Why Do I Play This Game?


I’m a little behind on my posts and for that I apologize.  But the fact is it’s fantasy football season, so my writing output is going to suffer.

Yes, I am a Fantasy Football nerd.  Correction, I’m a fantasy sports nerd.  Last year, in addition to my two fantasy football leagues, I started a fantasy hockey league, played in a fantasy basketball league (and I don’t even watch the NBA), and created my own college bowl game pick ‘em league.

Yeah, I’m a dork.

I don’t know why I love fantasy sports so much.  It’s not like I’m all that good at them.  I won my very first fantasy football league 15 years ago but haven’t sniffed the title since.  Fourteen straight years without a title.  It’s not that I’m bad at fantasy football, it’s just that, despite all the hours I pour into it, I’m decidedly average.  It’s very frustrating.

To give you an idea of  how long I’ve been playing, when we started our league there weren’t online fantasy sites that kept score for you.  Nope, I did it all by hand.  I’d pick up a newspaper on my way to class every Monday morning and use the box scores to score while I was supposed to be paying attention in lecture.  (Which might explain why I have the dead end job I’m in now.  But that’s another story.)

In one of my favorite movies, Rounders, there’s a great quote about poker players:

Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.

This might be the truest statement I’ve ever read.  Looking back on that championship I won in 1996, I remember almost nothing of my championship team other than a few key players.  I don’t remember a single big win, can’t recall a single detail from that championship game.  What I do remember from that first season of fantasy sports was a devastating loss at the hands of my nemesis, Family Man:

We had battled it out through the weekend, and going into Monday Night Football it was still anybody’s ballgame.  We both had a big gun playing; I had Rod Smith at wide receiver (he would finish the year with 12 TDs and top 5 in WR fantasy points), and Family Man had Terrell Davis, the top running back in the game.

We watched the game together at his place.  Shit talk was flying back and forth with every carry or catch by one of our guys.  I was less than one touchdown down when John Elway hit Rod Smith on a deep crossing pattern and Smith broke away from his defender towards the end zone.  I was up out of my seat screaming and yelling and dancing and swearing as Smith streaked past the 30, the 20, the 10…  Finally, a safety caught up to him and dragged him down at the one yard line.

This is where fantasy football can be so cruel.  Normally, a wide receiver making a 54 yard catch down to the one yard line is a good thing.  But not when your fantasy opponent has the team’s running back.

One play later Terrell Davis ran in the score and sealed the game not just for the Denver Broncos but also for Family Man’s team.  I’ve still never forgotten that empty feeling when Smith got brought down at the goal line and I instantly knew I was finished.

Why do I play this game?

Another heartbreaking moment that many of you can relate to came in 2008, when I had drafted Tom Brady with my first pick.  Brady, coming off a record-setting 50 touchdown season, and never having missed a game due to injury in his career, had his season ended approximately 12 minutes into the year.  What’s worse, by this time I was playing in two fantasy leagues, and I had drafted Brady in both of them.

I remember the excitement of opening day, that optimism I feel every year that my team will lead me back to glory.  And I remember that moment when Bernard Pollard launched himself at Brady’s legs, shredding his ACL and my entire season in a single play.  It is one of the most vivid memories I have in 30+ years of watching football.  Why can’t I remember Florida State’s national championships as vividly as that horrible moment?

What did I do after that?  I immediately grabbed my cell phone and, too impatient to even power it down, ripped out the battery and threw the phone across the room before I could be inundated with texts and calls mocking my misfortune.  Yeah, my friends are assholes.

Why do I play this game?

But possibly my worst fantasy football moment occurred in 2000.  After several piss-poor seasons following my inaugural championship I had finally regained a small measure of self respect by making the playoffs.  I had a loaded backfield with three solid backs that could have started for most any fantasy team.  Unfortunately, you could only start two.

The week of my playoff matchup I poured over box scores and stats trying to determine which two backs to start.  After about three days of getting nothing done at work I thought I had made up my mind.  But, seeking reassurance, I emailed Family Man to get his thoughts.

Now, I will not blame Family Man for what happened to me, because it is my own fault for not trusting my instincts.  But I allowed Family Man to talk me out of starting one of my backs.

That running back’s name was Mike Anderson.  And that weekend he had one of the greatest games in NFL history.  251 yards.  4 touchdowns.  He very nearly outscored my opponent single handedly.  And he was sitting on my bench.

Again I ask, why do I play this game?

But despite all the misery, all the heartache and frustration and things thrown across my apartment, I still love fantasy football and will keep on playing.  Someday I might even win again.

But in the meantime, the frequency of my posts may suffer a bit.  For that I apologize.  Bear with me, by week 8 I should be eliminated from playoff contention and ready to resume my normal writing pace.

If you know of any good sleepers, email me.

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