Fantasy football: one more sport to bind people together

My favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, is 8-5 and has a one-game lead on the hated Packers. The Gophers finished their regular season 9-3 and are in their fourth bowl game in the last five years (never mind it is a bowl nobody wanted to play in). It has been a pretty successful year for Minnesota on the gridiron, yet all is not right with my football universe.

No, I’m not one of those transplanted Wisconsin students who experiences secret, traitorous pangs of sadness when the Badgers lose, something they did quite often this season. These problems are more personal in nature – my fantasy football team had a terrible year.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll explain: I’m one of the legions of sports geeks who compete in a league with other geeks where we draft imaginary teams of NFL players. This activity is called fantasy football, mostly because your team only exists in your mind. When you have a fantasy football team, you lose all touch with reality.

In the last two weeks, Vikings receiver Randy Moss has scored three touchdowns. I have booed every single one of them. Vikings running back Michael Bennett is on my fantasy team. Every Moss touchdown is an opportunity for loss of a Bennett touchdown. Because of my obsession, I was almost happier with Minnesota’s loss to St. Louis (because of Rams receiver Isaac Bruce’s touchdown) than I was with the Vikings’ drubbing of Seattle last Sunday (no touchdowns for either Bennett or Seahawks tight end Itula Mili).

As mentioned before, my team is awful. I’m in last place in my league. This past week was the ninth straight week it has not won. My team in my league is the Arizona Cardinals. Nobody should be obsessed with a team this pathetic. But each week, I spend time on Sunday afternoon in front of the computer, checking on my players and those on my opponent’s team. It seems pretty clear I’ve lost my grip on football-related sanity.

Yet, I’m one of the more easygoing team owners in our little group. Our league’s leader, my buddy Noah, lost all touch with reality the moment the season started. The spark of life behind his eyes has been reduced to a hollow space probably filled with next week’s NFL schedule so he can determine what match-ups are most favorable for his players. He once failed to name the British prime minister until I told him what it rhymed with, but can discuss the pros and cons of his decision to start Santana Moss instead of Dominick Davis at length. I even spent three and a half hours from home to Minneapolis listening to him discuss this for most of the voyage. Talk about your never-ending journeys. Noah once climbed onto my house’s roof at 2 a.m. and woke me to ask if I wanted to trade Marvin Harrison for Ricky Williams. Noah is usually a rational and intelligent person, but for the last 14 weeks, all rationality has fallen by the wayside, replaced with musings such as,

“Dallas Clark broke his leg. Why does God hate me?”

Still, the whole thing has been fun. There is nothing more entertaining than watching one of your friends have a meltdown because of an imaginary team. Last Monday night when Dave’s, another league owner, team missed the playoffs thanks to four field goals from Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins, he said, “Somebody find me a bridge to jump off of or a gun or something.”

Fantasy football makes otherwise meaningless games fun to watch on Sunday. But the best part is it gives my friends something to discuss. It’s not as if we were discussing U.S. trade policy but were sidetracked by sports. Sports are what we have in common, and fantasy football has given us an additional sport to talk about.

Maybe it’s all in our heads and irrational – but we’re having a grand time entertaining the fantasy.

Jon Marthaler is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]