Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Complaints from a Sore Fantasy Football Loser

Fantasy football is my white whale.  Every season, I’m called to join whatever league shows up on my social radar.  It all seems so hopeful in August.  The voices, Costner-like, tell me things that make me believe.
“This will be the year you draft the explosive, durable back that no one else knows about.”
“Former backup quarterbacks finally ‘getting their shot’ as a starter are a sure thing.”
“Kickers matter.”
And so I join a league.  Never a pay league…I’m not stupid.  Putting real money into what is effectively a glorified multi-player video game is not something I’ve ever considered.  But I’ll almost always jump in and make a team with a witty name recalling some isolated chapter of my life, like “Chile’s Legion” or “Team Kaos.”  Then the draft is announced, and all happiness begins to drain from my Sundays.
This is where I should mention that the leagues I always seem to play in are populated mostly by people much younger and less, let’s say, spoken-for than I.  This year it’s a league at work featuring mostly under-25 engineers, many without wives, children, or mortgages.  Other years it was with fraternity brothers who were mostly still active at college.  College, where napping at 2PM on any given Tuesday is perfectly plausible, and staying out all night the following Wednesday even more so.
You can see where this is going. 
League Commissioner:  “OK, the draft is going to be Tuesday night at 11:00!  Good luck everybody, or, if you’re a frail old man, set up your autopicks!”

Indeed I will!  Now, who still wears the leather helmets?  Those are the gents I want on my team...

That…doesn’t work for me, and never will.  Late weeknights are a thing of the distant past.  The last ones I remember involved walking a hallway at 3AM with a colicky baby, and truth be told I don’t clearly remember most of those (that’s probably a good thing, since if I did I’d probably scowl inexplicably at the boy way more often than I do now).  The concept of staying up well past midnight agonizing over which 3rd year running back is going to peak in his contract year and which one is about to reach the median NFL retirement age doesn’t even register for me.  The following day at work would not be pretty, especially for any subordinates who have a problem I would normally cheerfully help them with.  So, live drafting with youngsters—not advisable.
That leaves the autopick feature, helpfully included in almost all fantasy sites.  The idea is simple:  before the draft, go through the available players, pick out the ones you’d most like to have and arrange them in descending order.  When your turn in the draft comes up, the site automatically picks the best one available on your list, filling the roster slots as it goes.  Or, even better, do nothing, since the fantasy nerds at the site already rank every NFL player by whatever arcane witchcraft they use anyway.  This idea was more attractive to me this year, since I doubt I know more than the nerdy witches, and in previous years every time I’ve tried to arrange my own list I’d end up with a bunch of Bengals because subliminally I’m a self-loathing diehard fan.  So that’s what I did…nothing.  I went to meet-the-teacher night at my kid’s school and let the draft gods do what they may that evening.

Allison Hannigan is like the 5th pic that shows up for a Google Image search of "nerdy witch."  And while I'm sure you agree that's awesome, I doubt she knows all that much about fantasy football.

The problem is, autopick is f-ing stupid.
Like any computer program, it’s limited by the parameters within which it is working.  This year, the parameters did not include the fact that Peyton Manning could barely turn his head from side to side, and as a result would miss at least the first 4 months of the season.  Autopick didn’t know this, he just saw that PM was rated #3 on the draft board this year, and pulled the trigger for me.  It went downhill from there.  6 running backs (most past their prime or still waiting for one that’s not going to show), zero usable quarterbacks, and several slot receivers filled my roster the next morning.  And since it’s a deep league, waiver pickin’s were slim (Kerry Collins?  Why sure!  Why the hell not?).  I am currently 0-5, with no end in sight.  Check out the results of last weekend’s titanic struggle:

Hey, great game Kolb.  The pundits assured me that Philly wasn't a fluke.  Chump.
You thought I was kidding about Team Kaos, didn't you?

Yeah, that's 118-38, and there are more scores like that behind it.  So, this year’s not my year, sweet August voices be damned.  But even in decent performance years, fantasy football is a burdensome yoke.  Take the time factor alone.  The draft is really just the tip of the iceberg there, since it’s over in a defined amount of time.  The week-to-week research quickly becomes unsustainable.  In case you’ve never watched an NFL game, it’s sort of a dangerous undertaking.  Hulking men who are also faster than you’ve ever been smash into each other hundreds of times in sometimes horrible environmental conditions.  This understandably results in injuries.  Lots of injuries, especially to the delicate skill position players your roster is full of.  So your whole world begins to revolve around the Wednesday injury report.  If Adrian Peterson didn’t practice on Wednesday, you’d better start second-guessing.  That will lead to further second guessing about the rest of the roster, based on their performance the previous week.  Will he have another monster game like he did against the Seahawks?  Of course not, everyone has a monster game against the Seahawks, you say.  But if you bench him and he has another monster?  You hate yourself until the following week.

Like all those stock brokers from the last few years, but with slightly less life-destroying.
The entire season is full of these little quandaries, which take on great meaning when we’re talking about pissing contests with your friends and colleagues.

But the worst is the problem of compromised allegiances.  I am an unfortunate Bengals fan, as referenced above.  Even though I grew up in Browns country, the allegiance still took hold when I was young—my older brother was a fan, the striped helmet was cool, Cincinnati seemed like a way cooler city than Cleveland (true enough).  Normally this is simple.  I sit on my couch with a beer and scream at the TV like any other fan, and enjoy a simple, uncompromising hatred of the Pittsburgh Steelers and everything they stand for.  But now superimpose a fantasy football team onto this idyllic scenario.  What if my primary RB is Rashard Mendenhall?  Who do I root for?  I can’t happily cheer for my team in full, because to do so successfully would limit one of my only fantasy horses.  And it’s worse when I have players from both teams.  It also forces me to give a damn about games for which I could happily care less.  Raiders-Broncos?  Not interested…except for Knowshon.  How’s he doing?  And you’ll find yourself getting irrationally pissed off when the little stat tracker graphic on the TV coverage doesn’t pop up after a complete pass.  I must know how many points he’s accrued!  My Sunday happiness demands it! 
That’s no way to watch football.
Why do I keep doing it?  Not chicks, that’s for sure…my wife thinks I’m an idiot when I complain about the kicker for the Vikings shanking a field goal attempt, or Arizona’s quarterback sailing a pass to the free safety.   I guess it’s for the same reasons lots of people do—a sense of camaraderie, the thrill of competition, the quest for glory. 
Now, while we’re on the subject of glory, would anyone like to deal a mid-ranked starting quarterback and a healthy kicker for two goal-line specialist running backs and the San Diego defense?  I’m telling you, it’ll pay off for you in the long run…just forget everything I’ve just written and think of the glory…

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