by Eric Paolini
The NFL season is just around the corner. Football teams are currently in training camp and getting ready for their first pre-season game. Players are participating in two-a-days, rookies are being hazed, and fans everywhere are preparing for fantasy drafts.
Football has many more layers than just watching games on Sunday afternoons. There are Thursday night games, Monday night games, and an occasional Saturday night game to watch. But there is even more than that. Pre-game shows, post-game shows, analysis of Sunday's games on Monday, analysis of Monday's game on Tuesday, articles, podcasts, radio shows, etc.
But for the even more involved football fan there is fantasy football. Another way for fans to spend hours of their time focused on football. Fantasy football is such a phenomenon that there are blogs, columns, websites, podcasts, and even TV shows dedicated to it. And I am a part of this ever-growing segment of obsessive sports fans.
Fantasy football is becoming more and more socially relevant. Just look at all of the different forms of media the covers it. But to anybody that doesn't know the process of fantasy football, here is a brief explanation of how it works. NFL players are selected by the players in the league through a draft. Most leagues have 10 teams with 16 roster spots. Players are selected based on their weekly stats throughout the season. Those stats are calculated to points. Fantasy football teams play once a week against another team in the league. Whatever team's players score the most points is the winner. Pretty simple.
However, the skill is predicting those stats. Not every player's stats will count each week. Only the players you "start" in your lineup. This is why hours of time are spent projecting stats. The greatest amount of time is dedicated to pre-draft preparation.
Pre-season games are getting close to being played, which means fantasy drafts are quickly approaching. Stat projections, depth charts, and team names are all being pondered at this moment. All in the effort of winning something that no one outside of your league cares about.
Fantasy football can be easily simplified into an unnecessary waste of time playing pretend owner. And it kind of is. But fantasy football runs deep. It's another way to be connected to a beloved sport and an avenue for competition. The competition means there are winners and losers. Since only one team can win, most teams end the season disappointed and have thinner wallets. So why dedicate countless hours to only be disappointed? I can't speak for anyone else, but for me it's fun. There are so many moments in fantasy football that are great.
It all starts during the draft. In fantasy football, the draft is the most important. This is the reason so many hours are spent dedicated to the draft. Trades later in the season and waiver pick ups can only improve your team so much. Screw up a couple of picks, especially in the first few rounds, and your team will have a losing record. Proper preparation and a sleeper pick (late round pick who outperforms his draft position) or two will lead you to the playoffs.
Besides being important to your playoff prospects, the fantasy draft is incredibly fun. Because optimism is incredibly high. You think that this is the year everything goes right. Your draft strategy will work. Your sleepers will fall to you and have a great season. Everyone will fear and respect your team. You'll never enter the draft expecting to end up with a mediocre team. High expectations usually end in disappointments. Your second round pick will tear an ACL in week 2. You'll draft a wide receiver who gets suspended. A sleeper you like gets taken two picks ahead of you. You'll dominate on Sunday afternoon only to watch your lead dwindle during the night game, and eventually fall on Monday night leading to a loss.
But this what makes the draft so exciting. You have to think on the fly. There's a deadline. Take too long and the other owners will get pushy. Your notes and charts are sitting in front of you and your head is spinning. Hopefully, you have plan b's and c's. You've spent time planning out multiple scenarios. Your mock drafts have prepared you to make the right pick. This is one of the factors that set apart good fantasy football owners. (I'm fully aware the term "fantasy football owner" is incredibly sad). It's what adds the pressure when your debating between a couple of players to draft. And an immediate reaction is forthcoming from the other players. It's why live drafts are great. Jokes before, during and after the draft create a unique atmosphere. Nothing is like the sounds directly after a pick. If you get support and a "good pick" comment or two it makes the pick that much sweeter. Instant approval. But ten guys with money and pride at stake aren't always positive. There are bad picks taken in every draft. And that person will hear the group's jeers. It's an environment that doesn't exist outside of fantasy drafts. It's part of what makes fantasy football special.
How else can you explain the special bond between fantasy owner and player? That sounds incredibly weird, I know. But it's true. Part of me will always root for Fred Jackson after exceeding my expectations last season. In a couple of games last season he put us over the top for a win. It also works in the opposite way. It will take me some time to get over the disappointing seasons Ryan Mathews and Daniel Thomas have had while wearing my fictitious purple and yellow jersey. Or Jahvid Best single handedly ruining my week when his performance of a lifetime resulted in a loss during a week I was sure victory was mine. Some players will always be treated like a friend of your team. While others may never be welcomed in.
It's these emotions that are make fantasy sports unique. It's an experience that isn't duplicated elsewhere. The little moments that are delightful to participants and incomprehensible to outsiders. Players can appreciate the enjoyment from the preparation, which is basically homework. However, instead of an A, fantasy players get a couple of bucks and pride in accomplishing the goal. Ultimately this is why fantasy football, and fantasy sports in general, are important to people. There will always be a dynamic of incomprehension between players and non-players. This is the same for sports as a whole. Some people aren't able to understand why people care as much as they do and probably never will. For me, fantasy football is another aspect to spend more time connected to a game I love. It's a way to compete and prove football knowledge. It may be a fantasy game but it so much fun it doesn't mater.
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