Fantasy Football

I am a huge fan of the NFL, my favorite team being the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Since I was younger, NFL football has always been the only professional sport I really care about as a whole.  I loved coming downstairs at my house, turning on the games, and going into my yard to play catch with my dad during halftime.  When the air started to get crisp and cold, my mind and body were prepared for days of curling up on the couch, drinking hot chocolate, and watching 300 pound men beat the religion out of each other.  To this day, the weird robot things FOX uses during their telecast and Joe Buck’s manly voice always remind me of the days when I used to love everything about the game.

This is Julio Jones.

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He is one of the most dynamic and talented wide receivers in the NFL.  Week after week, he makes jaw dropping catches and displays an unbelievable and unmatched combination of size, speed, quickness, awareness, and hands.  And last weekend, I hoped he got hit by a truck.

Let me explain.  This is gonna need some background.

I was in ninth grade when I started playing fantasy football.  One of my best friends, Nate, suggested 10 guys start a fantasy football league.  Being 14, and also being a huge fan of football, I enthusiastically agreed to participate.  It was perfect:  it was a brand new way to watch and follow my favorite sport.  I’ve been a stats junkie since I can remember, so following all the players and observing their stats and trends sounded awesome.  And besides, it was a great way to have a fun, spirited competition between myself and 9 of my buddies.  We had out first ever draft during lunch period.  I don’t even think any of us ate that day.  We didn’t know what we were doing and I’m pretty sure some guys were picking players just because they recognized them from Madden.  My first ever draft pick was Shaun Alexander, a former Seattle Seahawks running back who briefly owned the single season touchdown record, before it was broken a year later.  That season, Nate, acting as the commissioner, kept score of all the games manually. If you aren’t familiar with fantasy football, I don’t really have time to explain just how much work would go into scoring games manually.  Extremely time consuming work for a kid in ninth grade with school work and football practice to worry about.

As the years went by, our league ultimately grew from 10 to 12 people, and each year saw some new faces come, and some old faces go.  The league was really representative of life.  No matter how close you think you are to someone, they can sometimes just fall off the face of the earth.  At the time, I thought these were my closest friends in this league, and now I probably couldn’t name half of the members of the original ten.

Okay, that got depressing.  Where was I?  Right, expansion.

We went from drafting in the cafeteria over lunch break to holding the draft at our friend Mike’s house, another member who has been in this league since the beginning.  One year we even had the draft in Nate’s mom’s restaurant one Sunday while it was closed.  Each year, our knowledge increased, too.  In the beginning, we just picked which players we like.  One year our buddy Dave selected Jerricho Cotchery in the second round!  Seriously, Google him if you can’t appreciate how depressing that is! He picked him because he liked the Jets.  I think he lost every game that year, but at least he picked a guy he liked.  Year after year, the process changed.  It went from, “okay this guy is a 97 on Madden, and he’s on my favorite team, and oh look at this, this magazine says he’s the 8th best player available, I better draft him”, to “okay, this team has a new offensive coordinator and line coach who is integrating a zone-blocking scheme, and the running back they just signed in free agency ran for 2000 yards in college in a zone blocking scheme.”  The thinking just changed entirely.  It went from a game of picking who you liked to actually doing math and studying.  I’m currently in graduate school, and I honestly think I’ve put an equal amount of time into study and analysis of fantasy football as I have into my academic career.

So that bring us back to Julio Jones.  You see, Mr. Jones is a member of my current fantasy football team here in 2014.  I selected him in the second round (13th overall) because he’s in a pass heavy offense with a gunslinger quarterback and an anemic run game coupled with one of the worst defenses in NFL history.  I don’t have any particular care for Jones, and I couldn’t possibly care less how his team, the Atlanta Falcons, performs on a week to week basis.  In fact, most weeks I’m actively rooting against the Falcons in the hopes their game is either a blowout or shootout, forcing the team to throw, which in turn gets Jones points.

I’ll back up for a second in case by now you haven’t ascertained how fantasy football works:  A draft occurs, where each guy takes turns selecting 16 players for his team.  Most leagues involves a quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a flex (which could be either a running back, wide receiver, or tight end), a kicker, and a defensive unit.  These “teams” are then scored based on performance.  Touchdowns are worth 6 points, yards are awarded as points based on how many (100 yards=10 points, for example), and turnovers result in negative points.  After a week of football is played, the totals of these scores are compiled, and a winner is decided in a head to head matchup between each team in the league.  The fantasy “season” occurs during the first 13 weeks of the NFL season, as the fantasy teams play out to determine playoff seedings, and then playoffs happen, with a winner being crowned after a single elimination tournament occurs in weeks 14-17. Phew.

Annnnnyway.  Back to Jones.  Traditionally, Jones is as reliable as they come.  He’s a fantastic player in a great offense that is mutually beneficial for both parties.  His team also sucks, which means he’s usually playing from behind, giving the opportunity for the ever lovely “garbage time points.”  However, in this 2014 season, Jones has now gone three straight games without posting double digit fantasy numbers.  I’ve lost two games in a row.  You can see the correlation.  Now normally, I wouldn’t get upset, as off days are wont to happen.  In this situation, however, I found myself pretty upset with Jones, to the point I was internally wishing horrible things to happen to this 25 year old dude.  Since I’m a reasonable, level-headed adult and realize my fantasy football matchup does not make or break my life, I realized how ridiculous my momentary lapse of sanity was, and moved on to more positive thinking.

Now let me be clear:  I think fantasy football is an amazing and fun way to add another dimension of interest to football.  It makes every game interesting, regardless of whether or not you have any loyalty to a particular team.  I will say, though, that fantasy football is destroying the fabric of society as we know it.

That’s actually a little excessive and dramatic.  What I meant to say was I think a small percentage of morons are ruining the game for the rest of us.

To provide context, I will point to any form of social media on any Tuesday morning.  Hundreds of tweets, Facebook messages, whatever people do on instagram, are posted with seething hatred involving some of the National Football League’s most shining starts.  One week last year, I remember Jamal Charles got a death threat because he lost a fumble, which cost one dude two points, which means he lost his game.  For those who don’t remember or aren’t really fans, Jamal Charles is a multiple time Pro Bowler, and led the league in both all-purpose yards and touchdowns last season.  In fact, I won one of my fantasy leagues because he was on my team.  So how is it a guy as successful as this receives a death threat because of a fumble?  It’s because a small percentage of fantasy football playing males are sociopathic.

If you ask most NFL players, I would be willing to bet a majority aren’t exactly favorable of fantasy football.  And it’s mostly because of guys like idiot death threat guy.  It’s kind of a sad reality our heroes in the NFL would look at most of us with disdain if they knew we had them on our fantasy football teams.  My favorite player is Andrew Luck.  If I ever met him, I feel like at some point I would ask about fantasy football, and that would likely annoy him.

Fantasy football has become like guns in this country.  The majority of those who support them and use them are responsible, well-educated people who take all the necessary steps in ensuring their hobby doesn’t go too far to the point of insanity.  A small majority of crazy people, however, always seem to take advantage of something we love.  This leads to outsiders viewing the lovers of the hobby as “nuts or whack jobs”.  I don’t want to seem insensitive comparing a guy who told Jamal Charles to kill himself to a kid who killed 20 first graders, but in all honestly the ideas are the same.  It only takes a few people to ruin something for the rest of us.

So those of you who engage in fantasy football, remember it’s just a game.  If fantasy football becomes the end all, do or die attribute that defines who you are, then maybe it’s time to take a step back and appreciate the other things in life.

Even if that means having to actually watch the game.

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