Dec.1979. New York City.
Journalist Daniel Okrent and his friends were having dinner one evening, talking about the upcoming baseball season. A knowledgeable group, Okrent and his buddies discussed the league’s top sluggers, pitching depth, pennant races, projected rookie phenoms and the minutiae of baseball statistics. During the meal at Manhattan’s La Rotisserie Francaise, Okrent fantasized about being the general manager of a professional baseball team, and was convinced that he could fill the position at least more skillfully than any of his friends. But how could he prove it?
The rest of the night, through the entree and well after dessert, Okrent mapped out a blueprint of the first known rotisserie baseball league named after the restaurant where the idea was conceived.
It is unlikely Okrent, who is now a respected sports author and editor-at-large for Time, Inc., had any clue that the simple game he created to make the baseball season a little more interesting for he and his friends would turn into such a huge piece of the sports culture. Rotisserie or “fantasy” leagues span the entire sports globe, from hockey and basketball to soccer, golf, NASCAR and even the WNBA.
Probably the most popular of all fantasy sports games is the one that uses the NFL as its platform. Whether it’s casual friends gathering in a private league for fun, or obsessed fans shelling out serious cash for a chance at a big payday, fantasy football sweeps through our sports psyche every fall.
Commanding attention to detail, sharp football savvy and way too much time researching yards per rush and fg percentages, the actual games take on new meaning. Tuesday mornings are anxiously awaited, when the weekly standings are calculated and bragging rights are determined.
Participants in the fantasy leagues like to call themselves “owners.” It’s a gross exaggeration of their status. Probably a more accurate title is “squatter,” but that’s why it’s called a fantasy league.
Because fantasy teams are comprised of stars from actual NFL squads, often players on a fantasy roster are pitted directly against an owner’s favorite pro team. When this occurs, it requires an owner to do a type of “sports soul searching” and determine whether his loyalties are with the home team or the fantasy team.
Some owners keep players who are playing against their favorite squads on the bench for that week, hoping to avoid the conflict altogether. But in this particular scenario, the owner rarely comes away fully satisfied. Cases such as this expose the sometimes-bittersweet side of fantasy football.
Probably some of the best times in a fantasy league come courtesy of a familiar cast of characters that seem to show up in every league. Without them the “intrigue and unique excitement” of fantasy football might not be possible.
This is the guy who never shows up on draft day, and slows down the entire selection process by calling his picks in by phone. A player selection date is generally set far in advance so as to avoid such a fiasco. But bad traffic, visiting relatives and a date with that girl who no one likes always seem to find their way into the mix and throw the symphony of draft day into disarray.
Show Me the Money
This is the guy who never pays his league fees on time. He’s probably waiting to see if his team has a chance to win before he pays up. Sometimes a real weasel, sometimes just the forgetful type, the league commissioner always dedicates an exorbitant amount of time and effort tracking him and his checkbook down.
This is the guy who is constantly adding and dropping players to and from his roster based solely on single game performances each week. The minute an unknown “free agent” scores a touchdown, this person is there to snatch him off waivers before anyone else even knows how to spell the player’s last name. As a general rule of thumb, these acquisitions never seem to have any impact on his lineup.
The Bargain Hunter
This is the guy who constantly proposes ridiculous deals, so one-sided that even my grandmother would know to reject them in a heartbeat. For some reason Brad Johnson and Stacey Mack for Marshall Faulk does not sound absolutely absurd to this wishful thinker.
This is the guy who never checks his team or updates his roster. He’s either asleep for three months or found a cheap one-way ticket to Australia. He only showed up at the draft for the free beer and pizza. You can forget about proposing a trade to this character, because the offer will just collect dust until you get fed up and cancel it yourself.
The world of fantasy football can be utterly blissful at times and utterly devastating at others. It takes a crafty blend of knowledge, cunning, instinct, guts, logic, illogic and pure luck to be crowned fantasy league champion. While money may exchanges hands in this venture, in the end no cash prize can top the bragging rights over close friends earned from a successful fantasy season.
Gerton can be reached at email@example.com.