How I came to love Fantasy Football




 

    I had known Frank Zangrilli for many years, when one day I found out something about him that I had never known, he loved football and I mean he really loved it! This was not just a school boy crush, this was a full on love affair that sent him spiraling into an off-seasonal depression, complete with anticipatory anxiety and a post season stupor. In reflecting on our friendship, I decided that the reason I was unaware of this, blaringly significant piece of Frank’s life puzzle, was that we always had other things to talk about. We liked to debate politics,watch documentaries, discuss work and after a few beers, we liked to boast about our brilliance and come up with billion dollar business ideas that would fizzle out with the sunrise. When was there any time to talk about football? In truth, l had invented dozens of excuses for having been completely oblivious to the interests of my good friend. This was my mistake, I was the ignorant one. I know this now because awareness has shown me a Frank Zangrilli who cannot live through a summer without the glimmering hope of a Giants’ Super bowl win.

It was a warm night in early August and I was out on Frank’s porch with him and two of his roommates. The four of us, me, Frank, his brother Marc, and Dave a co worker of ours, were hanging out, having a few beers when Fantasy football emerged as the topic of conversation. I had not watched football since I was a kid, and the last games I remembered watching were during the peak of Joe Montana’s career. I had always felt tortured on Sundays when the entire television broadcasting system seemed enveloped with this pointless game, whose players were so miniscule on my family’s 25” TV screen that I could never understand when or why everyone was supposed to be cheering. I wasn’t interested in Football and I wasn’t interested in the conversation on the porch that night but wanting to be included and seeing everyone’s enthusiasm compelled me to inquire more about this game called, Fantasy Football. As I asked questions, I was bombarded with information coming from three sides, each roommate interrupting his friend to interject an important rule or strategy. I listened to each of them with interest; their excitement was contagious. They flooded my senses with details and I tried to imagine the scene. They explained to me that a draft was held, like real football, where the team owners pick players based on rank and other factors. In real Football the owners meet in New York at Radio City Music Hall. In Fantasy Football the ‘team owners’ were twelve of our friends that met at a pizza place, where most of us worked at the time, drank beer and picked players, one by one for sixteen rounds. The players, in reality, were on different teams but they were tracked, by some means, individually and those totals were combined as the teams score. Everything was kept track of through a website and each week teams would face each other and, as they explained, each “team owner” could see how their team was doing during the games. I was thoroughly overwhelmed and confused by this orientation but intrigued at the same time and, as I had my own undisclosed interests, wanted to be more involved. It seemed as though one day we were all hanging out talking about everything and anything that we could think of and the next day the only subject discussed was football, more specifically, Fantasy Football. There were magazines on the coffee table; each roommate bought a different version so they could each read them all. The television appeared stuck on the NFL network, even though they repeated the same stories every hour. Frank, Marc and Dave began daily debates on the health of injured players, the relevance of older players and the potential of rookies.One night, during what must have been an alcohol fueled groupthink, it was suggested that I could have a team. The draft was coming and there were spots to be filled, if I was interested I could put down my twenty dollars and have a go. As soon as the idea was proposed I immediately rejected it, claiming ignorance, not wanting to look like an idiot. Each of the roommates offered assistance and mentoring, insisting that they would all help me to get a good team. Ok, back to my undisclosed interests, the boys were quite ignorant of the fact that I was so in love with Dave he could have asked me to go to the draft unprepared, wearing a cheer leader’s outfit and singing the San Diego Chargers theme song and I would have blushed my way through it. He had me at, “I’ll help you.”

   I spent every night after that pouring over football magazines trying to absorb all of the information that I could take in before the draft. As I read and asked questions I found that Frank was the most knowledgeable, Marc was the most strategic, and Dave was a quick study and a willing teacher; he had only been interested for a couple years but he really helped me. As much as my crush on Dave persuaded me to join this league of faux “team owners” it was my feminist pride that kept me nose to book every night trying to sort through 32 teams of players that I had scarcely heard of. Even with all of the coaching, there was so much information, I had to find my own methods of decision making and player picking. I found one magazine more helpful than the rest when I was researching. In this singular issue each player was shown with stats, pictures, and most importantly to me, a little story about the athlete. I used this information to determine two things: if the guy seemed nice; and if his smile looked like the smile of a winning athlete. Of course, I recognize that on the exterior, this method of choosing seems random and unreliable but understand I was coupling it with the knowledge that was being spoon fed to me constantly by my new advisors, who could see no end to my tolerance for their counsel.

 

   Sunday morning at 9:30, two weeks before the football season officially began twelve anxious bodies stumbled into an otherwise deserted pizza place and waited, impatiently, for the go ahead to order our first round of pitchers. Dreary eyed and slow moving, each member of this group still grinned ear to ear, eagerly anticipating the next four hours. Everyone shook hands, mocked each others’ team names and talked about who they wanted to pick up if they had a chance. The cold beer was livening up the crowd and the excitement was mounting as someone booted up a lap top to start the draft. A few minutes later Frank presented me with an overturned hat, from which I was to pull out a number and seal my team’s fate. This digit, hopefully a single digit, would decide when I would get to pick my players. This was the very first piece of luck each of us could hope for, on the backside of being the very first piece of misfortune that could curse all hopes. I put my hand in the ball cap and fumbled around with the twelve, tightly folded, squares until I felt too much time had passed; I quickly took the winner and recoiled to my seat. I held it in my hand, afraid to look, wanting so badly to have a good number but knowing it was too much to hope for. As the others started exclaiming their places I slowly unfolded my square, nervously, trying not to drop it. Marc was sitting next to me, already having chosen the best possible number available, one, and asking me what I picked. Gripping tightly onto the one inch square of torn printer paper that would reveal my season’s destiny I turned it around to show him, what was unbelievably, the second best possible number available, a two! I could not believe my luck, and even though Dave was not happy about his number, which was obviously not one or two, he immediately began coaching me on strategy. I had everything I needed: a list of my favorite choices, a cheat sheet from a magazine, and Dave on my side. Once the draft began we each picked sixteen players in the positions of quarter back, wide receiver, running back, tight end, kicker and we also chose a team defense. The draft, actually, lasted closer to six hours that day but it more fun than I imagined. Despite anyone’s number, everyone left the draft happy about the picks that they made and proud of their team.

   Two weeks later the season began. I showed up at the Frank’s house, at 10am, with a day’s worth of beer and snacks. Since none of them had considered snacks, they all quickly decided that I was an awesome addition to Sunday Football. This was truly the unhealthiest season of Sundays that I had experience since childhood, packed with beer, chips, candy and my first introduction to the Sausage Roll, which we ordered almost every week. Holy crap! I had to work out, for over an hour, five days a week, just to stay Sunday’s calories from coating my ass. Aside from my extra workouts I was still spending extra time learning about players; Fantasy was a full time job. It took most of the season for me to understand what was going on and to recognize when one of my players was doing something that would add points to my score. It was about mid season when it was obvious, even to me, that I was kicking some Fantasy ass.

   By the end of the first season, Dave found out, the hard way (a completely separate saga), that I liked him and eventually we began dating. I had, what would have been, all I could have hoped for, months before, but now I had a real chance of winning this game and I wanted that too! I was in the play offs and nobody could believe it. At some point I stopped taking advice, I was getting so close to winning that I thought everyone was out to get me, and they totally were. It never felt so good to be hated! I was a threat, the only girl in the league, wearing an invisible lucky charm that left my players uninjured and racking up record numbers all season long. It was the most fantastic feeling; I was still there to the very end. Oh yes, I said the very end; I won the whole, damn Championship! I was up, one awesome boyfriend, one huge ego, and one hundred and forty dollars; that is how I ended my first season of Fantasy Football. It’s been eight years and I love it as much as ever.