The NFL Playoffs started this week, bringing a great time of year where the NFL schedules play perfectly so every fan can watch every game. The beginning of the NFL Playoffs also symbolizes the end of the season for many fans. Not just ones whose teams didn’t make the playoffs, but for Fantasy owners everywhere. In a league with my buddies from High School, I finished 8th at 6-8, I know – I’m not proud. But it’s my family league that really gave me the best experience I have ever had in the world of Fantasy.
It’s Week 15 and the late, 8:30 game was the Cowboys-Packers. My sister and I sat down together to watch…wait a minute, WHAT?!
My sister sat down to watch football?
There are a couple things you need to know about my sister, Sarah, who’s 14. She doesn’t like football, she’s never played Fantasy Football before this season, and she doesn’t care about the New England Patriots (our home team) much less teams from Cheeseheadlandia and JerryWorld.
So what were we doing, sitting down for family time to watch two teams on the wrong side of the Ohio River?
I guess, to answer that question and understand the madness, we first have to go back to last season.
The year before, my two cousins (Jerrod and Dave) and I wanted to start a league, and my father (a self-proclaimed football ambivalent) was our fourth guy. I won the championship, maybe because I was the only one who watched football other than the Pats, but I like to think it was skill.
So of course, being the antagonistic younger cousin that I am, I trumpeted my victory for all the family to hear at every social gathering: Christmas, reunions, birthday dinners, the whole ten yards. I even re-named my team The Defending Champions (SAM) to irritate my cousin Dave. Another thing changed at the beginning of this season: we wanted to expand. The only members of my vast extended family who showed a semblance of interest was my mom (who watched every Patriots game with me) and my sister.
Things were weird from the start. Since I am the Commissioner, I set the draft for 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night, two days before the beginning of the NFL season. A few days previous, I had hosted a draft party for the ten kids in our Tim Couch Memorial League, so I had my draft strategy ready to go. I stayed out late before the draft with some friends, but of course I cruised into my driveway around 8:30, ready to take every steal of the draft without even a moment’s preparation. Seriously, my sister didn’t know the difference between Peyton Manning and Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson and Trent Richardson, or Matthew Berry and Jim Rome. My three other members of my family were –nicely characterized –fantasy novices.
We sat down on our screened in porch on a lovely fall day to get down to business. Since it was a six-person league, I knew there was going to be a lot of value-based drafting going on because, in a league with so few people, it was better to get the premiere Tight End or Defense than stockpile Wide Receivers and Running Backs because there would be so many available.
As the draft started, they seemed to know that, which surprised me. My mom had the first pick and selected Adrian Peterson. Intelligent start. At four, I snagged Jamaal Charles (hallelujah!). But then, things took a grave dive for the worse. My family started drafting sleepers and moving up to take better players at coveted positions. They were Bill Parcells and I was the Cleveland Browns when it came to this draft!
There’s one thing you should know about me: I love New Orleans Saints’ TE Jimmy Graham. His blend of size and speed, and being the only one Drew Brees looks at in the Red Zone… wow the guy is good AND so much better than every other TE in the NFL (God Bless, Gronk). I’ve had him on my squad the past three years in every league I have been in.
With the 24th overall pick in the Johnson Family League Draft, Jimmy Graham was selected, but not by The Defending Champions. It was my Mother, in a dastardly moment of maternal spite, she thieved Jimmy Graham right from my fingers tips (I had the cursor set on ESPN’s “Draft Now” button, waiting two picks later). They continued sniping my picks: Eddie Lacy and Brandon Marshall, the very turn before me. Later Dwyane Bowe was chosen two picks before and, at the time I was furious, but in hindsight: thanks, Dad! They seemed to know my very draft strategy! I was outraged. They did everything right; avoiding injury risks (Darren McFadden), being wary of scheme-change guys (Mike Wallace) and knowing of time-shares (Giovanni Bernard and Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis).
I had one question on my mind: HOW THE HELL WERE THEY DOING THIS?
I had never seen neither my dad nor my sister watch an NFL game, no less pay attention.
I wanted answers and I wanted them now. I noticed my Mother had color-coded sheets and, at first, I thought they were the standard ESPN printouts, but I noticed now it was a regular Word Document. Who was supplying them this info?
I accused nearly all of my friends, but as the draft ended, with Hakeem Nicks being Mr. Irrelevant, the story began to come out. My parents and sister had each chosen a “Coach” from my friends who played in my High School league with me. I was aghast. They pulled this all without my knowledge. My sister was coached by my friend Andy Woodward and my dad received help from Kyle Stevens, both guys I had been good friends with since kindergarten. My mom’s Coach, Erik Rolser, in particular told her my draft strategy, and, “Especially about Jimmy Graham.” The betrayal ran deep. I couldn’t believe these guys would stab me in the back to help my family. Well, I take it back, yes I could.
Side note: My mom’s drafting was particularly humorous. She told her coach Erik, “I can’t have anyone on my team with a tattoo on their face.” So in his manifesto for draft day, he highlighted each player with a face tattoo as a warning so my mother would know not to draft him. However, he attached a corollary: “Almost all defenses have guys with face tattoos, so you might just have to have one guy.”
Thus the year was off. The Defending Champions were off to an auspicious, Baltimore Ravens-esque start that included a tie. I sat a 2-2-1 at the end of week 5. (Insert a joke my dad always makes about me wearing a “tutu” at 2-2 here.)
Then the Champions began to flex. I ripped off eight straight in the victory column and ran the table en route to my division title, sitting atop with a 10-2-1 record. So I was in the playoffs, as was Cousin Dave (who I defeated for the championship last year). Cousin Jerrod finished the regular season 0-12-1, so needless to say, he was out. The last Monday night game of Week 13 (our regular season) had three players involved with implications for each of my family members. My sister, The Terrific 17ers, were 6-6; my dad, The Shawshank Inmates, were 7-5, and his opponent, Mom, The MF Good Bakers, were 6-6. There were only two playoff spots open and three competitors. It was a win-and-get-in formula. Unfortunately for my mom, the most avid Fantasy Football owner, she lost out and was ousted.
The first round pitted Dad against Cousin Dave and Sarah vs. Me, her older brother.
One of the most fun parts of Fantasy Football is the bragging and the trash-talk, here is a synopsis of trash-talking in my family league:
Me: “Sarah, your team sucks!” Sarah: “Your team sucks more!”
Me: “Mom, your team sucks!” Mom: “You can say all you want, I let my players talk on Sunday!”
Me: “Dad, your team sucks!” Dad: “Okay.”
Needless to say, it was two of the most enjoyable weeks of being a Fantasy owner I have ever had. Sarah and I were ragging on each other constantly.
After Week 14, I was in the lead 141-130 and running my mouth more than ever.
Which brings us full-circle to the Dallas-Green Bay, Week 15 game. Like I said earlier, I had Jamaal Charles, who erupted for 51 points that day. I zealously relished in Jamaal Charles looking like the Little Cowboys and dominating the Raiders/Little Giants. That, of course, was before the Little Giants got it together and ran the ‘Annexation of Puerto Rico.’ (That was an obscure reference to a 1994 film starring Rick Moranis.)
Seriously though, Charles’ 51 had me uppity all day. I received below-average production from some players, but Charles made up for it. Going into the Green Bay-Dallas game, I had a 42-point lead, with no players left. She had Dan Bailey and Eddie Lacy – I scoffed.
I soon realized I should have been very, very afraid. I watched the Cowboys ineptitude be juuuuust enough to prevent them from putting the game away, but juuuuust enough to kick field goal after field goal. Dan Bailey – a KICKER – scored 24. TWENTY FOUR. VEINTE Y CUATRO. WOW. But I was okay. The Cowboys and I were very similar – we both clung to leads by slim margins. I, the owner of a 270-269 advantage and JerryWorld clawing desperately at 36-30.
Eddie Lacy’s late touchdown plunge put the Packers on top 37-36, and simultaneously put Sarah in the lead 277-270. That is the last I saw of my Fantasy team. Two improbable comebacks, one as a result of the other, sent me into a solipsistic coma and my fantasy season to the dumpster.
I woke up the next morning at 6 A.M. for school and dragged myself out of bed to head to the shower. I stood outside the bathroom and flicked the light on. As it switched on the music started. Standing, alert and beaming, was my sister, playing ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen. I stood in my pajamas and looked up to Matthew Berry in the sky and asked WHY, WHY DID DAN BAILEY NEED TO HAVE A LEGENDARY DAY FOR A KICKER?
But for the humiliation I endured; the laughs, the jokes, and the stories have been retold since post-Christmas about my epic failure. By the way, Sarah beat Cousin Dave by 40 to take home the trophy.
Sarah and me sitting down to watch football together was a symbolic moment for us. Usually siblings within the same age are embroiled in constant battles over who needs to clean the bathroom and who needs rides where, but this was nice. Yeah, Eddie Lacy kind of ruined it, but that was one of the most fun and competitive experiences I’ve ever had with my little sister.
I think Matthew Berry was right in his book, Fantasy Life. The game brings people together, people who in ordinary circumstances would not be spending time with one another. A roommate of mine, Grant, at Boys State over the summer, said Fantasy Football brought his Uncle and Father (men who hadn’t talked in 15+ years) together and helped re-establish a relationship. My family otherwise would not have spent Sundays camped out on the couch together, yelling at games that related to us neither geographical, nor in the AFC. We yelled because of one player we picked in the 10th round was playing 50% of the snaps and we need a Hail Mary touchdown.
From the draft prep to the championship game, Fantasy Football season represents a lot more than the players on the field and the numbers on the scoreboards.