Let’s get one thing clear. I am not a sports addict. My devotion to fantasy football is completely within the realm of a normal-person hobby. I mean, sure, I read the fantasy news as an occasional five-minute indulgence during the week. Mostly though, team management is a Sunday morning on-the-way-to-Mass activity. Because nothing gets me in the mood to pray like picking my fantasy football lineup.
I suppose it’s possible that I got a tiny bit obsessive about it, just for one year. There were some serious extenuating circumstances, though. It was a year of two firsts: first baby, and first iPhone. That’s a powerful combination. The baby was due in November, so I spent the fall slogging through a lot of third-trimester appointments. I’d sit waiting for 45 minutes or more just to spend five routine minutes with my practitioner. It was boring. But my slick fantasy football app was fun. So I kept well abreast of all the fantasy news, and made the smart trades. My team dominated the regular season.
The league was comprised of my old college debate team, most of whom are serious liberals. So I entered as “Team America,” and my motto was… well, if you’ve seen the movie, you already know. (“Team America” was also the Lus’ first date movie. Yeah, we’re true romantics.)
Our son was born just after 2 a.m. on a Sunday. It was November 29. Later that same morning, the nurse found me propped up in bed, thumbs flying over my phone. My cherubic bundle of heaven-sent goodness lay sleeping a few feet away. The nurse assumed she understood.
“Texting everyone the good news?”
Actually I was checking up on Darren Sproles’ hamstrings. Which makes perfect sense, right? I mean, the games were starting in mere minutes. The National Football League (NFL) waits for no mom, whereas loved ones will welcome a birth announcement pretty much any old time. Why did this not make sense to her?
Perhaps she was just startled that anyone would put off something so important to the very last minute. I completely understand. But I would absolutely have done it sooner, except I was, you know, in labor.
Anyway, that’s how I became “football mom” in the local maternity ward. I guess they don’t get that many patients who have a baby, catch a nap, and wake up thinking “Vernon Davis or Dallas Clark?”
The nurses can laugh it up all they want though, because I’ll tell you this: two years and three months later, I found myself back on that exact same hall, with the Superbowl just two cold weeks behind us. Flipping grimly between Al-Jazeera and a marathon of “Friends” reruns, I reflected with almost tearful longing on how awesome it had been to have a baby just in time to relax in front of a sizzling lineup of late-season NFL games, with a champion fantasy team for extra sweetness.
It’s Okay to Lose
Anyway, that slightly-obsessive season came to a disappointing end: I took second place in my league. The worst part was that the winner (an old debate partner) was one of those people who didn’t even bother to manage his team for about half the season. I’m not sure he even understood how the whole thing worked. These sorts of freak occurrences do happen in fantasy, since it’s all based on individual player statistics. In the aggregate, the obsessive researcher generally pulls ahead, but on any given Sunday the clueless man can be king.
It was a bit crushing, but I was actually surprised how little devastation I felt. For one thing, my old debate partner was a ridiculously nice guy. For another, I already knew that the entertainment had been its own reward. I know what crushing defeat feels like; as a longtime fan of the Fighting Irish I’ve experienced plenty. If you forced me to sit down and watch the “lowlight reel,” there are still one or two games that might just make me cry. Somehow, fantasy football doesn’t have that same power to make me feel sucker-punched for the next two or three days.
Perhaps because it’s, you know, a fantasy? In the end, it’s just a battle of statistics. Real football teams fight and sweat and bleed and lose together. Those storylines can, occasionally, rise awfully close to Shakespearean-level tragedy. But fantasy football is more like the world’s best game of Battleship. It’s an awesome way to pass a 45-minute stretch in a waiting room, but the whole thing is a little too contrived to keep me staring bleakly at the ceiling for nights on end.
I actually think that’s what makes it so fun. The extra dash of silliness creates a buffer from the raw torrent of emotion that occasionally makes real sports just a little too real. I love the absurdity of some of my fantasy memories. The weirdly conflicted feelings you get when your defense sacks your own franchise quarterback. Or watching the tail end of blowout games that would be of zero interest, but for the fact that you’re begging Matt Ryan to hit Anthony Gonzalez just one more time so you can get that last 0.8 that will put you over the top and into the next playoff round. These are the moments, friends.
But you can only enjoy them if you remember one thing. Fantasy football should be fun. It’s not life or death. The future of nations doesn’t rest on it. Friendships shouldn’t either. And however badly you get robbed this season, remind yourself that whatever happens, there’s always next year.