Let’s pretend for a minute that you care about fantasy football. You don’t, of course, because most people feel the way about fantasy football that too-cool adolescents feel about Barbies and Pokemon cards, but humor me. I just went through one of the most painful disappointments of my life, and I need a little empathy here.
Christmas weekend marked the culmination of four anxious months of tedious work to assemble what might be the single greatest fantasy football roster my league has seen in four years of existence. At the end of our draft way back on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, which involves the twelve of us sitting in a buddy’s basement eating junk food, enjoying high-shelf microbrews, and selecting real NFL players to staff our pretend football teams, I sat there looking at my completed roster knowing full and well I was a contender. Great players were falling right into my lap, as if the Fantasy Gods were winking at me from their football-shaped clouds up in heaven, whispering, “This is your season, Joel. You’re finally going to win. We have willed it so.”
I told everybody at that draft, “This team is epic. I’m about to destroy all of you guys. I really, really like my team,” and they all laughed, thinking they were just humoring me. “Yeah, Brigs,” they might have said. “We all really, really like our teams. We just finished drafting them like five minutes ago.” But once the season started I ripped off 12 straight wins, beating everybody in the league once and the commissioner twice.
Throughout those twelve consecutive victories, it continued to feel as though Fantasy Gods were urging me to win this stupid thing. I got the better end of every single trade I made. Chad Henne for Andy Dalton; LaGarrette Blount and Tim Hightower for Chris Johnson, and then Chris Johnson for MJD. That kind of thing. I picked up Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez off of waivers. Arian Foster and Calvin Johnson, my top two draft picks, put up video game numbers. My God, even Beanie “The Weenie” Wells put up strong numbers.
And then there was Tony Romo.
In our league, we keep one player from year to year, and that player is usually a quarterback since our scoring allows for QBs to put up the most points. I hung onto Romo because if I didn’t I wouldn’t get an elite quarterback, and for the most part the guy did exactly what I’d hoped he’d do this season. There’s no denying the fact that there were games I won because of Tony Romo.
I told you, 12 wins a row. That’s 12-0, folks. Ask Mercury Morris how good 12-0 feels. Ask Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. That’s good stuff. You’re euphoric on twelve wins in a row. Nobody can touch you. On five separate occasions, I went into the Monday night game down, sometimes by a ridiculous margin, yet I won every time. Tony Romo had a lot to do with that.
How does that make a guy a feel? Like nobody can beat him, that’s how.
Even in Week 13, my only non-win of the regular season, I came into Monday night down by something like 27 points (which is a lot, for those of you who don’t play the game), but Maurice Jones-Drew exploded for like a bajillion yards and a couple of touchdowns. We ended up tying, and that tie kept a very good team out of the playoffs. I’m sure that guy has his own share of gripes about near-misses.
But I don’t care about that guy. I care about what happened to me, and what happened to me was probably the low point of my 2011. I don’t even remember what else happened in 2011. Just trust me that this was worse.
As the top seed in the six-team, three-week playoff, I had a bye in the first round, and I handled my semifinal game pretty handily with huge games from all the guys that mattered. In the championship game I found myself pitted against the sixth-seeded team, who we’ll call BHBB because the real team name probably isn’t appropriate for print.
BHBB had a solid team. You don’t get to the championship game without one. But my team was, on paper, significantly better. Most of the Week 16 games were played on Christmas Eve this year, and luckily my in-laws have the Red Zone channel, which switches games when a team is close to scoring a touchdown. It’s like porn for fantasy football team managers. So I’m watching the first huge batch of games unfold and come out of it feeling a little disappointed but overall still pretty confident of my chances at taking home the trophy.
The second, significantly smaller batch of games started at 3:15, and I was counting on 12-20 points from Romo to help pad my lead. But two throws into the game he knocked his stupid fat hand on the helmet of a defender and had to leave the game. X-rays were negative (who cares), but he was out for the game, leaving me with a lousy -2 output from my top scorer on the season.
Brutal. I texted a buddy immediately and told him my season was over. He offered condolences. I’ve never been so unhappy on Christmas Eve in my life.
When I went to bed that night, I had a six point lead and no more players left. BHBB had the Chicago Bears defense and a running back for New Orleans named Darren Sproles. The Bears played the next night, and the Saints played Monday night. I was sort of hoping that Chicago would do enough Sunday night to just put me out of my misery, but instead they sucked it up against the juggernaut Packers and posted a -3, bumping my lead back up to 9 with only Sproles left.
If you watched Drew Brees’ record-breaking game on Monday night, you know how this story ends. With about two minutes left in the game, I was holding onto a 2-point lead with New Orleans marching down the field. One more stop by the Falcons, and they’d get the ball and pretty much end the game. Sproles wouldn’t get any more chances at earning yards, and I would win the trophy that I not only suggested we get for this season, but actually found and put together myself.
But Brees kept going, and Atlanta couldn’t do anything to stop him. On the Falcons’ nine-yard line, Brees needed only 7 yards to break Dan Marino’s single-season record for total yards thrown, so he went for the throw.
Me: “Don’t pass it to Sproles. Don’t pass it Sproles. Don’t pass it to Sproles…”
Nine-yard touchdown, Darren Sproles.
My one-year-old daughter had been sleeping blissfully upstairs in her crib for a few hours by that point, so my explosive and vulgar outburst at that exact moment didn’t wake her up. But it was loud enough to have done it, and my wife, who was starting to drift off on the couch, didn’t appreciate the reaction. She looked at me the way you’d look at a kid whose guy got killed on a video game that nobody cares about. She knew this was important to me, but she doesn’t care about fantasy football. Why would she? Unless it’s your team, fantasy football isn’t really all that interesting. In fact, if you’re still reading this you’re either a member of my fantasy league, or you were just waiting to see what awful, horrible thing happened to me. Even now, when you find out that a Darren Sproles touchdown is what I consider to be the fantasy football equivalent of the poo pie in “The Help,” you’re walking away disappointed.
But I promise, you aren’t even fractionally as disappointed as I was after that botched championship. The fifteenth game of my fantasy football season was the first one that I lost, and I lost it in the last two minutes of the last possible game of the entire fantasy season. It was very, very hard to fall asleep knowing my beloved Fantasy Gods had jilted me. It was even harder to wake up and face the reality of another day, almost the way you feel when somebody has died. That’s really what it felt like. Like somebody died.
Somebody might as well have, because Tony Romo is basically dead to me.
There are three really sad things about all of this, things that I just can’t shake, even though I no longer get sick to stomach thinking about Darren Sproles and Drew Brees:
1. I’m going to have to make Tony Romo my keeper next year, even though I have warmer feelings for Adolph Hitler than I do him.
2. The guy who beat me is the only guy who doesn’t come to the drafts, so nobody even really knows what he looks like. So it’s not even somebody I can be happy for. He’s this mysterious entity I have to hate like Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984.”
3. The guy who beat me didn’t even draft his own team. Outside of Tom Brady, who was the BHBB keeper, the rest of the roster was selected by the guy’s brother, who also is in the league and, ironically, finished in last place with the team he picked for himself for the second year in a row. I got beat by a 6-7 team hand-picked by the guy who’s finished dead last for two years running.
It’s okay if you don’t care about any of this. I’m not even sure I care anymore. When August rolls around and I start seeing fantasy football magazines on the shelves at the drug store, I’ll get into it again. Right now, though, I just want to drown my sorrow in basketball.
At least I won $225 in the affair, but this will always go down as the perfect season that was not to be. I remember rooting for the Giants that year they beat the perfect Patriots, and now I feel badly for having done so. Never again. Long live the juggernauts. They’ve earned it.