Sometime over the course of the past few weeks you’ve had to tell your wife/girlfriend/significant other that you wouldn’t be home for dinner because you had a (here’s where your eyes dart and voice trails off) fantasy football draft.
“What?” she said. “Quit mumbling. It sounded like you said fantasy football draft. You’re still doing that dumb thing?”
That question has baffled me for the nearly two decades I’ve been playing fantasy. When my wife asks me why I still do it, my typical response is to hem and haw, attempt to mutter something about strategic thinking.
It’s hard to articulate why.
Is it the chance to win money? Sure, but unless you’re in a hillbilly oil tycoon league, the stakes are probably pretty low.
Bragging rights are cool, but then again you have no one to brag to because no one outside your league wants to hear about your fantasy football team, asshole (emphasis theirs).
Is it the competition to have the most clever team name? Nope, that’s not it. Definitely not it. (“No but really, Caught Red Hernandez is hilarious. It’s crazy how your brain just came up with that. I know, you should definitely write for Saturday Night Live.”)
I could never quite put my finger on it. But then it dawned on me.
While all of the above are worthwhile pursuits, they don’t capture the true essence of fantasy football.
The real case for fantasy football is reconnecting with the random bunch of old friends, acquaintances, and general weirdos you’ve been stuck in a league with for 12 years now.
How did this happen? How is it that you’re still in a league where at least two of the team owners are thirtysomethings living in their mom’s basement, and no less than four sell weed to supplement their lost income from online poker shutting down?
Simple, because once you’re in a fantasy league, you’re in it for good. It’s like joining a gang, only minus the ritualistic savage beatings required for initiation. You can’t leave behind the guys keeping it real down in the trenches for a fantasy league with your lame co-workers who still creepily insist that you join them for “shooters” at Buffalo Wild Wings every Friday. Did Vinny Chase abandon Turtle, Johnny Bananas, and E Money when he left Queens Boulevard for Hollywood? OF COURSE NOT! If he did, we wouldn’t have Entourage, and without Entourage…I’m sorry I don’t want to think about life without Entourage. Nor do your co-workers. I apologize for the analogy and the digression.
With fantasy, you’re stuck with those same 11 guys you forged a bond with back in ‘99 when Sunday routines included yelling at your sister to get off the goddamned phone so you could use AOL to look up scores. Thee fantasy football bond is ironclad. We’ve had two owners’ marriages fall apart since we moved our fantasy league online way back when, yet our league remains intact.
Part of the appeal is that what-should-be-awkward-but-somehow-isn’t moment where you see everyone at live drafts, and, even though it‘s been a year since you’ve last hung out, you don’t miss a beat and immediately start talking shit about who got fatter and who got balder. There’s comfort in that. It doesn’t matter that none of us really give a shit about each other anymore; we feign interest during the football season for the sake of the league.
Fantasy leagues keep us grounded. They are our connection to lifestyles our wives hold in contempt, but we secretly wished we lived. Your co-worker’s not going to have any funny stories about how it’s total bullshit that his stripper girlfriend still charges him for lap dances. That I promise.
So as you begin a fantasy season anew, take a moment to appreciate the people from your past you’re still inexplicably somehow stuck with. They aren’t going anywhere, and neither are you. If only all relationships were this easy.