Sometimes A Fantasy, By Mark McCarter


I tried to walk away. I really did.

I offered to hand over the franchise. I suggested they invite the new company CEO. It’d be a nice way to pander, plus he’s from Sweden, so what the hell would he know about Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension or Leonard Fournette’s gimpy foot, those insomnia-inducing worries of the past week?

Instead, there I was again. Back in the clutches of fantasy football, armed with my laptop, a stack of eight color-coded cheat sheets, the experience of four mock drafts and eight hours of homework. I then proceeded to conduct the sort of player draft that would even make the Cleveland Browns snicker.

We are Mark’s Grouchos. Team motto: “Close but no cigar.” Truth be told, I’d settle for close. Andrew Luck and Eddie Lacy and Tyler Lockett have led me down the path of destruction in past seasons.

But you don’t care about my fantasy team.

That’s the fantasy player’s biggest mistake, bigger even than drafting a kicker in the eighth round, is believing that anybody else cares one whit about your fantasy team. Another fantasy player and I attend a bi-weekly church/social dinner involving eight couples. It’s no coincidence nobody wants to sit near us at dinner.

I’m hardly a fantasy league addict. I play because it generates a little more viewing interest for me on Sundays. (I also subscribed to “Playboy” for the articles.)

Our league has a couple of guys who are fanatics about it, playing in multiple leagues. There’s one who loads his team with SEC players. Others who are truly in it for the fun. These are guys in my wife’s office – she was somehow OK with not being invited – and some I’ve never even met

There are an estimated 59 million NFL fantasy league players, meaning 5.9 million are people somewhere are deeply invested in the health and well-being of Antonio Brown and Jay Ajayi.

There’s the inherent problem of fantasy football. You start rooting for Your Team and not your favorite team. I actually own a fantasy team and an NFL team – OK, well, it’s one share of Packers’ stock – so I’ll be miserable watching Green Bay in Week One against Grouchos’ starter Russell Wilson.

Slate Magazine recently wrote about the danger of team fan-dom vs. fantasy.

“People are not going to be interested in who wins games anymore,” Brendan Dwyer, an associate professor of sport leadership at Virginia Commonwealth, told Slate. “I saw how people behaved during the games at sports bars. I saw how torn they were, and I saw the cognitive dissonance they felt in watching both their favorite team and their fantasy team.”

Or, in our world, what about fantasy vs. the team we cover. The first league I joined should have been a cautionary tale. It was about SEC basketball, and I had drafted a guy who played for the team I covered. I’d nag him to shoot more and explained why.

One game, he led a 2-on-1 fastbreak and dished off to a teammate. Moments later, he was inbounding the ball right in front of my press row seat. As he saw me sitting there, he said apologetically, “My bad, Mark.”

I’ve talked to NFL players about fantasy leagues, and most of them just laugh. They all have stories of “owners” who see them and earnestly plea for their help, to throw more often, to run extra hard at the goal line.

But a few years ago, Bleacher Report did an informal survey of NFL players and found that 10 of the 24 polled had their own fantasy teams. So, there you go.

I suspect the percentage is considerably higher among those who cover than those who play in the NFL.

Invariably, there was an addendum to the usual announcement in the NFL press box I frequented. There was the stern voice demanding professional behavior. There was the warning about “no cheering in the press box.”

“Unless,” the guy in front of me would pronounce, “it’s one of your fantasy players who does something.”


Mark McCarter is a four-time Alabama Sportswriter of the Year and author of two books. After 38 years in the newspaper business, he’s now Senior Writer for the City of Huntsville Communications Department.

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