I botched some of the scores too. Sorry, but there were no “stat corrections” to follow mid-week. It’s fun to reminisce about those times and romanticize the simplicity and stupidity of it all, but those meager beginnings gave rise to the fantasy we know today. Fantasy that questions our Fanhood. With the exception of Calvin Johnson I don’t think I’ve owned a player in the Packers’ division in years, but that doesn’t stop me from owning and rooting for players on teams I hate. Dez Bryant, the Niners Defense, Big Fucking Ben. Fantasy turns us all into traitors with no allegiance to anyone but our pretend teams.
It’s not all bad though. I love the nicknames we created for guys. Isaac Bruce was once the best WR in the league, but when he held on too long he became “Old Balls” Bruce. The “Old Balls” handle was later applied to Joey Galloway and finally carried on by Santana Moss. The team names were great too: Benny and the Jets, Texas Chainsaw Massaquoi, and the guy who named his team after Brett Favre each year. One of my favorite fantasy terms/team names was “the Monday Night Miracle.” Often you head into Monday needing some totally implausible outcome to happen, like Peyton Manning throwing 4 INTs, 5 FGs from your kicker or a third down back to find pay dirt multiple times. I think my Monday Night Miracle might top them all though and I’d like to tell the story one more time before I ride off into the fantasy sunset.
It was my freshman year of college, the third week of class and second week of the NFL season. Titles aren’t won in week 2, but every win adds up, and in order to avoid losing interest in the season you gotta start off with a winning record. I was playing one of my biggest rivals in the league, a guy I had went to high school with 7 years earlier, and who was the quarterback and captain of our football team that I played on back then. The guy was a total bastard in high school and I couldn’t fucking stand him. Not that I was a great high school defensive lineman, but he fucking sucked. I think he made one good throw his entire senior year, and we mainly relied on the legs of our all-state running back, but that didn’t stop him from being a pompous asshole. Since it was only his first or second year in the league and I wanted to send him a message, that I was a powerhouse and he’d be my bitch, sort of a role reversal from high school.
However, going into MNF he had what seemed like an insurmountable lead, with the Colts defense left to play, facing noodle-armed Chad Pennington on his last legs. My only player left to play was Ted fucking Ginn Junior, a former Ohio State Buckeye, perhaps my most hated college team. Normally a Monday Night game between the Colts/Dolphins would be a Peyton Manning dick-suck-fest and by no means compelling TV. But that’s the great part of fantasy football, it makes all the games relevant, even when you should be studying for school or spending time with your kids or whatever. I was feeling lucky so I picked up a 12 pack of Newcastle after class, plopped down on the couch, opened up stattracker and watched a legend be born.
The regular stars showed up. Manning threw for 300 yards and 2 TDs, including 170 yards to Dallas Clark. Ronnie Brown rushed for 130 yards and 2 TDs, while Ricky Williams stuffed has face with Cheetos on the sideline. Chad Pennington didn’t absolutely shit the bed, he was sacked twice, fumbled once (recovered it), and threw one pick. The story of the night was Ted Ginn. Pennington dropped back to pass 31 times and sixteen… SIXTEEN of those targets went to Ginn. He was fixated on Ginn like he was Jerry Rice in his heyday. Ginn had stone hands though and only managed to catch 11 balls for 108 yards. Still those 11 catches represented 1/3 of Ginn’s season production; as he went on to catch 27 more passes ALL SEASON. I kept up with Ginn, drinking one Newcastle per catch. Every FG the Dolphins scored lowered my opponents point total, while every catch Ginn amassed added to mine.
The game was up and back the whole way, with the Dolphins actually leading until Manning threw a go-ahead-touchdown to Pierre Garcon with 3 minutes left. Now it was Pennington’s turn to answer. As the former Jet drove the Phins down the field in the no huddle offense every drop back was crucial. A sack, INT, or fumble and I’d be losing. A 50% chance of Ginn target and catch would give me the lead. Every play, this was the scenario as our score jumped up and back. I was screaming at the TV and my computer drunk on my brown ales. First 2 plays of the drive were Ronnie Brown runs. Third down: Ginn catch! First down! Clutch! (Slams beer) Next play: Sack fumble!! NOOOOOO I’M LOSING!!!! Dolphins recover though, so there is still a chance! Now it’s second and 19 and Pennington connects with Davone Bess for 18 yards! Third and one: Pennington shows his veteran savvy with a sneak up the middle for 4 yards! They’re now in Colts’ territory. Pennington fires a couple more absolute LASERS (kidding) to Ginn and he actually catches them! I’m winning again!! Thank you PPR! (Slams beer!!)
Time is running out and they gotta shoot for the end zone. On one of two more targets to Ginn, Penninton delivers a perfect strike in the end zone, but the ass clown lets it bounce off his hands to the ground. ESPN’s announcers eviscerate him, and Ginn is beside himself, but I am euphoric cuz I had finished all 12 Newcastles and the outcome looked in hand. But wait, one last play and the Dolphins need a TD, so we all know where this is going…. Jump ball….. and ANTOINE BETHEA COMES DOWN WITH IT!!! NOOOOOOO!!!! Interception!!! I wait for the score to refresh…. It does…. I win by one point, one Ted Ginn catch was the margin of victory.
That game was what fantasy is all about at its finest. I went to class with a hangover… if I even got out of bed at all, and that one win was what separated me from my high school quarterback for the final playoff spot, in the only championship season I had in 8 years in that league. We still talked about if for years afterward at every draft and I’m certain I’m the only Ted Ginn Junior fan in the whole world, or who remembers the outcome of that game so clearly, even though I chugged 12 beers.
Now though, the time has come for me to hang up the imaginary cleats and coach’s whistle. I need a year to focus on my personal and professional life and fantasy just doesn’t fit into the time constraints any more. I’m sure I’ll play again someday… it’s only a matter of time before I give into some asshole who relentlessly recruits me to join his league. When that day comes, I hope Ginn is still in the league, so my team name, Ginn and Juice, will still be relevant. Until then, I wish all the pretend football competitors luck in the upcoming season. May all your players avoid the devastating injury, may you be the first in waiver priority always, and may all your Monday nights be Miracles.