Every second weekend in September, professional football fans welcome the start of the NFL season.
While most eyes are glued to their TVs on Sundays, those aren’t the only games in town. The “Gorilla Mafia” faces “Rico Suave”. Other teams that play include “FAVREFGNUGEN”, “Sacks and the City”, and “The Big Tebow-ski”. Don’t go scrolling through the guide looking for these games because they can’t be found on TV. The contests in question will be played on a grid in cyberspace.
This is the game within the game: Fantasy Football.
It is Wikipedia page says that fantasy sports in general emerged around 1960, but the modern game began in 1980 with the creation of Rotisserie League Baseball. The “owners” selected a team of active professional players and tracked their statistics during the current season. The game got its name from the french steakhouse, a New York City restaurant where some of the contestants used to congregate. In the late 1980s, the idea spread to other sports, creating the hype that exists today.
Men, women and children engage in spectator sports that pit friends against friends and brothers against sisters. According to Ask.com, each fall as many as 35 million people participate in some type of fantasy football league. Fantasy sports took off on the Internet. Sites like ESPN and Yahoo make a lot of money by hosting various leagues throughout the year. People can play for free or spend hundreds of dollars on their soccer fix. There is the “Pick ‘Em” style league where players simply guess the winners of that week’s games. The most sophisticated contestants have contestants who also choose the point spreads. Next are the “suicide” leagues where a player selects a winner of one game per week. The winners continue to play as long as they guess correctly, but the problem is that after choosing the first winner, the contestants cannot choose that team again for the rest of the season.
Those types of leagues are fun, but the big daddy of them all is the “Head-to-Head” style. Player knowledge, stats, injuries and league trends are put to the test week after week. This type of league is popular because even though the players don’t wear uniform on Sunday, it becomes very competitive. In addition, it is interactive, so the owners have the opportunity to get to know each other. It all starts at The Draft. One option is a web draft, but it can be difficult to have all players in front of a computer at the same time. Also, a live draft earns points because it usually involves food, a good conversation about the players, and a fair amount of trash talk. The live draft also presents the opportunity to assess the competition by seeing what skills (or lack of) people as general managers have. Will he take a running back with the first pick? Why did he wait so long to get a QB? Did this guy just draft another tight end? These questions and more come up during a draft.
Despite all the good times, fantasy football can make a person look inside themselves. Long-time loyalties to teams, hometowns, and family trees disappear when your fantasy squad is down by 5 points and the wide receiver fumbles at 1. This game questions loyalty and values. Those who have played fantasy football have been faced with the decision to start with an interception-prone quarterback against the best defense in the league. But in “real life,” this quarterback plays for the team they’ve rooted for since childhood. The heart says, “Go ahead and start him. He will appear for me today.” By contrast, the inside GM who paid $100 to get into this league says, “No chance. Go with the backup.”
On values, the idea of winning as a team is a distant memory. The fantasy is for individual players to get as many points as they can. A guy runs across the goal line for a touchdown and several patrons at a sports bar cheer as if they’ve won the championship. Taking a look at the scoreboard, you realize that the scoring team is behind the opponent 35-14. At that point you know those fans have that player in their fantasy lineup. The actual score means nothing, but to them that touchdown means a win or loss in that week’s fantasy matchup.
I don’t want to be too heavy-handed, but competitive sport brings out the best and the worst in people. Character is tested when individuals face off against an opponent. Whether it’s getting your pants dirty while running with a ball, or a mug of beer and a laptop, Sundays are made for gladiators.
Fantasy Football gives everyone a chance to be legendary. Even if it’s only for a season.