Let it be known now and recorded on high for posterity – I am a terrible fantasy football player. I mean it. I’m really bad. Those of you who have played in fantasy football leagues with me are aware of this sports shortcoming. Maybe that is why you continue to play in leagues with me! If so, than good for you. You are obviously an opportunist and I wish you much success in life, all the while secretly cursing your name and your ability to look at this silly game objectively. Now, I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable sports fan. I watch those shows that prepare for the coming week’s schedule of games and tell you who’s hot and who’s not. I read the major columnists to see who they pick to play well. I watch games and follow up with the highlight shows. But I just can’t seem to translate that knowledge into the ability to pick the players who are going to make an impact from week to week. I’m not proud of this fact, but, as Smilin’ Jack Ross said in A Few Good Men, “These are the facts of the case. And they are undisputed.”
The first time I played fantasy football was as a senior in high school. A buddy of mine wanted to play, but didn’t want to foot the entry fee by himself, so we went halvsies. We were an unmitigated disaster. I think we won two games the entire year. I’m sure that’s why we were invited to play. We didn’t do any research. We didn’t track free agents and make timely roster moves. We didn’t pay attention to bye weeks. We focused too much on our favorite team, the Kansas City Chiefs. We simply didn’t know what we were doing. But, as massive as a failure as that first year was, two years later I was back. And two years after that, I started organizing my own league, which I have done just about every year since. About four years ago, I found a great website called “Exit 42”, operated through Fanball.com. And this year I moved my own league to ESPN.com’s free site. I no longer play for prizes or money, which means I usually play with people that have a similar interest level as my own. I’m not a crazy person, certain that players are fumbling the ball in a blatant attempt to destroy my team. I enjoy the added intrigue of having a meaningful player in a game I really don’t care about – like the Cardinals-49ers this weekend. I don’t care who wins, but I want Larry Fitzgerald to catch a touchdown pass.
My point to all this is not to convince you that I am a complete nerd, though that may be an unintended bi-product. I just want you to know that I am not a complete novice when writing about fantasy football. Since I started playing, I have won a league exactly two times. I’ve finished below .500 seven times. I have more than one team this year, but only because the ESPN site is free. However, without exception, all of my teams have terrible flaws. And I can only blame myself. I am the Los Angeles Clippers of fantasy football. I am hopeless, and yet I continue to put my team out there, cross my fingers and wait for the carnage to subside.
I am not limited to just one area of weakness that sufficiently explains my fantasy failings. Though I do more research than I did that first year, I have identified three major areas that seem to get in the way of me having a quality fantasy football team. The first is over-analysis. I don’t mind admitting that I am one of those players that, on Monday morning, realizes the “fantasy stud” player of the week spent that particular game on my fantasy bench. I’ve benched quarterbacks before five touchdown performances, running backs and wide receivers before 200 yard games and defense/special teams before four interceptions/two kick off return afternoons. It’s a painful experience to look at the “box score” of my game and realize I lost by ten, but left 30 points on the bench.
My problem here is that I look too closely at the match-ups and convince myself of imminent heroic performances and they just don’t happen. I’ll look at my fourth string running back and realize he’s playing against a team with a weak run defense and my number two back, who has been playing great all year, is going against a playoff caliber team. What do I do? Bench the Rudi Johnson’s of the world to start the Kevan Barlow’s. When Johnson goes off for two scores and 150 yards and Barlow gets replaced by Frank Gore in the 2nd quarter, I’m stuck wondering what I was thinking when I made the switch. I also get caught up in the Monday Night hype. Despite my constant claims to my wife on Sunday that I’m just “checking the score”, the Monday night game is really the one I sit down for the long haul to watch. I love having a player that is going on Monday night. I love knowing that, even though I’m behind in my fantasy game, Robert Ferguson could have a huge performance in the national spotlight for the Packers. So, I sit a consistent receiver like Keenan McCardell and then watch Ferguson get shut out because Green Bay stinks. I’m just so certain these guys are going to get excited about the big Monday Night exposure. I forget that the Monday Night games really just mess up their schedule. In my opinion, that’s one of the biggest reasons why you see so many stinkers on Monday Night Football. Professional athletes are like infants in that they work best on a consistent, well-planned and iron-tight schedule. Make them break that schedule by watching on Sunday and playing on Monday night and half the time they get cranky and spit up all over themselves. (Insert your own joke here about other ways pro athletes resemble big babies!)
My second area of weakness in fantasy football has to do with player loyalty. I assign an inordinate amount of value to a player that performed well for me a few years ago. For instance, last year, I drafted Jerry Rice, knowing full well that he wasn’t much more than a fourth receiver. I considered drafting him again this year until he retired. I can’t help it. It’s like I think he’s going to be personally offended if he’s not picked up in a certain percentage of leagues. It’s ridiculous. I have the same problem with Fred Taylor. The guy gave me one good year and four years of injuries. And, yet, I see him out there in the fifth round on draft day and I just can’t resist. What if Fred recaptures that old glory? What if, for his tenth operation, they used the $6 Million Man parts and he can go bionic during the games? I don’t want to miss that, right? So, there’s Fred Taylor, taking up space on my roster. And, a couple of times during the year, I’ll start him and he’ll have seven carries for 15 yards before straining his hamstring and sitting the rest of the game.
The corollary to this weakness is my desire to grab “flash-in-the-pan” performers the week AFTER they’ve had a huge game. This really bites me in the rear with wide receivers. You see, number three wide receivers on most NFL teams are going to average about two touchdowns and 350 receiving yards over the course of an entire year. And, because they are usually at either the beginning or end of their career, their better performances are probably going to come early. So, say I see Rams’ wide receiver Kevin Curtis grab a touchdown pass in Week 3. I logical fantasy football player would think, “That’s nice, but he’s already halfway to his season total.” But, I see Kevin Curtis, wonder if Isaac Bruce is finally done, find out that Curtis is a Mormon and a returned missionary, and suddenly he’s the re-incarnation of Steve Largent. I snatch him up and throw him in my starting lineup. By the end of the year, he’s earned me a total of 15 fantasy points while Rod Smith had amassed 80 points sitting on my bench. Not good, but I just can’t help it. I get duped by these guys every year.
So, that leaves me to my final big problem – and it comes in the form of my favorite team, the Kansas City Chiefs. I love the Chiefs. I can’t help it. I love to watch Chiefs football. I loved the Steve DeBerg years. I loved the Christian Okoye years. I loved Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Neil Smith, Derron Cherry, Derrick Thomas, Elvis Grbac, Bam Morris and Tamarak Vanover. (Okay, I didn’t love Morris and Vanover. I was afraid of them. They were thugs and that was not a happy time for Chiefs fans.) This year’s Chiefs team is no exception. Every week I have to talk myself out of picking up Sammie Parker, the small, but speedy wide out for Kansas City. “He could be awesome,” I think. “He could shock the world.” Except, he really isn’t any different than Dante Hall – an undersized receiver that is pretty easy to cover because he’s not physical enough. Plus, I get duped by Chiefs wide receivers all the time. They list these guys as the number two wide out, but in reality, Tony Gonzalez is the number one, Priest Holmes number two and Eddie Kennison number three. Anyone else just isn’t going to see the ball enough to help on a fantasy team. Why can’t I just remember that? Instead, I wait for Marc Boerigter’s break out performance so I can start him in front of a quality wide out like Jimmy Smith of the Jags. I see that arrowhead on their helmet and I assume they must be good. I’m weak when it comes to my beloved Chiefs.
So, there you have it. I’m just not good at this game. But, here’s the thing. I love to play. If I was bad at it and hated it, I would just stop. I gave up Boggle 20 years ago. I’m terrible at it, I don’t enjoy it and I refuse to play it. It makes me crazy. So I stopped. But, even though my teams are bad and even though my friends stomp me on a weekly basis, and even though it makes me doubly frustrated when the Kansas City players don’t perform, yet I still play. So, maybe it doesn’t really matter that I suck at it. Maybe the fact that I enjoy it is enough. I don’t want to be lumped into that group of fantasy players that have off-season newsletters and go to conventions in Vegas. In fact, I think non-fantasy players consider fantasy players to be the Dungeons and Dragons players of the 21st Century – a little off in the head and WAY to into the game. That’s not me. I just like picking the players, playing the game and seeing what comes next. And I’m probably going to keep trying. About every seven years, I might win a league, but if not, that’s okay. After all, it’s just fantasy. It doesn’t translate into some microcosm of my career or anything. It’s just for fun. Right?
A Hatch Christmas Concert
8 months ago