Behind the trash-talking and number-crunching, what defines the best leagues are those driven by a sense of community and commitment.
People generally dislike hearing about one’s fantasy football merits and woes. The notion of owning players and moving them like chess pieces or trading cards is an infantile crapshoot. The most exciting thing you did as the protagonist in your Monday morning co-worker narrative: start or sit the right or wrong professional football player, most likely on an app.
The fantasy football anecdote has become the counterpart to finding really great Thai takeout on Yelp.
That’s because conversational framing is misguided. What differentiates fantasy football from Magic: The Gathering is the transcendent, diverse bundle of human capital that coalesces over seasons into a league of hateful rivals.
But then it becomes important—not a league, but a community. A tie that binds.
My buddy Joey’s dad suffered a stroke, and Joey named his team “The LGB” (his father’s initials). He then made an emotional run to finish in the money. Longtime league fixture Gerren got unexpectedly laid off, ran into health problems, and stockpiled uninsured hospital bills; we voted to collectively subsidize his entry fee on draft night because what’s the 45 Fam league without the DFW Legacy franchise?
Like yours, my league rules because it’s a collection of neurotic sociopaths driven by the Id. There’s class warfare and race baiting and deeply personal open wounds and an esoteric trophy. Years of anarchic self-governance—like when my friend and early adopter McKnight got talked into trading Priest Holmes for Fred Smoot at a house party—has fostered reactionary, efficient governing models with budget-balancing treasurers, social chairs, rotating commissioners, and majority-dependent provisions.
Here’s why I play fantasy football.
Jose and Josh
Our league dates back to high school and boasted not one, but two brown kids with parents who owned and operated gas stations. Josh is Pakistani; Jose is El Salvadorian. A good way to piss them off come game day is to refer to them as Mexicans.
Josh is lanky and used to work the cell phone kiosk circuit at Barton Creek Mall; give him a ring if you want to buy discounted car stereo equipment that he may or may not have stolen from you. Jose is short and went on to take over that iconic Shell station in South Austin; he’s the kind of dude who creates scary accurate-looking avatars of his likeness in UFC video games.
Josh is the 16-team league’s defending champ. Jose took Tom Brady number one overall going into 2007 and is still happy to tell you all about it. Every league needs a snake and a rat.
The most difficult fantasy opponent is the camp counselor, dad-like owner who dispenses wisdom and never gets rattled because of his worldly perspective. I met Justin in college, and he became the first of several privileged, educated players our league would incorporate. Perhaps nowhere in America is there more palpable resentment and aggression between the blue and white collars.
Justin was one of those dudes you’d see smiling on student union pamphlets about campus life. He won it all in his controversial rookie season and, more importantly, began an annual airing-of-grievances tradition when he sent us a fuming, post-win email with the subject line, “Pu**y Ass League.”
Often referred to by original commissioner Percy “Xavier” Rhines as “my favorite white dude,” Evan spent his time in the 45 Fam as an incompetent but vital fair-weather political ally. Every nascent league has an Evan: They do business with the wrong people and wind up face down in a student housing hot tub. Eventually, their managerial style becomes wholly detrimental, and they get voted out.
Evan pulled a 2008 Detroit Lions that same fall, and rejoined the league recently after a four-year ban. He became a San Francisco Giants season ticket holder, in large part because football became too painful a hobby.
The next time fantasy football comes up organically at work elsewhere, lean on the human element and dispense reflective ballads about crazy people disagreeing. Tell your league’s story in vignettes that have nothing to do with the Houston Texans’ defense.
That’s really what it’s all about.
Sleeper picks: Week 8
I’d start these players Sunday with confidence in leagues with at least 10 owners. To be painfully obvious, never bench a stalwart fixture, but work these guys in if you have a shaky spot in your lineup.
- Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
- Rashad Jennings, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins
- Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans
- Donnie Avery, WR, Indianapolis Colts
- Anthony Fasano, TE, Miami Dolphins
- Josh Gordon, FLEX, Cleveland Browns
The New England secondary is comically terrible, and Sam Bradford is going to find himself in a circumstantial shootout. This is the NFL’s annual ambassador game in London;St. Louis flew in Tuesday morning and will be the symbolic home team. Moreover Bradford’s been hampered this season by the lack of a reliable target after Danny Amendola’s collar bone injury, but he’s liking deep threat Chris Givens more and more, and his field stretching frees up rising number one Brandon Gibson. More than anything, the Patriots can’t stop anyone, and there’s no reason to assume that won’t kill them all season.
Rashad Jennings was a popular handcuff draft pick because of Maurice Jones-Drew’s contract issues, and he looked rock solid in pre-season. With Jones-Drew’s foot injuries keeping him out indefinitely, expect Jennings to be the guy the rest of the way. Daniel Thomas, it turns out, has only suffered one concussion. Coming off a bye, plan for a goal line touchdown.
Kendall Wright is sneaky good. He’s the Titan receiver you want because he’s the most targeted (55, good for 16th in the NFL). Donnie Avery is likewise getting consistent looks, and this should be the week they culminate with a score given the shootout forecast for Indianapolis-Tennessee (division rivals, poor defenses, a dome).
Baylor rookie Josh Gordon is the only competent receiver in Cleveland, and this week’s opponents—the San Diego Chargers—are elite against the run. The Browns will have to throw to stay in it. I won my league’s 2009 title behind Anthony Fasano; you can always budget him for 6-10 points. It’s an aggressively pedestrian box score, but he will never goose egg your team.
Photo via Sam Bradfrod-Future of the St. Louis Rams/Facebook
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