Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Defense of Real Football

I have documented my love of football several times. Not a terribly original sentiment. This is America, damn it. Home of football, barbecue and Bill Murray. All of which undeniably kick ass. Have you seen Zombieland yet? But now that we're into the '09 season a solid month, let me get a niggling little football related irritant off my chest. Not the stupid football playing robot on the Fox broadcasts. Or the BSC. Or Lou Holtz's inability to pronounce a clean "s". No those are all a little obvious. Instead, I'm going to gripe about something that the vast majority of football fans love. Fantasy friggin football.

What can I say. I'm a rabble rouser. I rouse rabbles.

First, let me get a cosmetic complaint out of the way. Fantasy football is a stupid name. I get that alliteration is cutesy poo little way that make something catchy. And both words "fantasy" and "football" indeed start with "F". But the word "fantasy" has exactly three connotations. This one. This one. And this one. Primarily the first one. And I don't think I'm being too big of a dick to suggest that football in all it's majesty should have no common ground with dragons and wizards. You can like dragons and wizards and still love football. It's a big world. Room enough for everyone. But the two should never have any incidental association.

But here's my real problem with it all.

I know I’m in the minority on this one. But I am against Fantasy Football. It's not that I don't like it. I am against it. It is morally wrong. (Sarcastic sanctimony. But not that sarcastic.) I believe football is a glorious enough sport to be appreciated and savored on its face value. You shouldn't need to invent a little game within the game to make it interesting. If you do need some supplemental diversion to interest you in the actual competition, then you’re not a football fan. I'm sorry. If last Sunday's epic battle between Denver and New England (some seriously ugly throw back unis Denver has) was nothing but a means to update Tom Brady's QB rating for your crappy fantasy team, then you do not qualify as an actual fan of the sport of football.

That douchy little nerd on ESPN that gives you fantasy hints? Not a football fan. The guy in your office that can't talk about anything else other than the awesome rushing attack from his cleverly named team "Sex Panther"? Not a football fan. He and his ilk, exploit the mighty sport of football for their make believe victories that have no direct correlation to the NFL. Or reality. If that description applies to you at all, then you are not a true fan of football. You are this guy.

"But it makes the games more interesting. This way, I care about the whole league." If that's honestly your response, then shame on you. Football is the greatest form of human competition ever bestowed to mankind from above. That's not enough? I'll say it again. You should not have to invent a little game within the game to enjoy football. Yet you reduce the fullness of that competition to a list of numbers on a box score. Sacrilege.

I think that's why I'm so bothered by fantasy football. Football, more than any other sport, is an emotional game. Statistical analysis has its place but in no way should they ever become the focus of any fan's appreciation of the sport. Every football game has two or three plays that decide the outcome or act as the turning point. Sometimes it happens in the fourth quarter, sometimes the second. Sometimes it's something dramatic like a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. But most of the time it's a three yard run on third down in which the running back breaks a tackle in the backfield to get a first down to preserve the drive. That play does not show up in the box score. And more importantly, the collective will, emotion and momentum of a team does not show up in the box score. Call it synergy, magic or just plain teamwork, football has an elusive quality that can't be duplicated by any other sport. And minimizing a game to a stat sheet neuters the sport of that elusive quality and its defining feature.

Any football player's success is entirely dependent on the performance of his teammates. You cannot assess the value of a receiver based on his receiving yards from any given game. Those receiving yards are a reflection of the quarterback's accuracy, the o-line's pass protection and the running back's ability to keep the defensive secondary honest and the other receiver's ability to demand attention. No individual performance can be separated from the performance of their ten teammates on the field. And fantasy football is built upon isolating stats of individual players. And it ain't right.

I say all this in my self righteous tone and yet, the majority of people who live and die with the NFL are all over fantasy football in every office and classroom in America. They are the ones that are loudly obsessing over their line up options in the cubicle next to you. They assault you in the break room with unwanted conversation as they brag about their GM wisdom or curse Jay Cutler's underachievement. Are they all phonies? Of course not. Most people who have been swept up in the fantasy bull crap are legit, die hard fans of the game. No question. Bill Simmons for example. I read that guy's column on espn.com regularly and I wouldn't dare second guess his devotion and understanding of football fandom. And yet he never shuts up about fantasy crap. The world is big enough for fantasy fans and purists like myself. But let me offer a reason for the fantasy GM's out there to mend their ways.

Let's say you're the commissioner of three different leagues that wastes an average of 18 hours a week of office time researching and coordinating your little imaginary world. If that is who you are, I've probably pissed you off a bit with this diatribe. That's fair. There are plenty of counter arguments to most of my points and I suppose questioning a fan's love of the game cuts to the heart of the passion that makes following sports so irrational and compelling. But there is a point where I think we can agree. Fantasy Football messes with your loyalties. And is there anything more sacred to a sport's fan than their loyalty to a team?

If, for example, you love the Eagles that means that you also must hate the Cowboys. It's the law. But let's say you drafted Tony Romo for your fantasy quarterback. He was the best QB remaining in your draft and there's a thousand dollar pot for the winner of this league. You want to win the thing and at the moment you felt that overrated pantload gave you the best chance. How are you going to feel this Sunday when the Falcons have a four point lead inside of two minutes, but the Cowboy’s are driving? If you love real football more than fantasy football, then you’ll hope Romo fumbles away yet another big game. (I love watching the Cowboys lose. It never gets old.) But if you love your fantasy bullcrap more than your beloved Eagles (and reality), then you have sold your soul to the stat geek, nerd world of pseudo fandom. So instead you actually want Romo to pass for another 30 yards to salvage his QB rating. And then you hate yourself just a little bit. There should be no conflict. There should be no upside of your hated rival's success. (The same applies to gambling.) This is when you know your head is screwed up in this fantasy nonsense.

It's time to walk away. Just walk away.

One more thing. If you are one of these die hard fantasy GM guys, please keep it to yourself. No one cares about your fantasy football team. Ever. No matter how brilliant your substitution may have been, unless someone specifically asks you about it, just shut up. Seriously, it's the most nauseating conversation you can force onto the guy in the next cubicle. Well, I guess second most nauseating behind the one that starts out, "So my college buddy and I were at the strip club last night . . ."

It’s like talking about your blog. Nothing wrong with having a blog (I hope), just don’t talk to everyone about it. If someone else brings it up, fine. But don’t ever start a sentence, “So have you read my blog? I wrote yesterday about how SSSSSSHHHHHH” See that’s what happens to the person listening. Your voice turns into white noise at that point. “So I drafted both Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson, but I could only play one of them. So I decided to SSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH” Buddy, no one else cares. Now if you want to talk about the actual game, let’s shoot the bull. I love talking football. But the game actually happened. It was a documented event witnessed by thousands of people. You’re brilliance in managing your fantasy team exists only in the world of the hypothetical and therefore is of no value to anyone outside of that same land of make believe.

So to all the people who love the game of football but have allowed themselves to morph into a fantasy nerd, walk away. Come home and renew your original love of the greatest sport of all time.

*I recycled a few paragraphs of this from a post from last year. If you spotted it, then you need to spend your time reading something more worth while. Like say, Steinbeck. Or the back of a Cheerios box.

3 comments:

Gregg said...

so, did you choose an NFL team?

BusterBluth52 said...

You know Gregg, we ended up not getting the NFL Sunday ticket so I don't have the ability to watch all 16 games of a team's season. This really hampers my ability to know any team intimately (that's right, i said intimately) so I can't really pretend to love any team more than I already do.

But I would probably lean toward San Diego. Although I love the way Indi has reinvented their receiving core. The good news is, I haven't wasted my time with the Redskins. Ouch.

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