As we explained earlier in the week, last night was the start of the NFL season. The game gave us pretty much everything: a lightning delay, Peyton Manning going nuts, Joe Flacco still being kind of overrated, and even a pot reference because it’s Denver. It was a good time, but last night was also the start of something bigger and better.
Yes, fantasy football, the thing that drives men (and some women because, hey, we’re not big on stereotyping) crazy for about five months a year. Computers have to be within easy reach (or a smart phone if your league is on a site that runs smoothly on a mobile device), lineups have to be tweaked, set, and then frantically set again minutes before kick-off, and every game matters. Yes, even that meaningless December Jaguars-Bills game. What is it about fantasy football that drives us to that?
Even though they’re not like playing a real sport, fantasy still appeals to the same drive for competition. Especially if you’re a football fan –which you probably are if you’re subjecting yourself to a season of fantasy– you’ve got a desire to crush your opponent like no other. Like Herman Edwards infamously said (and I’m sorry to bring it up, but he coached my favorite team for a few seasons and was brutal), “you play to win the game.”
We all like to brag, but when it comes to sports, it’s kind of a weirdly impersonal thing. Either your favorite team is better than your friend’s favorite team, which is dependant on who you decided to/were raised to root for (thanks Dad for saddling me with the Kansas City Chiefs) or you assert that due to some arbitrary reasons you’re a better/smarter fan than your buddy. Fantasy fixes that. You and a handful of friends get to spend the entire season trying to prove who knows the most football minutia. Is it a foolproof system? Definitely not; injuries and auto-drafts can throw things off but it’s just about the best you can do short of suiting up on the gridiron yourself or getting your own NFL team. Also it doesn’t hurt that you’re usually playing for money.
After that, it gives a little bit of salvation to fans of awful teams. Like I just admitted, I like the Chiefs because my dad liked them. He says it was because their uniforms were cool. Regardless of the reason, I’ve been stuck following a perpetually disappointing team from the Midwest for as long as I can remember. It was kind of tough, especially when I would play Madden with my friends and would perpetually be overmatched by their favorite teams.
Fantasy gives me, and fans like me, some redemption. Jamaal Charles can’t carry an entire team by himself, but he’s still a top-5 fantasy player. Thank to him, people know that at least the Chiefs have one noteworthy player and I feel a little bit of pride if I’m able to snag him in a draft. The same could be said for guys like Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars (although he’s not the running back he used to be) or Doug Martin on the Bucs. When you’re the fan of a bad team, it’s tough to not feel like an idiot. But at the same time, you can’t quit because then you’d lose all fan credibility. Having one fantasy star, though, makes life a little easier; you should only cry about 5 times during the season instead on 7-10.
Finally, playing fantasy football forces you to be a better fan of football as a whole. Sure, it’s through a painful, psyche-shattering, borderline-OCD process, but you become a better fan. My main fantasy team for this season has players representing 13 different teams. Since one of my players is Jamaal Charles, I’ll be keeping an eye on a dozen teams I wouldn’t ordinarily care about.
In a similar neurotic vein, you have to assume that midway through the season you’ll need to pick up a few replacement players. Since all the big name/relevant player will be long gone, what do you do? Go and scour the available players list and put on your GM hat; before long, you’ll be juggling match-ups and deciding that marginal receiver A has a bigger upside than marginal receiver B. Even if you blow it (I’ll forever regret not snagging Miles Austin in his breakout season because I thought his first huge game was a fluke), you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn random little things like who’s playing who next week and when the Giants are on bye. Just don;t sell out your main team and we won’t have a problem.
Other than those things, playing fantasy football is just simple fun. You can literally put as much or as little effort into it as you want; if anything you have an excuse to watch football and hang out with your friends rivals a little more than normal. So practice your trash talking and start thinking of some good puns for team names. And hey, if NYU Local can play, you can too.