Before I get into this story, I know that what I’m about to tell you is pathetic.
All the time and energy invested in fantasy football provides little more than self-inflicted headaches, most of the time. But sometimes, usually on a few glorious weekends throughout the football season, it provides more. It satiates a competitive fire that just wants to dominate and to, hopefully,
win not lose. When a draft strategy works to put together a team capable of winning, after factoring in various bye weeks and favorable matchups, a gleeful accomplishment overcomes all accompanying frustration. It compels me to keep playing every year, in spite of finishing no higher than 7th in the last four seasons. Throw in the small fact that the top 6 teams makes the fantasy playoffs each year and perseverance becomes more amazing. (I don’t feel like I’m complementing myself as much as I’m admitting that I can’t not play, if that makes sense.) So it goes.
This season I finally did pre-draft research and walked away from the draft pleased with the team I drafted. Correctly, as it turned out. I jumped out to a fast start, scoring the most points each of the first two weeks. My team went on to score the most points for the week five times in the thirteen game regular season. Some guys produced as I’d hoped. A few produced beyond my modest expectations. Regardless, my strategy worked as expected, for the first time. As such, I made only one relevant transaction throughout the season, picking up Mark Brunell to replace the injured Chad Pennington. I didn’t always start the best quarterback after picking up Brunell, but it usually didn’t matter. The few times I botched the decision worked out in my favor, for I finished sixth and made the playoffs for the first time.
I’ve made the playoffs in other leagues before, but those weren’t competitive leagues most of the time. Even when I made the playoffs, it never worked out for me. One year, I entered the playoffs in first place, having crushed the competition all season. I lost maybe two games in the first thirteen weeks. I lost all three playoffs games to finish eighth. I had little expectation this year.
In the first two matchups, my team scored just enough to beat my opponent. If the playoff brackets worked out any differently, I’d have lost either of the first two games because I outscored no one else in the playoffs. I finally had some luck. I earned a spot in my fantasy league’s Super Bowl!
Taking place Christmas weekend, I asked Santa for nothing more than big weeks from my players. As the first games started that weekend, I thought I might get my wish. Throughout the early games on Christmas Eve, my opponent’s players outscored mine. As the day progressed, my players came on strong. Going in to the last two games, my opponent had Thomas Jones and I had Tom Brady going. I led by two points. I felt optimistic.
When Jones scored 19 points on Christmas, I worried a little. Seventeen points down wasn’t insurmountable, especially since Brady faced a bad Jets team. I lamented my decision not to start Brunell, since he’d scored 19 points on Christmas Eve. The would’ve given me the title by two points. I didn’t obsess too long, though, since my opponent sat Julius Jones’s 41 points. Woulda, shoulda, coulda meant nothing in that context. And I still had Brady, with only seventeen points standing between me and a championship. (I would win the first tie-breaker, so a tie score was acceptable to me, although the desire to dominate was still strong.)
I didn’t have the stomach to watch Brady and the Patriots on Monday the 26th, since I’d fret every play. Mostly, this aversion to obsessing over games I don’t care about is why I don’t gamble on sports in any way other than fantasy football. I watched other shows that night and went to bed only aware of my fantasy score with three quarters to play in the game. Brady had scored four points by then, so I trailed by thirteen. Certainly a moderate obstacle, given the ability of my players to score late in their games. I could wait until morning to find out.
Only, I couldn’t wait. I woke up at 1:30. When I saw the clock, I knew the Monday night game would be over. My score would be final, and I could do no more. I had to know. I turned my computer on and waited for it to load. I opened Firefox and clicked the link to my league. Getting nervous, I covered the part of my screen where just the score would show up. I clicked the game link to give me the total score, with each individual player’s score detailed. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and waited a moment. I opened my eyes. This is what I saw (my team is the Underwater Allies):
Tom Brady scored sixteen points. I needed seventeen to win (by tying). I lost. By one point. Because Patriots coach Bill Belichick benched Brady in the fourth quarter of a blowout. I now know how Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson felt as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV, the game-tying touchdown one yard away. I wanted to vomit.
Finishing second won’t mean any lingering devastation, but no fantasy loss will ever be worse. I can’t imagine winning would’ve been as good as this loss was bad. I just can’t. At least I got this out of the deal:
Is it Draft Day for Fantasy Football 2006 yet?