Welcome inside the mind of an uptight CITYVIEW staff writer and fantasy football fanatic
Most baby boomers remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot. Many in subsequent generations won’t soon forget their surroundings as the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
Me? I’ll never forget the moment Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 season.
Comparing a football player’s knee injury to the World Trade Center makes me a bad person, I know, but we live in a world where we don’t get to pick what we care about. We don’t get to decide if our taste buds prefer pizza as compared to tacos, or liver and onions. We don’t get to pick what we love, or who, or if we get loved back — we just do, and sometimes they just don’t. I love fantasy football, it means something to me, even if it shouldn’t. I care, even if I don’t know why.
In 2008, I’d put all my fantasy eggs into Tom Brady’s basket. As I watched him clutching his knee, writhing in pain, I realized my season was effectively over. My eyes started to tingle and sting as I tried to hold back tears, and a little piece of me died inside.
My name is Jeff Pitts. I’m a fantasy football addict. This is my fantasy football tell-all, and I’m not holding back.
Befuddlement fell on the room as Ron, a die-hard Chicago Bears fan, hooted inexplicably and then hollered while unleashing his hands, miming imaginary six-shooters before blowing gun smoke from his pretend pistols and holstering his fingers.
The emotional outburst was uncharacteristic of our even-keeled friend, and it was unthinkable in light of the fact that his beloved Bears had just surrendered the go-ahead touchdown with only one minute left in the game. Ron felt the room’s judgement, and he turned red with shame. His fantasy team, Ron’s Car Wash, had started Saints wide receiver Donte Stallworth — the recipient of the 29-yard touchdown. The play had doomed da Bears, but it put the Car Wash within striking distance of his Dexter Manley League nemesis, The Wall Based Phone, and Ron was pumped.
That was Week 3 of the 2002 NFL season, and it was the precise moment I knew fantasy football had changed spectator sports forever.
NOTE: One-in-five Americans play fantasy sports, or 21 percent of ages 12 and older — according to a study by Ipsos Public Affairs completed for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Most fantasy leagues consist of eight to 12 owners each constructing rosters filled with real NFL players. Each team scores points based on the performance of the players the owner chooses. The competitions pit each owner’s management skills, scouting prowess and predictive powers against one another.
People play an assortment of fantasy sports, not just football. My fantasy crack binge began with rotisserie baseball at the age of 12, but football is definitely my game of choice, and it is America’s most popular, too. Almost all people, but especially 12-year-olds, live in a world where we rarely call our own shots, and while money is almost always on the line, most league fees are friendly — something similar to an NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament bracket buy-in — and money isn’t normally the main motivation for fantasy junkies. The idea of acquiring players, concocting a plan and building my own roster — all while competing with others in order to prove one man is better than another, that’s what I liked… pride. And with pride, inevitably, there comes a fall.
“Uh oh!” My internal voice screamed as I felt my face hurtling toward the blacktop.
The Dexter Manley League had recently expanded in 2004, meaning a new playoff structure was needed and our constitution amended.
My friend, we’ll call him “Mike” to protect his identity, along with five of the others wanted the bracket to be one way, whereas I led an equal number in opposition.
As all 26-year-old drunk men should, we settled our stalemate by way of a physical challenge — a 100-meter foot race.
Mike was wearing flip flops; I had shoes. We leveled the playing field by banning footwear altogether, and we raced barefoot on the hot blacktop in the scorching August sun.
NOTE: Decisions like these are why the United States Constitution prohibits anyone younger than 35 from attaining the presidency.
As I internally congratulated myself on gaining an early lead, I felt my foundation wobbling. My legs seemed to be rubberizing. I was losing the war against gravity.
Veering into the lush green grass to the side of the road would have been the wisest course, but Mike was closing fast. Every inch mattered, so I dove directly over the finish line and won by a nose.
Horror was on the faces of my friends as I rose from the pavement. Half of them were concerned because they had lost out on the new playoff format, and the other half because a seemingly unavoidable trip to the emergency room would delay the auction’s start by several hours.
Auction day is to fantasy players what Christmas morning is to a 12-year-old kid. So, I sucked it up. And although most of the flesh had been ripped from my shirtless backside, and the blacktop had seared the skin from the bottom of my left foot, the auction started on time. All the while, I was soaking my foot in an emptied wastebasket full of rubbing alcohol, having asphalt plucked from my shoulders by someone holding a can of Coors Light and wearing a Jake Plummer jersey.
NOTE: The term “it’s no skin off of my back” is no longer applicable in fantasy football, but the squad I assembled that day won the championship by the narrowest of margins. Here is the best part; if not for the playoff-format changes made possible by me winning the 100-meter dash, I would have lost in the first round of the playoffs instead of taking the title.
I HAVE NO FRIENDS
“Middle-aged, middle-class men don’t have friends,” said my 22-year-old self, sharing an observation with my college roommate, Mike. “Rich guys have golfing buddies. And poor men need each other to bridge troubled waters. But middle-aged, middle-class men? They don’t have friends. They don’t have time.”
The Dexter Manley League — the league I call my “home league” — began in the year 2000 as Mike and I attempted to ward off any upcoming middle-aged doldrums.
NOTE: League Dexter earned its moniker due to our sophomoric admiration of the former Washington Redskins’ defensive end, Dexter Manley. He had won the hearts of my college friends for outing himself as illiterate despite four years of college. Manley was our “hero” for reportedly carrying a Wall Street Journal to work each day in an effort to hide this shortcoming. The man couldn’t read his playbook, but he managed to win two Super Bowls, and in his prime, he was as good as any defensive player in the league. Manley also battled drug addiction and reportedly visited rehab on 38 different occasions. He stated that he spent $2 million on cocaine. Manley retired from the NFL in 1991 to avoid a probable lifetime league ban after a fourth positive test for drugs. And as to us choosing him as our namesake? I’d again point to the wisdom of the 35-and-over-rule of the United States Constitution.
The league began before the Internet was what it is now, and if fantasy league websites existed, we didn’t know it. As such, during our inaugural season, since I didn’t own a computer, I walked to QuikTrip to buy a USA TODAY each Monday. I used the box scores to compute each player’s stats by hand. The process took three hours, and it was inherently untrustworthy. I was commonly accused of cheating or of using “gorilla math.”
Every serious fantasy player knows someone who consistently annoys with references to “his other league.” This is akin to a man reminding his wife of his mistress’s delicious cooking. I never thought I’d join another league, until five years ago when my high school friend, “Steve,” told me of his new-fangled keeper league.
NOTE: A keeper league — also known as a dynasty league — allows teams to retain player rights from one year to another. If you acquire a player who performs ahead of expectations in 2017, you can retain his services in 2018 and possibly beyond.
Steve’s college friends allowed long-term contracts, unheard of flexibility with salary-cap management and team building that demanded a higher level of strategy. If fantasy football was checkers, The League of Dignity was chess. No website existed to handle the nuances, thus the commissioner — a West Coast computer programmer — created a fully functioning, cutting edge, automated website from scratch.
Add in the fact that The League of Dignity held its annual auction, until recently, in Las Vegas, and you will understand that when Steve offered me a spot, he had me at “hello.”
Once the floodgates opened on other leagues, I joined my brother’s league. And then a friend I worked with, and so on, until I topped out at 10 leagues. I’ve since cut back to six, but I’m ruined for actually watching the games anymore. The frustration of cheering for a touchdown that helps you in one league, only to realize you’re playing against that same player in three other leagues is confusing, maddening and too much to take.
Why did I ever do any of this?
My fantasy football addiction has cost me thousands of dollars. I’ve frittered away 10 bajillion hours in front of a computer screen. To my great shame, I’ve missed work because of fantasy-related miseries. I’ve broken remote controls, shed tears and lied to dear friends and close confidants, all while inwardly reveling in their demise. And they’ve done the same to me. People I trust with my real life have transformed — in the fantasy realm only — into people who were proud of their shady shenanigans. The treachery was simply part of the competition. One of my best friends purposefully broke a written contract in regard to a trade, and then he colluded with another friend — the lone witness to said contract — and together they destroyed the signed and dated copies of our now broken covenant, shredding and hiding the evidence while I was passed out in a bathtub.
This begs the question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?
I do. Maybe?
“When I was seeing patients up in Boston,” says former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in an interview with Fernando Espuelas, “the most common illness I saw was not heart disease or diabetes, but it was isolation. It was social disconnection.”
Drifting away from friends is common for men climbing the corporate ladder or otherwise trying to avoid the plight of the poor. But the cure for poverty might be worse than the disease. As men grow older and friendships fade, it can bring about a loneliness that is more menacing to their health than smoking or obesity. This means that instead of worrying about cancer and heart disease, it might be more prudent to fret about the fact that you traded in your friends in order to earn that big promotion, coach your kid’s little league team or work overtime at the shop to pay for a broke-down refrigerator.
In the 1950s, some men kept a semblance of a social life with annual fishing trips. Some men still do, but the preferred method of reclaiming your masculinity has become fantasy league drafts or auctions. But one day a year near old friends won’t solve any problems, just as the fishing trips didn’t for our dads and granddads.
At a commencement speech given to the University of Arizona, Murthy expressed his hope that “you live a connected life.” He wasn’t speaking of social media, friends on Facebook or of anything attainable with a fully charged cell phone.
“I’m talking about the connection you have with friends you trust deeply and with whom you can be 100 percent yourself,” he says, explaining later that the very media and technology that were meant to connect us too often feed our divisions.
KEEPING IT REAL
“Why am I here?” My internal voice asked as I walked into my first auction of 2017.
Fantasy football used to be my everything. At my worst, I played in 10 leagues. But most drafts and auctions revolve around alcohol, and I haven’t had a sip in six years. A religious conversion precludes me from indulging in the “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” mentality, and my preoccupation with real life somewhat hinders my appreciation for the competitive component. And forget about the annual pilgrimage to Sin City for The League of Dignity. Las Vegas is no longer in the cards for a whole host of reasons.
So why am I still doing this?
The answer came flooding back to me at the start of my first auction this season. I was reminded of the last line of the movie “Stand by Me”: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.”
One day a year won’t solve the problems Murthy is referencing, and of my current middle-age problems, isolation isn’t one of them. I have friends who I see often, but I’m glad to be here because I rarely get to have these old friends in such close proximity. I’m not the only one who has changed during the last 18 years. All of us have filled out in the midsection, lost a little hair and we don’t party like we did in 1999, but once a year it’s nice to get back to old times. I’ve allowed these relationships to slip, and one day a year won’t fix everything, but at least I have an annual chance to reunite, reconnect and maybe this will one day be the gateway to getting back to keeping it real with these real friends.
I do love fantasy football, but I don’t do it for the love of the game anymore, if I ever did. I realize now that when I dove for the finish line, maybe I was diving for these guys. And when I was doing math by hand for three hours each week, maybe I was doing it for these guys. When I was playing in 10 leagues… OK that was for me. But fantasy football is no longer about the love of the game, it’s for the love of these people. No matter if you are 22, 26, 35 or 65 years old, in the war room, once a year, everyone is friends as if they are 12 years old again. Once a year, it’s good to go home, even if you’re just visiting.
So, thank you, fantasy football, may I have another? And to all of my fantasy football-loving brothers out there, I love you, man! Merry Christmas. And here’s to a fantasy new year. ♦
Money is almost always on the line in fantasy football, but most league-entry fees are friendly, something similar to an NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament pool is common.
In the last few years, online fantasy wagering sites like DraftKings and FanDuel have allowed people to deposit money online and wager on fantasy results. These sites are not considered illegal in most states because it’s argued that these contests are games of skill, but Iowa is one of 11 states where online wagering on fantasy sports is not permitted.