This is the first time in several years that I haven’t participated in fantasy football.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I hadn’t planned to skip out this year but as it turns out, I’ve been grateful that I did because I have enjoyed this NFL season more than any season in recent memory, despite Denver’s collapse.
A quick fantasy football primer for non nerds: you join a league, usually online, of usually 8 to 12 people and through a draft process each team owner picks individual NFL players to make up their team (I usually name my team either the Wasatch Saints or the Utah Monogamists). Each week you face off against a different fantasy team in your league. You choose which players from your team will “start” and which ones you will “keep on the bench.” The points scored, yards gained, tackles made, extra points converted, etc. by each player that you’ve started earns fantasy points for your team. The team with the most points after all the week’s games have been played wins the match-up.
This past fall as football season was approaching a friend sent me the customary email to join the Yahoo! league I’ve been participating in for the past few years.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I usually would sign up right away but this time I paused to think about whether it was a good idea. Fantasy football can become a major time sink as you look for the most talented free agents, propose and analyze trades, ascertain which of your wide receivers faces the weakest pass defense in the coming week, and on and on.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I have too many time sinks in my life, so in a rare fit of self-discipline I decided not to join up.
As the season has passed, I’ve found myself watching and appreciating the game in ways that I didn’t when I was preoccupied with the performance of my fantasy team. When you’re watching a game in which a fantasy player of yours is playing it adds a whole new dimension to spectating. You end up rooting for the most unnatural things: if you have the tight end of a team you’re watching you cheer for them to get close to the goal line but not too close so that they’re more likely to pass for a touchdown than try to run it in. If you have the kicker you root for his team to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns and you hate it when they go for it on fourth down or go for two. Most perversely, you sometimes end up rooting for individual players to perform well against your favorite team while at the same time hoping for your team to win the game. Perhaps even worse than that, you’re sometimes glad when players get injured. That’s just wrong.
Sick and wrong quotes that might be overheard while I’m watching a Broncos game with fantasy implications: “No, don’t throw it to Smith, Walker hardly has any catches;” “No, Bell, don’t score. I need the other Bell to score. Yes! He didn’t get in!” and worst of all: “C’mon, Randy Moss, I just need you to gain 60 yards or score one touchdown.”
As I’ve watched this year, free of the stress and weirdness of rooting with a fantasy game on the line, I realized how much all of that fantasy stuff distracts from simply enjoying football. I’m a fan of the game. I love the strategy, the beauty, the physicality, the team-centered nature, and the competition of it all. Concern for a fantasy team gets in the way of enjoying the game for what it is. I can now enjoy a well-played game without getting upset that a certain running back didn’t get enough carries. I can unreservedly take pleasure in seeing great players performing well without worrying that they may knock my Monogamists out of playoff contention.
It has helped that this has been a fun season. My local team (Ravens) and my favorite team (Broncos) have been in contention and have had interesting things going on (I still think it was a mistake to bench Plummer, though I won’t say that the change was the cause of the Broncos missing the playoffs). Some great rookies (Vince Young, Devin Hester, Reggie Bush) have taken prominent roles and had exciting years. There’s been a feel-good comeback team (the Saints; Brees’s vindication has been satisfying as well). There have been plenty of good sources of schadenfreude (the pathetic Raiders, the Cowboys rollercoaster, TO dropping so many passes). A great, likeable player (LT) has had a historic year. And the upcoming playoffs promise to be very exciting. Can the Bears make it to the Superbowl without consistent QB play? (Probably, since the NFC sucks.) Can they win? (Probably not.) Can the Chargers be stopped? (Yes, but I’m not sure they will be).
I do miss some aspects of fantasy football. It’s a great way to keep in touch and bond with friends and family. Trash talk is a lot of fun. It can make really bad Monday night matchups worth watching if they have fantasy implications. And it makes you more aware of what’s happening with teams and players that you don’t normally pay close attention to. I’m definitely less knowledgeable about emerging and fading players and personnel changes than I have been in the past.
But all in all, being fantasy free has been a positive change. I think next year if my brother who lives across the country invites me to join a league I might play, just for the chance to participate with him. But I’ll change some of my ways. I won’t own any Broncos players. I won’t calculate mine and my opponent’s points after the early Sunday games. And, most importantly, I won’t care whether I win or lose . . . Yeah right! On second thought, perhaps I shouldn’t play at all. I’ll call my brother more often instead.