In November, the refresh button on my iPhone never sees more action than it does on Sundays, which can only mean one thing: I have a fantasy football team, and it’s almost playoff time, bitches.
I grew up watching (and enjoying) football in a Giants-loyal family. Even when I was living abroad, I would stay up until 2:30 am to watch the Sunday afternoon games—although I drew the line at the 8 pm games. In college, I agreed to join a friend’s fantasy football team, but I mostly forgot about it, and by mid-season, I had conceded the bottom position for my team, the New York Sandwiches.
Let’s briefly pause and try and define the complex she-beast of a hobby that is Fantasy Football. And by that I mean let’s all visit its Wikipedia page, which concisely defines FF as “an interactive competition in which users compete against each other as general managers of virtual teams built from real [NFL] players.” Essentially, in a private league of usually 10-14ish people, each participant, or “owner,” builds a team of NFL players, whose real-life performances on a given Football Sunday (or Thursday night, or Monday night) are converted using a standardized scoring system into Fantasy points for the Fantasy Team that that player inhabits. Players from your FF “team” can be from any real NFL team—say, a wide receiver from the Buffalo Bills, another from the New England Patriots, a tight end from the New York Jets, and the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders. Each league’s draft takes place right before the NFL’s regular season commences, and the season goes until Week 16 of the NFL season. Every weekend, the scores of all the football players in a FF team add up to that owner’s total for the week. These made-up Fantasy teams exist only in their designated league, which could be comprised of friends, coworkers, acquaintances who were looking for extra members, or complete randos. More explanation below—please stick with me on this; I swear it’s fun.
After that losing Fantasy season in college, I kind of gave it up on the grounds that it was too time-consuming and that I would never remember to set my team every week. But earlier this fall, my cousin emailed me to ask if I would be interested in joining her friend’s league. The buy-in was $10, she said, and the draft was that night. After some deliberation, mostly about what clever team name I would choose, I agreed; the buy-in was low, and it would give me something to do while my boyfriend was meticulously honing his own Fantasy team. If you’ve had the good fortune of never sitting through a Fantasy draft, I’ll explain: like the NFL draft (minus the zillions of dollars, minus the suits and yammering commentators, plus a congealing Lean Cuisine on your kitchen table), each participant (AKA owner) takes turns selecting a football player for sixteen rounds, eventually filling each teams’ sixteen slots.
Offensive players are the only ones who count individually in most Fantasy Football leagues (sorry, Clay Matthews). Running backs (who run the ball down the field), wide receivers (who catch the ball, often in spectacular fashion), tight ends (who double as blocker/smashers and ball catchers), quarterbacks (who throw the ball) and kickers (the white guys) earn Fantasy points by either gaining yards or scoring points. Additionally, each NFL team’s entire defense fills one slot, losing Fantasy points for touchdowns scored by the other team and gaining them for scoring points in plays like a “pick-six,” which is that thing you do when you’re really hungry and a full tray of hors d’oeuvres passes by.
Every week, you play one quarterback, three wide receivers (WR), two running backs (RB), one tight end (TE), one kicker, one defense, and one “flex” slot, which you can fill with either a WR, RB, or a TE. Before that week’s football starts, you shift around those slots with your sixteen players depending on who’s hot, who has a bye-week, who’s injured, who’s on a sucking streak, etc. Then you go head-to-head with another owner and their team. To be clear, unless some of your players happen to be playing some of the other team’s players that weekend, your teams will have no direct interaction with each other, à la some kind of Mortal Kombat-esque duel arena. In real life, these football players do not care about your Fantasy team. Another factor to consider is whom each player is going up against; for example, if you have a WR like Antonio Brown who typically puts up high numbers but this Sunday is going up against formidable dreamboat Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns, you can expect that his numbers will probably be lower than average, and you might swap him out for a less reliable receiver—say, Alshon Jeffrey, who plays for the Chicago Bears and, omg, was born in the nineties. Throughout the season, you can also trade players with other teams and “sign” unsigned players by dropping one of your own. After a season’s worth of matches, you stand to win whatever pot has been determined by the league, usually ranging from a hundred dollars to a few thousand.
Here’s how a typical Sunday goes for an active Fantasy Football participant: around noon, you do one last check of your players on your FF app or on the league’s host site (typically ESPN, CBS Sports or Yahoo!), making sure the injury statuses haven’t changed, taking into account that some of your players may have played on Thursday and their positions (either benched or active to score Fantasy points) are unchangeable. Then before you can say “pass the nachos,” the 1 o’clock games begin, then the 4 o’clocks, then the 8 o’clocks, and suddenly it’s nighttime and you wonder what kind of contribution you could have made to society if football Sunday didn’t exist.
How frequently you check your Fantasy scores depends weekly on the company you keep. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the universe, I generally watch football with other Fantasy-ers, so we all spend the day continually shifting our gaze between the wall-mounted TV screens and the live-updating Fantasy phone apps in our hands until our necks are sore and our thumbs are bleeding.
For the record, my team name is Nerds (I gave up on the clever thing), I stand to win about $100, and at the time this article is being written, I am in second place, having been recently knocked out of the top spot by a Wes Welker ankle injury and an unforeseen 30+point performance by the normally ‘meh’ Tayvon Austin. My quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3) is prone to injury, but his numbers have been mostly good. While pretending not to care about competitive hobbies like these is generally my M.O., secretly I really, really want to win.
FANTASY FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS UPDATE:
When my team entered the three-week Fantasy playoffs, I won the first two rounds handily, thanks to a well-timed pickup of hotshot Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. But, sadly, I was just barely beaten in Week 16, AKA Fantasy Super Bowl Week, by one stupid running back in the very last football game of the weekend. And for those of you who still don’t think that Fantasy Football can be thrilling, consider that I was one (dropped) Josh Gordon touchdown pass away from taking the whole damn thing. My second-place winnings were $20, which makes a total condolence profit of $10. Alas.
Nevertheless, I am hooked. Despite way too many hours squandered on stat-crunching, this new convert will see you next year, Fantasy Football. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go buy a book.
P.S. If you’re reading this in late-summer 2014, you’re just in time to sign up for a league! (Also: Did American Hustle win the Best Picture Oscar? Are Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un still friends? Who’s the President?) Here are some links for creating a FF league or joining an existing one:
See you on the field!! And by that I mean the Internet.
Photo by Alyssa Kurtzman