Each year, 20 or so of my closest family and friends gather in an undisclosed location to begin one of our favorite annual pastimes that signals fall is just around the corner.
As we converge on this unsuspecting home bringing snacks, beverages, and enough meat to clog the arteries of every overweight lineman in the NFL, these participants from all walks of life come together for the same goal — to hoist and have their names carved into the Russell Adam Jones Cup, a cup memorializing a fallen friend, filled to the brim with ice cold National Bohemian, that represents the champion in our Fantasy Football league.
There are many types of leagues and drafting formats. These include the “keeper” leagues in which each of the fantasy “owners” gets to keep a certain number of their players from the prior year, dumping the remaining players and rookies into a new pool of players from which to choose.
Another type is the “re-draft” league where each year every fantasy owner starts anew with all players being available on draft night. You can mirror the NFL, where teams with the worst record from the previous year draft first in the order in each round, or you can do a “snake draft” where you reverse the order each round so that the last player in Round 1 chooses first in Round 2.
There are leagues that set budgets and each owner bids for each player based on the remaining funds in their “account.”
Our league is a re-draft league that incorporates chance in every round as the draft positions for each round are randomly selected, regardless of prior year’s success or draft position in other rounds.
The beginning of the fantasy football phenomenon is credited to one of the Oakland Raiders’ limited partners, Bill Winkenbach, and a few of his friends and business associates as far back as 1962 (a vintage year, by the way). It began as a time killer during a three-week East Coast road trip during the NFL season, and has since grown into one of our country’s most participated in pastimes.
The popularity of the fantasy football phenomenon and the influence of Al Gore’s internet have really brought the “sport” into the 21st Century. I can remember being the commissioner when we first started our league almost 20 years ago, when my wife and I combed through the Monday and Tuesday morning papers tracking the scoring from the box scores and tallying the points by hand for each team before notifying each owner of their weekly status … by phone call.
Our draft night, up until a few years ago, was determined by my nephew’s bingo machine, randomly assigning the draft positions for each round by the luck of a globe full of numbered mini-balls.
“Numbers Night” was another excuse to get together for a party to see what our picks looked liked each year prior to the formal draft night. Now, random numbers are selected by a computer, the draft positions are emailed and we track our weekly progress by logging on to cbssportsline.com.
The chat board, that once rivaled a Don Rickles show with its acidic overtone of one-liners trading insults and opening old wounds, now suffers from loneliness with only a few claims of “cheaters” being posted from time to time by the same people.
One of the only remaining mysteries each year, and one of my personal favorite post-draft moves, is to vote on who might make the bonehead pick of the draft. The person who is judged to have made a bonehead pick is rewarded with an adult beverage — I’ve made a few bonehead picks myself in recent years, but the early line this year goes to “Yorty” for picking a player who will miss a few games on suspension for substance abuse, or who has recently announced his retirement and is no longer in the league.
Fantasy sports aren’t just for football anymore as one can find or start fantasy leagues in practically every walk of life. There’s fantasy for NFL football, MLB baseball, NBA basketball, NASCAR racing, EPL Soccer, NHL Hockey, and college sports.
There are many methods now available to each fantasy owner to get the “edge” on everyone else. You can buy books and magazines and go online to find “cheat sheets.” ESPN has its own celebrity draft, and Sports Illustrated published its top 500 players list this week.
Because I don’t focus my attention fully on football these days, I’ve thought often about dropping out but it remains one of the few times I get to see these decade-long friends.
At the end of the day, fantasy football is all about fun. Michael Jackson said it best, “Entertainment is about taking people away from the regular order of things when there is some chaos and pain and stress.”
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