Fantasy Football: Fandom Fail

January 4, 2012
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The highlight of my inaugural fantasy football experience was picking my team name. The ten league participants were academics, and our leader cleverly dubbed us the Acafantasy group. We were invited with the lure that we could give our teams TV-related names and play in divisions dubbed Dillon and East Dillon. I went with McKinley High Mathletes. I was quite pleased with this as a marker of my Freaks and Geeks fandom, plus I liked the fact that it connoted competition among academics, and I also loved that the team slogan it lent me sounded like football: First block! Yes, that was the high point; it was mostly turnovers and injuries from there.

I’ve always been a passionate sports fan, and my dad instilled in me the principle of picking one team per sport to root for and sticking with them for life. I grew up in the Chicago area, so that’s had its upsides (the Bulls) and downsides (the Cubs). Rooting for anyone other than the Chicago Bears in pro football has never been an option I’ve entertained. But by participating in fantasy football, I’d have to mostly root for anyone but the Bears, or more precisely, its individual players.

Our group opted for a computer-generated draft, and when I saw the team assigned to me, I had some pleasant surprises – I got the Bears defense! – and some dismaying ones – I got Michael Vick. I’ve thought back on who is the most detestable athlete I ever rooted for simply because he was on “my team,” and I come up short of Michael Vick with every name. Sammy Sosa went sour, but public awareness of that came largely after he left the Cubs. Dennis Rodman is a creep, but he was more charmingly wacky in his Bulls days. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler frowns excessively, but that’s no crime. So having dog killer Michael Vick on the Mathletes probably put me in my most awkward sports-rooting situation ever.

It was also my oddest experience of fandom ever, because it meshed fandom and anti-fandom. Fantasy league players are matched up against another group member each week to earn the highest point total, which means you end up rooting not just for your players but against the ones yours are matched against. It would be as if you’re invested in Sons of Anarchy but need for Breaking Bad to stink that week for it to truly pay off for you. Or more accurately, you need Charlie Hunnam to fake anger more expertly than Aaron Paul. And, because friends of yours are running those other teams, it’s as if Kurt Sutter is rooting for Vince Gilligan to fail (perhaps a bad example; Sutter might do so). You’re even rooting for players you didn’t start to flop so you don’t regret passing on them, akin to hoping for Julianna Margulies to perform poorly in a Good Wife episode because you didn’t have time to watch it. Of course, this is less like fandom and more like gambling, with the expected stress and alcoholism attached.

So I rooted for the dice to come up Vick, and they mostly did…until he got hurt. I can only assume that the karma of violating my long-held anti-dog killing principles started to reverberate at that point. Halfway through the season, to make the fantasy experience less miserable and more like traditional fandom of rooting for lovable things, I traded for the Chicago Bears’ stellar running back Matt Forte. He promptly forgot how to run fast and then went down with a season-ending injury. He wasn’t alone; across four weeks, I lost five starters to major injuries, including Vick. I started to think I should drop all of my players out of concern for their future ability to frolic with their children after retirement. The final indignity came when I lost a late-season matchup to someone not paying attention and starting a player who wasn’t even suited up. Watching the usually glorious NFL RedZone channel that day was like being poked repeatedly with a sharp stick, every cut to a new sequence of plays reminding me where I went wrong, the ticker a loop of regret.

When all was said and calculated, I actually finished the season among the top points-earners in the Acafantasy group but was relegated to fifth place thanks to matchup losses, so had no trophy to show for it. I felt like Community, ranked high in most critics’ Best lists but unmentioned at the Emmys. (Though I was quite happy that The Perd Hapleys won the group. Ya’ heard?) In the end, I decided that I didn’t like the fan that fantasy football created in me. I rooted against the Bears. I rooted for a dog killer. I rooted against friends. I listened to radio shows that spent hours debating if Beanie Wells should start over BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Next year I’ll just go back to rooting for my Chicago Bears, no fantasy fandom involved. There will still be regrets, and Jay Cutler will frown excessively, but at least I can watch RedZone with contentment again.


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3 Responses to “ Fantasy Football: Fandom Fail ”

  1. Noel Kirkpatrick on January 4, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    I participated in the same Acafantasy league as Chris.

    Like you, I got suckered into this by the promise of using TV as a source of team names (I was the Sky Bisons) and then having to go from there had me at a complete loss.

    I knew nothing about football, except that it dominates TV during the fall on Saturdays (college) and Sundays (professional), and this year was going to push back the start time of my beloved The Good Wife every single week. And despite coming in second in our league, I still have no idea what a running back is or what a wide receiver does (don’t explain to me, I don’t care).

    But it boiled down to pure luck for me, as I had no teams I rooted for in any capacity (my mother was disappointed I didn’t have anyone from New England on my team), and instead sought out advice from people I knew who watched football or, after an early run of being undefeated, byes and injuries came in, forcing me to figure out who got to play. And, basically, I just looked at project points of the free agents and went with them.

    I will say this made the experience more clinical, and near the end, in the time running up to our playoffs, something of a drag for me. I had started losing a fair bit, and it was less fun. I was also in a weird place of half-heartedly rooting against other people’s teams (particularly the Saints in the championship game), and given that there was nothing invested in this beyond a charitable donation, it felt a little odd.

    And so I’ll probably not to do another fantasy league again. Unless, of course, Myles starts that fantasy curling league, and then I’m totally in.

  2. Jason Mittell on January 4, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    As another Acafantasy participant (The Heisenberg Helmets – we are the team that knocks!), I was also bummed by the outcome. I’ve played fantasy before, and even won one of the leagues I was in last year, but the randomness of matchups this year highlighted how the game creates the illusion of agency & skill, only to depend nearly exclusively on the luck of the draw. And Chris highlights the frustrations for conventional fandom – even though I had Tom Brady as my QB1, I often had to root against him throwing to Welker or Gronk if my opponent had them. No fun at all, and I’m done playing fantasy…

    … Unless Chris launches a fantasy TV league based on actor performances. You could draft a line-up of 5 performers, and define a quantifiable performance trait (Aaron Paul says “bitch”; a shot of Archie Panjabi’s boots; Matt Smith changes directions while walking). That’d be fun!

  3. Derek Kompare on January 4, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Great account! I’m glad my NFL fandom is relatively shallow, so I wasn’t plagued by as much anti-fandom angst. I do always draft a former Arizona Wildcat, though, and luckily for me this season his name was Rob Gronkowski. My team (Wall of Shatner) came in third in our little six-team SMU league, but swept the top-ranked team for the season.

    You know you’ll play again next season, but you might want to do something about that football karma! Is there a goat you can parade around your front yard to lift the curse?