Every second weekend in September, pro football fans welcome the beginning of the NFL season.
While most eyes are glued to their television sets on Sundays, those are not the only games in town. The “Gorilla Mob” faces off against “Rico Suave.” Other teams playing include, “FAVREFGNUGEN,” “Sacks and the City,” and “The Big Tebow-ski.” Don’t go scrolling through the guide looking for these games because they cannot be found on TV. The contests in question will be played out on a gridiron in cyberspace.
This is the game within the game: Fantasy Football.
It’s Wikipedia page says that fantasy sports in general came to be around 1960, but the modern game began in 1980 with the creation of Rotisserie League Baseball. “Owners” drafted a team of active pro players and tracked their statistics during the current season. The game took its name from La Rotisserie Francaise, a New York City restaurant where some of the participants used to congregate. By the late 80’s the idea spread to other sports, creating the hype that exists today.
Men, women, and children get involved in the spectator sport that puts friend against friend and brother against sister. According to Ask.com, each fall up to 35 million people participate in some type of fantasy football league. Fantasy sports took off by way of the Internet. Sites like ESPN and Yahoo make big bucks hosting various leagues throughout the year. Individuals can play for free or spend hundreds of dollars for their football fix. There’s the “Pick ‘Em” style league where players simply guess the winners for that week’s games. More sophisticated contests have contestants also choose the point spreads. Next, there are “Suicide” leagues in which a player selects a winner of one game per week. Winners continue playing as long as they guess correctly, but the catch is that after choosing the first winner, contestants cannot pick that team again for the remainder of the season.
Those types of leagues are entertaining but the big daddy of them all is “Head-to-Head” style. Knowledge of players, statistics, injuries, and league trends is put to the test week after week. This type of league is popular because even though players don’t get to suit up on Sunday, it gets very competitive. Also, it is interactive, so the owners have a chance to get to know each other. It all starts at The Draft. One option is a web draft, but it can be difficult to get all of the players in front of a computer at the same time. Besides, a live draft 7M points because it usually involves food, good conversation about players, and the fair share of trash talk. The live draft also presents a chance to size up the competition by seeing what skills (or lack of) people have as general managers. Will he take a running back with the first pick? Why’d she wait so long to get a QB? Did this guy just draft another tight end? These questions and more come up during a draft.
Despite all the good times, fantasy football can make an individual look inside of his or herself. Long time allegiances to teams, hometowns, and family trees go out the window when his fantasy squad is trailing by 5 points and the wide receiver fumbles the ball at the 1. This game bring into question loyalty and values. Those who have played fantasy football have been faced with the decision of starting a quarterback who is interception prone against the best defense in the league. But in “real life,” this QB happens to play for the team they have rooted for since childhood. The heart says, “Go ahead and start him. He’ll show up for me today.” On the contrary, the GM inside who paid $100 to get in this league says, “Not a chance. Go with the backup.”
On values, the idea of winning as a team is a distant memory. Fantasy is about individual players getting as many points as they can. A guy runs across the goal line for a touchdown and several patrons in a sports bar cheer like they won the championship. Taking a glance at the score, you notice that the scoring team trails the opponent 35-14. Right then you know that those fans have that player in their fantasy lineup. The actual score means nothing, but to them that touchdown means a win or loss in that week’s fantasy match-up.
Not to get too heavy, but competitive sport brings out the best and worst in people. Character is put to the test when individuals square off against an opponent. Whether its grass stained pants while running with a ball – or a beer mug and a laptop – Sundays are made for gladiators.