Welcome to the first of what I hope to be many postings in this blog relating to fantasy football and all things NFL! Of course, with the way my brain works, and with a desire to both educate as well as entertain my audience, there is the distinct possibility of random facts, figures, and asides creeping into what is SUPPOSED to be strictly about the dark mother of all addictions, fantasy football. And that is exactly what this fine "game" of ours is...an addiction. Okay, okay, I get it, heroin and crack get all the pub, and I have nothing but sympathy for those who have wandered down those dark roads. But to anyone actually reading this post in the early days of June, it seems fairly certain that you are suckling from the teat of despair that is the offseason of the NFL. Come on man, I just need a hit...gimmee some news on AP. Come on, I'm hurting real bad, man, where does Jamal Charles go in a standard 10 team league serpentine draft? I'll do anything, man, ANYTHING, just tell me your draft strategy for a 12 team two-QB league.
If you made it through the first paragraph, kudos to you. I suppose a little information about myself is in order, at least so far as it relates to my problem. This year I will be celebrating my fifteenth year of fantasy football madness. I remember well my initiation into the dark brotherhood of fantasy maniacs...I was offered a taste for free by a friend. How many addictions start off in just that way? Some friends were throwing together a league in the third week of the 1997 season. 10 team league, standard scoring. Neither of those statements meant anything to me. I had never heard of fantasy football, and was at best a casual fan of the game...I rooted for the Seahawks, was vaguely familiar with most of the other teams, but followed the home team and superstars, as most casual fans of the game do. "We need a tenth guy, you wanna help us out?" What could be the harm, I thought? Sure, I'll give it a shot.
Little did I know. We met at a local pizza joint, and our most experienced league member attempted to explain the rules, the scoring system, pickups, trades, rosters, how the draft worked...imagine teaching quantum physics to third graders. Remember, nine of the ten initial members had never heard of fantasy football, much less taken part in a league. This was before the onset of the internet age. The old paper and pencil days, when fantasy football information consisted of parsing statistics from the sports page of your local newspaper. Nobody had real cheat sheets. No one had any idea of positional importance. We were not prepared in any way for draft day. The first pick in our draft was a defense. I am not kidding.
I had spent the afternoon leading up to the draft looking over the league leaders in the USA Today. In the early days of the '97 season, no team was hotter than the Oakland Raiders, led by Jeff George...yes, that Jeff George. Having no other information available to base my choice on, I selected old Georgie with the seventh pick in the draft, and proceeded to load up on his team-mates...Napoleon Kaufman, James Jett, and Rickey Dudley made their way onto my squad. This did not end up being a terrible strategy, as Jeff George led or was near the league-lead in most statistical categories, as were Nap and Jett. But my season was made by the magic of one Kordell Stewart, drafted late, almost as an afterthought. 21 passing td's and 11 rushing td's later, and I somehow finished in second place.
I was hooked. Here was a reason to follow every team in the NFL. Not even just every team, but every player. I went from a casual fan who couldn't list the starters for the Seahawks to a junky who could tell you the fourth WR on the Buccaneers. Newspaper sports sections became my constant companion, read and re-read, attempting to glean some bit of insight, some scrap of information that would give me a leg up on my competition. I began to keep journals, collecting my thoughts, my rankings, any choice bit of info. I got organized.
Still, in the days before the internet, this information was extremely limited. I was often hurting for anything football or fantasy related, particularly during the offseason. I would go into football withdrawals, with no news for weeks. WEEKS! Could nothing save me from this despair?
Luckily for my sanity, the beginning of my addiction closely correlates to the explosion of fantasy football into a worldwide phenomenon. I soon became enraptured by the amount of preseason publications that suddenly appeared, as if from fantasy heaven. I could now buy five, six, seven or more magazines before the season began! Oh rapturous day! Fantasy reading galore! I would sit for hours, poring over predictions, statistical correlations, strategies, sleepers, etc. I could not envision anything greater than the wealth of information that had been put at my fingertips. I was in fantasy nirvana. And a little more dependent...but I could still quit any time, right? Sure I could. I just didn't want to.
At this point, my league morphed into a twelve team league, with a few years of experience under our belts. Owners became more knowledgable. Cheat sheets began to appear. The importance of runningbacks became widely apparent. Kickers and defenses became relegated to the final rounds of our draft. It became increasingly difficult to sneak your sleepers by an unsuspecting crowd of yahoo's in the twelfth round.
Though we were becoming more sophisticated, our methods of tracking our league were not. We still kept track of everything on paper. Our commissioner would have us call his answering machine (no cell phones yet, my friends, so no voice mail...his home answering machine. Some of you may not know what those are, ask your parents) with our lineups, due by sunday morning at nine a.m. Pickups were done by calling and leaving a message on wednesday morning, first come, first served...we had no waiver wire process at all. I remember leaving messages along these lines: "Hey, bud, yeah, I'll take Kurt Warner first, dropping Chad Pennington, if someone already got him, I'll take Stephen Davis, dropping Natrone Means, if nobody else called first, I'll take them both." And yes, I ended up getting both players, simply by having been the first to make a claim.
Each week, each owner would tabulate his own score in the newspaper, adding up yards, touchdowns, etc. A yellow highlighter was the tool of choice, ensuring you didn't miss any field goals, extra points, defensive scores, on and on. Then each owner would call the commissioner to check over their points with him...mistakes were often made. League scoring sheets were each owners responsibility to pick up from the commissioner's house, and were not seen sometimes for weeks at a time. Everything was handled over the phone. Seems incredible today, doesn't it? At the time, we thought we had it pretty well figured out. It just couldn't get any better than this. And I was whole-hog, fully baptised into the cult of fantasy football. Sipping the kool-aid, as it were. What could be better?
If you have seen the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, then you will be familiar with the moment when the apes touch the monolith, and human consciousness begins...I compare this to the first time I connected to the internet at home. My eyes were opened. A revelation. A miracle. Here was all the information and wisdom of the universe at my fingertips. It could be used for tremendous good, for education, for enlightenment. We could solve the worlds ills, eradicate hunger and war. We could end dictatorships and bring equality and freedom to all. We could save the world. Better still, we could quickly and easily disseminate fantasy news and statistics.
I no longer had to wait for the newspaper or some television sports show to provide me my fantasy fix. I was no longer enslaved by those controlling this information, siphoning it off into a slow, sometimes non-existent trickle. Here I had limitless access to what seemed to be practically unlimited news...freedom! I could now, fifty times a day, hop online for updates. And I did. Fifty times a day. Wait, freedom? Maybe the wrong word.
Hold on, if the internet could be used for news, could it also not be used for...gasp!...league management! Hooray! Rosters and scores and trades and waivers...oh my, my dreams are all coming true. I can now propose three hundred trades a day if I so choose! No more adding up your own scores! This internet thing is really something! I could never, ever want more for my fantasy addiction, and everything was right with the world.
Except, of course, that it wasn't. The countless hours of work I put in for preparation before the draft just increased. Used to be, a sleeper was a real sleeper. I can't tell you the amount of times I would select a player that at least a few of the owners at the draft had never even heard of before. Information was power. The most informed owner, the ones who had put the time in, had a very real advantage over those who showed up with a magazine they bought that day, unprepared. Now, those owners can hop online, minutes before a draft, and have the most up-to-date, well-researched and informed cheat sheet imaginable. From fifty different sources.
The internet has become the great equalizer. So now, instead of allowing me to relax a bit, it makes me work that much harder...finding the needles in the haystacks that lead to fantasy dominance. The factoid from OTA's that somehow slips by. The comment by a head coach about an undrafted player who is making waves at rookie camp. My level of involvement climbs again, my workload increases, until the payoff of the draft (best day of the year, bar none) and the beginning of the regular season.
As wonderful and downright magical as the 17 weeks of the regular season are, they, of course, eventually come to an end. The playoffs sooth, to an extent, but after the Super Bowl, my world collapses. I begin to hunger. I am temporarily sated by the beginning of free agency. The release of the schedule. The NFL draft. Mini-camps. OTA's. I love each and every one of these events with a passion and fervor that rivals nationalism for intensity. But even these are merely brief oases in the desert that subsumes the approximately eight months between kickoffs. For God's sakes, can September get here any more slowly?
So I search. I sift. I pull my favorite sites up. Again. And again. Anything new? Anything? What's up with AP and his wind-sprints? Kenny Britt? Jamal Charles? How will Peyton Hillis eat into his workload? Who got first team reps between Doug Martin and Legarrette Blount? Between Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson, and Russell Wilson? Between Matt Hasslebeck and Jake Locker? How's the velocity on Peyton Manning's throws? Has he been targeting Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas more frequently? How will RGIII perform in Shanahan's system, and what kind of impact can we expect? What about the impact of Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson in Tampa? Brandon Lloyd in New England? How is Chris Johnson looking? How will Steve Hutchinson impact his value? Can Ryan Mathews really carry the load? Can Cam repeat his success? These and countless other questions just like them try my soul, drive my passion, and increase my hunger to know the answers, before anybody else, and better than anybody else.
To those of you who know the hunger, I welcome you. If you find yourself loading up your favorite fantasy news site...for the fifteenth time today...on June 3...I salute you. If you find yourself taking serious notes on the uninformed musings of an unknown beat writer from Tempe, or even on those wispy and ethereal "team sources," about depth charts and sleepers before training camp has even begun, I embrace you. We are brothers, bound together by the mania that is fantasy football. I hope to help by giving you some release, some news, some laughs, some common, shared experiences. Most of all, though, I simply hope to give you something to look at, until football rolls around, and we can get down to business. Thanks for reading, I hope to talk to you soon.