The Weird Reality of Fantasy Football
for good and ill, fantasy leagues give fans new insights into victory and defeat
One day I was listening to The Bill Michaels Show on the radio, and Michaels related a story from his younger days in sports media. Talking about having nerves while preparing to ask a question of a major college basketball coach, a veteran colleague told him that all of “this” could go away, and in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter. Unless you are a player or employed by a team or an athletic department, the axiom is true. Our fandom is just passionate entertainment.
Fantasy sports are not so good in that you now have another team – your fantasy team of players who don’t actually play together – that can lose. You have the added insult of losses being due to your own managerial incompetence. Yay, sports!
Naturally, we fans found a way to be personally upset by sports. The fantasy world that has become a Goliath this century is good in how it allows fans to engage with team building and strategizing, and opens up new methods for people to follow sports. It’s not so good in that you now have another team – your fantasy team of players who don’t actually play together – that can lose. You have the added insult of losses being due to your own managerial incompetence. Yay, sports!
My life is stressful enough as a sports fan. The city – well, Twin Cities – of my sports fandom has gone the longest of any metropolitan area in the country with franchises in the four biggest pro leagues to go without a championship. I also live in enemy territory. Not that Wisconsin fans have it much easier – an inordinate number of heartbreaking moments have befallen the Badger State sports scene in the last decade-plus.
Yet camaraderie and competitiveness are the reasons we play fantasy sports. Since 2013, I have played in a fantasy league organized by Volume One staffers. Over the years, I’ve figuratively battled the likes of Chase Kunkel and Neil Hodorowski in proxy form via Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, and other real football players, the latter having no idea of the added significance their weekly play has on our group in Eau Claire.
In 2018, I dominated our league, and in the final week, my team’s players tallied 145.2 fantasy points (through touchdowns, receptions, rushing yards, etc.) – by fantasy standards, that’s like scoring 60 points in a football game, practically a guaranteed win. Except … my opponent’s team got 155.6 points. Football sucks. Again, why do we football fans subject ourselves to new ways of experiencing tragic defeats?
Naturally, the 2019 season rolled around, and I was refreshed and ready for more. Having tickets to the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert at the Minnesota State Fair prevented me from drafting my team in-person, so I let ESPN.com’s computer rankings auto-pick for me. This actually was fine: A few years ago, I also needed the computer to pick my team for me, and I finished the season near the top of our standings.
Thankfully, the convergence of draft order and others’ drafting desires put some prime players on my roster, led by fantasy scoring machine Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers. Throughout the season, I knew when players’ teams had byes and benched those guys accordingly, and made just the right additions and drops of personnel – a veritable Brian Gutekunst, I must have been. Like 2018, my team – the creatively-named “Aesthetic Athletics” – got the top seed in our league’s playoffs, and the weekend before Christmas, I again was in the championship game, matched against “Team Manbearpigs,” a staple of our group.
It all came down to Monday Night Football: Packers at Vikings. Oh, great. All the players on my roster had played their games by then, but Team Manbearpigs had both Aaron Rodgers and a Vikings running back pending. I’d have to root against both the Packers (easy for me) and the Vikings (huh?) for my fantasy victory. Have I mentioned how fantasy football can mess with your life?
Alas, the Vikings lost to their arch-rival, but Rodgers had a so-so game and the Vikings running back did next to nothing, so my Aesthetic Athletics got more fantasy points in the title round. I won. I actually won. That night I was the most-ecstatic disappointed Vikings fan in the Upper Midwest. Yay, sports!
As the slogan goes, you have to be in it to win it. Fantasy sure can become reality – and in reality, sometimes you really do win.