We are about a week away from the start of the NFL season and 75 million people, roughly 20 percent of the US population, are currently pouring over player statistics, trends and algorithms as if they were Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code. It’s not because they are excited for the home team’s chances this season and want to know the players better, it’s quite the opposite.
Many Long Island football fans couldn’t care less if the Giants beat the Cowboys on Opening Day, or if the Jets are going to win even one game this year. What they really want to know is, how many touchdowns is Eli Manning going to throw on Sunday night, win or lose? Fantasy football has become a multi-billion-dollar industry and, full disclosure, I’m one of those 75 million. I have been a fantasy football “owner” for 36 years.
If you’ve heard about fantasy football and are not quite sure what it is, here’s a quick primer. A group of fans get together before the season to “draft” individual players that will be on their “team”, like quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and kickers, regardless of what NFL team they play for. Every week, you select a few of them to be in your starting lineup. You could have a quarterback from Atlanta, a receiver from Green Bay and a kicker from Baltimore, it doesn’t matter. Whatever statistics they accumulate during their game, all get tallied for your “team”, regardless of the outcome of their game.
Each “owner” in your league does the same, and you “play” your team against their team. The team that scores the most points from their fantasy players that week wins the “game.”
So, what makes grown men and women participate in a fantasy football league? Doctors, lawyers and bank presidents, all respected and responsible people in real life, morph into statistic geeks, spending valuable time looking at injury reports and matchup charts. My guess is that office productivity goes down a notch during the NFL season because of fantasy football.
Sports fans, in the truest sense of the word, are fanatics by nature. To be a sports fan is to be competitive. With fantasy football, you are no longer rooting for someone else’s team, like the Giants, you are rooting for your team. There is a certain level of pride involved.
In real life, how many chances do you get to beat the boss at anything? Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than putting together a bad fantasy team. It has taken trash talking to another level. Conversely, there is nothing better than shoving your team’s Championship in the face of your best friends, kind of like what Yankee fans do all the time.
If I had to guess, I’m sure it was a Jets fan (like me) that came up with the idea of fantasy football so they wouldn’t have to live through another season that was over before Halloween. Why worry about the quarterback battle between Hackenberg and Petty when you can have Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback of your fantasy team?
You get to pick the players you want to represent your team, a team that you even give a name to. We have teams like Mr. B’s Hammerheads, Big Man’s Hellhounds, Disco’s Juicers, Men Without Helmets and the Cosmic Debris. There is a certain level of pride because it’s your team, so you don’t want to look like a fool in front of your friends and colleagues.
We started our fantasy football league in 1981. At the time, one of our owners casually mentioned that we could “do this forever.” 10 of our 14 owners have been in this league for over 30 years, so I guess he was right. We will be having our 37th draft this weekend.
My wife has put up with my fantasy football obsession for 36 years. Every year, about this time, she knows it starts all over again. I’ll be staying up late, printing out spreadsheets and settling down to watch “NFL Red Zone” every Sunday afternoon for the next 17 weeks. More than once, she has told me, “See you in January.”
So, in the interest of true sportsmanship, I’d like to wish good luck to my fellow owners in our fantasy football league, and may the best man win. As long as it’s me…