I spent this past Sunday in front of a television, laughing, cheering, complaining, and getting emotional. No, I wasn’t watching a rom-com. I was watching football. It was an important Sunday for fantasy football players, as it marked the first round of the playoffs in most leagues across the internet.
Fantasy football is an addictive game that requires dedication and meticulous thinking for those who play to succeed. It’s also an incomprehensible waste of time to those who don’t play.
So, what exactly is fantasy football?
Last summer, I interviewed the man who is credited with inventing Rotisserie League Baseball, which later evolved into fantasy baseball online (see “Dan Okrent Is the Father of Fantasy,” July 30 Independent).
Now, there are fantasy leagues for virtually every sport in America, and football has become the most popular. Traditional fantasy football is played on websites like ESPN.com, Yahoo.com, or NFL.com.
One person starts a league made up of 8 to 12 teams. Each team is controlled by one person; usually, the league members are all friends or family. My friends and I have had a fantasy football league running for about a decade.
The draft is held online before the football season starts. Each fantasy team manager selects actual NFL players to be on his team for that season. Each team gets one pick per round; the order of picks is randomly determined by the computer.
Rosters can vary, but fantasy players usually select a quarterback, two running backs, two or three wide receivers, a tight end, an NFL team’s defense, a kicker, and a number of reserve players.
Drafting big-name players is important, but it’s also important to research and draft young players who you hope will exceed expectations. It’s a strategic and statistics-based game. Every league has a point system based on the actual NFL player’s statistics like catches, yards gained, touchdowns, and passes completed or intercepted to determine the scores of each team in a fantasy game.
Each week, your roster of players goes head to head against another person’s roster, and the team that scores more points wins. The playoffs begin in NFL Week 14, this past Sunday, for those who make it that far.
The elephant in the room this football season is Covid-19. I’m not sure letting the NFL play these games is the smartest decision, but that’s a difficult question that this column is not equipped to debate.
The fact is, the games are being played and I am obliged to partake of another fantasy football season because of that.
There have been more NFL players sitting out games this season than normal because of Covid-19 restrictions. In fantasy football, players missing games can ruin a season.
Two of my top three picks suffered injuries unrelated to Covid-19 that ended their seasons very early this year, but I didn’t give up. There’s always trades to make, and a stash of free agents on the waiver wire, so you can try to make up for losses.
When all else fails, you can still be lucky. This year, I put my trust in one player to lead my team. It’s not a quarterback. It’s not even a player who touches the ball with his hands.
It’s a kicker. His name is Younghoe (pronounced “Young Ho-ey”) Koo, and he plays for the Atlanta Falcons. Koo is one of four Korean-Americans ever to play in the NFL, and he currently leads the league in total points scored this season with 124. He has outscored some quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers in fantasy football, which might be even more impressive.
Koo was my last pick in our league’s draft this year, and he’s been reliable every week, scoring more than 20 fantasy points in two separate games, which is almost unheard of for a kicker.
Some people take the fantasy more to heart than reality, which can dehumanize the actual football players on the field playing this violent sport for our entertainment. It started out as a fun game for me and my friends; we would trash talk each other about it at school every week. Over the years, the stakes have been raised, as we now play for money. It’s become more serious, but we don’t let it overwhelm us.
Sunday tends to be an anxiety filled day for me. I’m glued to the television, watching the games and constantly checking the lineup I so carefully crafted during the week on my iPhone.
At the end of the day, there will be a sigh of relief or a face palm of defeat. Either way, it remains a game. This year has been fun, rooting for an underdog like Younghoe Koo. He’ll forever have a fan in me.