overthinking the idiot box

September 19, 2005

Everything you ever wanted to know about sports on TV.

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It's a Fantastical Life

How Fantasy Football Changes the Viewing Habits of Fans

by Alan Bloom

Fantasy Football. The two most dreaded words in the English language. Okay, maybe not that bad, but the phenomenon grips the nation every year when the NFL's gridiron warriors return to the field. I'm not here to rain fury upon fantasy football and its followers. Quite the contrary, I come to you as one of them. I've been playing fantasy football since midway through high school. I'm currently in a Yahoo! league with colleagues at work for the fourth year running. Needless to say, I like it. A lot. But why have it? Sundays are already a chaotic frenzy of highs and lows for any football fan. The die-hards live and die with their favorite team's fortunes. Make no mistake, it can get pretty intense. However, that intensity is nothing compared to when you're a fantasy junkie. Ever heard the phrase, "Care to make it interesting?" Fantasy sports offer an edge. They're like steroids for fans looking to maximize their Sunday football madness. It's a side-bet with friends with bragging rights on the line. And we know how fans love to brag about their team's success.

Fantasy sports offer an edge. They're like steroids for fans looking to maximize their Sunday football madness. It's a side-bet with friends with bragging rights on the line. And we know how fans love to brag about their team's success.
Not only will a fantasy player find himself caring about games they never thought relevant before, he will become more knowledgeable about football than they ever thought possible. Statistical information as well as offensive and defensive tendencies for every team in the league becomes a necessity. For example, Kerry Collins is an average NFL quarterback playing in Oakland. His team just acquired the league's best wide receiver in Randy Moss during the off-season. Suddenly, Collins is projected to have a monster fantasy season. He isn't any better of a quarterback and Oakland may not win more games, but his individual numbers will rise. Depth charts and injury reports are invaluable when filling out your starting roster from week to week. Quick, who is the third-string running back for Pittsburgh? If you said Willie Parker, a total unknown before this season, you'd be right. And if you started Parker in week one, your fantasy team probably came away with a victory. Some players participate in keeper leagues where you can hold over one or two of most valuable players from year-to-year, just as if you were running your very own NFL franchise. Once introduced to this world of sports-geekery, the fantasy player makes a transition from football fan to football fanatic. It becomes absolutely imperative every game and every analysis leading up to every game be seen. And we're inundated with all sorts of media to support our habit.

ESPN's Monday Night Countdown went out of it's way to hold a mock-fantasy draft at the end of the pre-season featuring ESPN personalities and some celebrities noted Cincinnati fan, Nick Lachey, among them. By the by, Suzy Kolber drafted Brett Favre in the second round because she is clueless. SportsCenter features a segment every week where NFL insider Sean Salisbury offers tips on which players' stock is on the rise and which is falling; who to start and who to bench. Keep in mind, this analysis has nothing to do with whether, say, Tampa Bay wins their game this weekend. All that matters is that their top wide receiver, Joey Galloway, is being projected to catch for 80 yards and a touchdown. NFL2Night, ESPN2's nightly NFL show, of course, lends fantasy geeks their expertise. Ever watch a game on Sunday during the last six or seven years (right around the time that fantasy football blew up from cult status to national mainstream)? You cannot avoid the running ticker at the bottom detailing the stats of at least five to seven players, when previously only two maximum would have been mentioned. I'm looking at you, CBS. But be it CBS, FOX, or ESPN, the ticker always provides a friendly reminder that you can check your fantasy stats on any of those stations' affiliated websites.

I will share with you my experience from opening weekend. I'm a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. Typically, I'm rooting for them to win every game 67-0, no matter what. In the Thursday season opener against the New England Patriots, I ran into a dilemma. One of my fantasy team's wide receivers, Deion Branch, plays for New England. It also happened to be the case that one of my starting receivers, Raider Jerry Porter, was listed as questionable on the injury report after missing the entire pre-season and would be a game-time decision. "Game-time decision" is the scariest phrase in Fantasy Football. This forces my hand to bench Porter in favor of Branch, my next best option. So here I am, cheering for the Raiders, while at the same time going Benedict Arnold on myself and hoping Deion Branch scores a touchdown. Branch had a great game, 99 yards and a touchdown, much to my chagrin/delight. Do you understand? He scored on my team and I was actually conflicted on how to react. Fantasy has powers.

Another case: By virtue of my draft, I happened to be loaded up on Green Bay Packers, specifically quarterback Brett Favre, running back Ahman Green, and kicker Ryan Longwell. I assure you, this was purely coincidental, though I will argue confidently that all three were the best possible pick I could have made in the 2nd, 8th, and 15th rounds, respectively. Point is I don't care about the Packers. That team means nothing to me. But now that the performance of their offense reflects so heavily on my fantasy team's production, I'm one of their biggest fans. They're right up there behind the Raiders. Imagine my disappointment when they were held to three points by Detroit in week one. Someone just ripped my heart out and fed it to me. It was nauseating. Worse, Detroit receiver Roy Williams, who I'm banking on to have a break out year, only produced 13 yards on the stat sheet. That's one measly fantasy point. That Green Bay/Detroit game single-handedly killed my team this week. A game that any other day, I'd care little about, but on Sunday I had to know what was going on. And that's another thing, unless you spring for the DirectTV NFL Sunday Ticket Package (Perhaps the greatest thing in the existence of ever! Broadcasts of every single game, are you kidding me?!?!) or you're at a sports bar that carries it, then you're stuck with whichever game FOX or CBS decides to air in your region. While the Packers and Lions were playing, I was instead subjected to San Diego versus Dallas. Now, here's the thing: San Diego/Dallas is a far superior match up on just about every level, but it had no fantasy implication for my team. I want to be able to see how my boys are doing out there. It's just too painful to be sitting on a laptop, crossing your fingers as you hit the refresh button on nfl.com's gametracker.

Here's another killer: In most fantasy leagues, you play head-to-head rather than tabulating total points amongst everyone. This allows for wins and losses. One of the toughest things to reconcile is having your wide receiver tied to your opponents quarterback or vice versa. The Philadelphia vs. Atlanta match-up on Monday Night Football placed me in such a scenario. Any fantasy player will tell you that when you have something on the line, the Monday night game is a real stomach-churner. I have star wide receiver and loudmouth Terrell Owens in my lineup. My opponent has Owens' quarterback, Donovan McNabb. The only way Owens scores touchdowns is through McNabb. I am in a bad way. Fortunately, yardage points accrue faster for receivers than they do for quarterbacks. So I'm actually rooting for Owens to rack up yardage, but not actually catch any touchdowns. People: THIS IS INSANE! Incidentally, I didn't care if Philly won or lost. It's irrelevant. Actually, I happen to have the Eagles team defense, so scratch that, it matters to me that they lost. But only because of that.

As I write this on Thursday, September 15th, I'm looking ahead to the NFL slate for week 2. As long as Green Bay racks up a ton of points, Philadelphia scores via passing rather than rushing, and Peyton Manning completely implodes for Indianapolis, I should be fine
Oh man, and I can't get enough of it. As long as every football telecast (and I mean every) is giving me the scoop on top fantasy performers of the day, I can feel normal; accepted by society. Know who else loves it? The NFL, of course. Can you think of a better way to promote your athletes and draw fans deeper into the game for less money than this? Great googly moogly, it's a cash cow for the league that scores bigger ratings on television than any other sport in the country by, an average of, like, 700. So long as the NFL commands such attention on Sundays (there's no reason that should ever stop) and makes the networks hundreds of millions of dollars a year, it would stand to reason that they fully condone NFL programming to include fantasy reports. As I write this on Thursday, September 15th, I'm looking ahead to the NFL slate for week 2. As long as Green Bay racks up a ton of points, Philadelphia scores via passing rather than rushing, and Peyton Manning completely implodes for Indianapolis, I should be fine. Wish me luck.


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