I've hardly paid any attention to this year’s NFL season.
I wrote previously about how I’ve replaced my football fandom with cheering for Duke’s bevy of non-revenue sports, whose games this season have had more than enough action, suspense and drama to sufficiently fill my football void.
Yet another huge reason that I'm not paying attention to the NFL is that this is one of the first years I haven’t participated in fantasy football in recent memory.
Columnist Danny Nolan wrote two weeks about the ups and downs of his fantasy football team. His column evoked memories of my own fantasy football career, which abruptly ended after my senior year of high school.
Without fantasy football, I miss having a vested interest in other teams aside from my 3-4 Eagles (who just lost to the Cowboys in horrifying fashion). I miss scanning the internet for key matchups to help me set my lineup every Saturday night. I miss running into the other members of my league, talking to them about their opponent of the week and—if they were my opponent—trash talking them before our game.
Quite simply, I miss fantasy football a lot.
I first entered the fantasy football world in ninth grade, almost by accident. Twelve boys in my grade had formed a league, and one of the members had suddenly dropped out. A few days before the draft, they came up to my locker at school and asked me to join in his place.
It was true—I had absolutely no idea what fantasy football even meant. It couldn’t be that bad, 14-year-old me thought. What could be so bad about something with the word “fantasy” in it? So I decided to become the 12th member of the league.
It turned out to be really bad. Remember AOL Instant Messaging? Well, the night of the draft, I was in a chat room with the other guys in the league, asking them advice during each round. Their advice led me to make the following selections:
Round 1: Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis Colts. Yes, I picked Vinatieri sixth overall. I quickly learned that rule number one of fantasy football is never to pick a kicker before the last round.
Round 2: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengels. He began the season injured. I had my suspicions at the time as to what the Red Cross symbol next to his name meant, but the guys convinced me that he was a top wide receiver. He didn't make it on the field for weeks.
Round 3: Matt Hasselbeck, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks. The guys told me that he was coming off a really good season, and I thought the Seahawks logo was cool. I did not predict that Hasselbeck would suffer two injuries during the year and relinquish the position to Seneca Wallace for half the season.
So I started off pretty badly, going 0-3 to open the season. My horrible draft and subsequent defeats only confirmed my position in the league—as a permanent fixture at the bottom of the standings.
However, my fortunes changed week four. I still had no idea what I was doing, but I decided that there needed to be major changes made within my team. As I was looking over the available free agent quarterbacks, I found one new name: Drew Brees.
I’m not going to pretend I picked up Brees because I knew he would finish 15 yards short of Dan Marino’s passing yard record. I didn’t know that he would average more than 300 yards a game or was going to be named the 2008 AP Offensive Player of the Year, either.
The real reason I picked up Drew Brees: I googled him and thought he was attractive.
But Brees, along with a recovered Houshmandzadeh and a rookie named Matt Forte, led "Dani's Team Rox Ur Sox" (yes, that was my team's name—please remember I was 14) to an 8-1 record to finish the season. And on Monday, Dec. 28, 2008, I woke up as the champion of my fantasy football league.
I joined the same league again during my sophomore and senior years of high school (I sat out junior year because that was “The Year That Mattered” for college). I came in second and third place, respectively, and graduated high school having earned the respect of the other members of my league.
Last year I again didn’t participate in a league. My high school league had been disbanded, and I was too distracted while starting my freshman year of college to seek one out at Duke.
But this year, I joined a survival pool with my dad. Essentially, we select one team to win each week. If they win, we pick another team the next week; if they lose, we’re eliminated. It’s week eight, and, out of 288 contenders who started in the pool, my dad and I are one of 61 left.
The survival pool is the way my dad and I stay connected between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and I love that it's something we do together. Yet, its win-and-move-on format isn’t enough to make me not miss fantasy football anymore. Although I want the teams of the other members of the office pool to lose, I don’t care enough to watch those games. I only root for the team I chose that week (and the Eagles, too, but my dad and I have yet to choose the Eagles and don’t plan on it). I miss being glued to the TV for the entirety of my Sundays, keeping an eye on a different player on almost every team.
Duke sports are fun to watch, and advancing in the survival pool is fun too, but the thrill of fantasy football is something that they haven't been able to replace. There’s something special about the combination of intricately keeping track of football games while simultaneously praying to the football gods that insane scenarios will work in your favor—that your running back will rush 50 yards but will be stopped just before the end zone so the opposing defense, which is also on your roster, won’t surrender a touchdown.
Both of those aspects are apparent in Duke sports and my survival pool, but never at the same time. I keep track of all the statistics of any given Blue Devil sporting event I’m covering for the Chronicle, yet I have to be unbiased and stop myself from willing them to win. Meanwhile, in my survival pool, I was overjoyed that the Falcons beat the Buccaneers last week, but I didn't care about how individuals performed. The mixture of both these aspects is unique to fantasy football, where I can both play God in assembling my roster and pray to God that everything works out in my team’s favor.
I know it’s week eight, but is it too late to join anyone’s league? I'll even take another kicker in the first round.