From the Wallingford Branch
For years, I rejected the idea of Fantasy Sports. I sat for many Sundays with friends, watching football, rooting for my teams (Vikings, Broncos, Seahawks, in that order), making ridiculous predictions about playoffs and touchdowns and Super Bowls. And I would watch my friends crumple in disgust or fist pump in ecstatic jubilation with each touchdown or field goal or missed catch. It removed the idea of rooting for a team and replaced it with rooting for players. To me, it seemed the first act of teamlessness, a nation of wanderers, losing the friendly (and not so friendly) rivalries between cities, states, families. The great galvanizer, the great destroyer: Sports. The other issue I had with Fantasy sports, especially Fantasy Football, was the time commitment. My friends spent hours and hours during the week, pouring over stats and injury reports and matchups. Often, these friends of mine knew more about Adrian Peterson or Shaun Alexander than they knew about their significant others. I even witnessed a breakup over Fantasy Football. I thought, “Of all the ridiculous things to break-up over, Fantasy Football would be, perhaps, the most ridiculous.” If I remember correctly, they got back together, but needed to patch a few things up (mainly, the amount of time spent worrying about fractions of points and matchups and lineups). I vowed to stay away, and with grad school, it was easy to find other things to do. Frankly, I was lucky to be able to watch a game or two on the weekends, if that. There was just too much to do and see. Cut to yesterday. I had my laptop up, the TV on, my cell phone, my iPad, all of them spewing statistics as my fantasy players dropped passes, fumbled, scored touchdowns, caught passes, and did all the other things football players do on a game-day basis. I was updating and reloading and working out how many points I needed to beat my opponent, and I was watching teams I didn’t care about just to see how the players would perform. I stood on the precipice, stared down into the vast abyss of Fantasy Football, numbers and matchups and stats swirling below me, ghost-like hands reaching up to pull me in. Of course I jumped. How could I not? And it was everything I expected. And I was woefully underprepared. I’m loving every single second of it. Because it isn’t just a game. It isn’t that I ‘own’ Peyton Manning in one of my leagues. It isn’t that I spend more time now reading and thinking about Fantasy sports that I do about most other things. No, what I’ve discovered is this: Fantasy Sports is like Shakespeare. It’s a drama, a comedy, a tragedy, all and once and forever. It is better than any fiction you could find. It has everything we crave in our entertainment these days: feuds, benchings, spectacular feats of athleticism, luck masquerading as fact. Each week, men grab a tiny oddly shaped ball and run around on a field, with 70,000+ people yelling and screaming and carrying on. Injuries ruin seasons. Dumb luck looks like brilliance if a player has a good year. ‘Sure Things’ are often shown to be nothing more than a fluke. It is everything we want out of a story, and I’d never realized it. We need story-lines to occupy our minds, allowing us to dream and invent and scratch it out and redraft. Every year we get another chance to win the league. Every year we’re able to start fresh, before everything goes careening off a cliff in a fireball or is paved in gold and encrusted in diamonds. We can make up scenarios and play them out in our heads hundreds and thousands of times over, each ending with a slightly different outcome. We can reign supreme amongst our friends for an entire year if we’re league champion, or we’ll wallow in the last-place finish. And any of us could be any of those things. One injury, one breakout season, and the entire league changes. Yes, yes, of course, the time and energy and the billions of dollars that are pumped into Fantasy Sports every year are out of this world. We could solve so many of the problems we face with that money. It seems, often, to be absolutely the weirdest, strangest thing. And at the same time, it brings people together, gives us something to talk about, a weekly soap opera that we don’t have to call a soap opera. It allows us our imaginations, which is something we need to be using more often. So if this is for imagination, if it means I continue to think outside the box, analyze and speculate and wish and hope and dream, tasting defeat and winning week in and week out, I’m in. I want to be in all of the leagues. And boy, am I sure happy I took a chance on Peyton Manning. At least, this week.