Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Favorite Fantasy

Many fantasies churn through my mind. One comes to mind that is more appropriate for this medium. Is it moral? It involves gambling and attempted cheating. Is it safe? The trash talk can lead to physical violence. Is it healthy? It causes tension, frustration, and blood-pulsing rage. I'm talking about fantasy football.

Fantasy football wasn’t always a part of my life. As a late teenager, Sundays in autumn were my Jewish Christmas. Sunday NFL Countdown, a preview show, at 11:00 a.m. as I make my predictions for the day. Redskins game at 1:00 accompanied by pizza. Late afternoon game at 4:15 accompanied by Goldfish, cupcakes, and other nutritious foods. Fast food dinner at halftime. NFL Primetime, a highlight show, at 7:30. Sunday Night Football at 8:15. All in all: essentially 13 consecutive hours on a La-Z-Boy or couch, a few thousand calories, and a social life that took a free fall*.

Thank goodness I was diagnosed with bone cancer in the fall season. Aside from my hospital lacking ESPN—a crime worthy of the President’s attention—this NFL television routine was my refuge. Watching football and discussion of the games was my favorite activity in the world, behind actually playing it (because, remember, I had no social life*). And so this routine kept me hopeful, always looking ahead to the next week. One more completed NFL week meant the same for cancer, too. I could get my chemo or waste away on a hospital bed, anemic and lacking an immune system, and be perfectly content. Anybody who says professional athletes do nothing for others are ignorant. For me, they briefly made cancer life acceptable, normal, fun.

Because of cancer I will never play football again. And sadly I can no longer sit on my La-Z-Boy for 13 consecutive hours, either. That ability has been crushed by the need for constant productivity—time watching means time missed on my book, blog, speaking, publicity, outreach, Twitter, Facebook, trying to get to -10% body fat, and so on. But the biggest culprit is fantasy football. Instead of peacefully watching games for the pure love of it like as a teenager, I’m constantly fretting over my players’ stats. “Did Jason Snelling get that goalline carry and steal Michael Turner’s touchdown points?” It’s just a neck twitch. It’ll go away.

I estimate that I spent at least 4,000 hours on my book, but I’m terrified to make a similar estimate for fantasy football. Our league had a live draft this past weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. Consider this for the time commitment: three hours studying players to prepare for the draft and creating two spreadsheets, one hour of rules discussion, two hours drafting players, and several hours of bickering over rules, players, trades that people won’t make, who drafted the best, who drafted the worst, etc. Each week I will study player rankings from several reputable sites, decide who to play and who to bench, lose sleep over that decision, develop severe stress acne if my decision ends up the wrong one, and lose friends over the outcome. Repeat this 16 times—but only if I’m lucky enough to make the fantasy football finals.

The 13-hour TV-watching routine I used to have was a drain on my social life. But at least then I could fabricate excuses for staying in, like, “Us Reform Jews study Torah in Sunday school all day.” Fantasy football is even more detrimental to my social life. After I tried explaining it to my female companion, she said, “I don’t get it.” This is even before the onset of my inevitable irritability, full body acne, and constant neck twitching. If my Jew charm doesn’t work wonders on her before the season starts, then I’m hopeless.