The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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My secret football fantasy

Football season is about to start, which means that fantasy football season is about to start, which means that it's time once again to convince ourselves that we too can be Jonah-Hill-in-"Moneyball" sports geek experts - savvy, systematic, stunningly perceptive.
You are a genius; you just had some unexpected injuries last year. Not your fault.
Like every other boring white guy in America, I've spent way too much time over the past decade playing fantasy football. I've played with the same group of people since 2006, when, according to Yahoo's archive, the best players on my team - which finished in fifth place out of eight - were Larry Johnson and Carson Palmer.
Every year, I did my research, drafted carefully, and spent the next several months shuffling my lineup around and watching the waiver wire. I think this seemed "fun" to me: harmlessly competitive (it's a game of wits that's both trivial enough and random enough that you won't ever actually worry that your friends are smarter than you if you lose), vaguely social, excitingly unpredictable.
This year, for the first time, I realized that I had no idea whom I should draft, didn't care, and was sort of glad not to care. I rejoined my league anyway out of a sense of social obligation, but I am secretly hoping that someone from my group will read this column and somehow put me out of my misery.
I'm the only two-time winner among my fantasy football crowd, but no one ever remembers this except me. I remind my friends all the time, and still they refuse to recall that I won in both 2007 and 2009. One thing I realized about fantasy football a while ago is that, when you think you're sticking it to your friends, they're entirely focused upon their own players' disappointing performances, not your triumph. Nobody credits anyone else for a victory; when somebody other than you wins, it's all just luck. (Which is true, which is why fantasy football is altogether a waste of time.)
In fact, I can't even remember who won our league last year, or the year before that. Maybe I'm not actually the only two-time winner after all... But I guess it doesn't matter. Fantasy football may be the only intensive, months-long contest where the winner gains nothing in esteem.
Often, when people write articles decrying the increasing popularity of fantasy football, they make an argument about how it not only creates conflicts of loyalty but contorts the whole football-viewing experience in unnatural and diminishing ways, the idea being that here is this complex gladiatorial epic playing out on the gridiron, and we selfish nerds are too busy checking on our computer screens whether Brandon Pettigrew has accumulated more yards than Martellus Bennett to give the entire game and it's outcome (win or lose) the investment it deserves.
It makes more sense to me if the opposite is in fact true - that football is itself really dull, lame, intolerable on its own, that it requires the motivating force of an interactive additive to compete with today's superior entertainment options. Do you guys remember what it was like to watch some pointless Browns-Bills game in the pre-fantasy era? The sole reason you did it was that the only other diversions available to you were a rerun of "Home Improvement" and your pogs.
I think the NFL probably puts forth a terrible product the majority of the time: ugly, meaningless, barely competitive games, played mostly by incompetent backups because all the talented starters are injured, narrated by the stupidest people on the planet. But the minimal amusement that our fantasy leagues provide contributes just enough stimulation to allow us to remain "huge football fans" - an identity that in turn allows us to spend entire Sundays sitting around and drinking beer. The NFL is a product whose popularity is directly attributable to our collective boringness and laziness - like any other popular product, which is pretty sad.
Anyway, maybe I can win again this year.