Sunday, October 3, 2010

This Used To Be My Rock and Roll Fantasy

The other day, I did a Google search for the loneliest job in the world and came across a list sporting some interesting career choices, including a few that don’t seem very lonely at all (bartender, waiter), and some that seem inappropriately lonely (ship’s captain -- hey, maybe that Titanic captain should’ve been doing a little less lonely tea-drinking and a little more social boat-drivin’, but whatever). Then again, this list could’ve been prepared by some college kid who’s all hopped up on his dad’s Vicodin. You just never know with the Internet.

Putting aside the list’s authoritativeness (let’s not get into the Internet’s accuracy – did you hear that U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell used to be a witch?), at the very least, it gave me a good transition into this week’s column, in which we address what I’ve concluded, unequivocally, to be the loneliest job in the world. I know it’s the loneliest job because I perform it alone (take it easy, you sickos), and literally, no one else on Earth cares what happens.

I’m talking about my job as owner and general manager of the Mustache Farts (derived from a joke on Family Guy) fantasy sports franchise. Mustache Farts, LLP, currently owns and operates three franchises, participating in three different fantasy sports leagues. You may have a similar job, and you may similarly annoy the ever-living crap out of your friends and loved ones with tales of bad beats.

For those of you not familiar, fantasy sports play like this. A group of people get together before a season starts, and, in one manner or another (usually auction or draft), divvy up the players from a professional sports league according to the particular league’s roster requirements. Once the season starts, teams accumulate points based on their players’ real-life statistical performances. There is some strategy involved (moreso in baseball, whereas football seems to be much more of a crapshoot), but it’s more or less a form of gambling. Basically, you’re rooting for an individualized group of statistics over which you have absolutely no control.

A brief rundown of my company’s assets, you know, before you become so dizzyingly bored with my story that you start looking for a bottle of scotch and a handful of Ambien:

1. Mr. Chow (currently 2-1 in the Prime Pigskin Football League): Named after the villain in The Hangover

2. South Beach Talents (struggling at 1-2 in the AMB Fantasy Football League V -- Must Be Some Kind of Hot Tub Time Machine). Named after Lebron’s famous quote, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach…” quote from The Decision.

3. Mr. Chow (2010 season of the Prime Baseball League now complete). Still named after the villain in The Hangover.

My condolences to the 98 percent of people I’ve already bored to death. The rest of you, before you seek the sweet release of death so you don’t have to hear a single millisecond more about my team’s fates, bear with me. I’m not going to regale you with stories about how if it hadn’t been for Matt Forte (RB - Chicago) fumbling and costing me two points, and I lost by 1.6 points, I would’ve made the playoffs last season.

No, today my interest is in the lifecycle of fantasy sports. Let’s start with the first unassailable truth, the bedrock principle of fantasy sports. Although millions of people play, no one on this planet cares about your team but you. Even if another fantasy player in another league in Iowa or has the same exact roster as Mr. Chow, he doesn’t care about my team -- he only cares about his team. Has there ever been another hobby like this? For example, if we were both rock climbers, we’d be talking equipment, cool climbs, that kind of thing. But his fantasy league is different than mine, with a different scoring system, different opponents; he may have won this week, where I might have lost, and each of us couldn’t give a crap about the other’s team.

The first time you play fantasy sports, you invariably think that it’s the greatest thing ever, up on Life’s Medal Stand with sex and Sam Adams’ fall variety pack. First, you get together with a bunch of your buddies to draft, drink a bunch of beer and eat giant sandwiches. Second, every NFL game instantly becomes interesting. You immediately conclude that you’re a virtuoso at the draft, and that it’s simply not possible that any of the other 7, 9 or 11 teams in the league have a team that can carry your team’s statistical jockstrap. It’s not like you think your team is going to go undefeated, but you wouldn’t be surprised. You love Greg Gumbel’s cut-in from the studio to see what just happened in the Cincinnati-Kansas City game.

Then reality sets in. The early games are ending, and your running back has rushed for 26 yards and lost a fumble. Your two wide receivers have caught a combined total of one pass for 12 yards, and your tight end didn't even play. You start muttering, and your mood darkens considerably. For the first and only time in the history of your fantasy managerial career, the spouse asks what’s wrong, and you unleash a profanity-laden diatribe about the West Coast offense and how the Rams’ coach deliberately sabotaged your team -- you’re not sure how -- but he did, because did you see how many times that guy was open and he never threw to him once? Your spouse’s eyelids start twitching like she’s having a seizure, and in fact, she might be, triggered by an almost inhuman level of disinterest, the kind of dissociation that’s typically only experienced once you’ve spent several years in a supermax prison like the Unabomber.

Yet somehow, venting doesn’t make the fantasy owner feel better. You just get more revved up because there is no escape valve, no one to commiserate with. If the Washington Redskins lose today, there are literally millions of fans I can share the misery with, and hundreds of inches of copy that columnists will pump out, wondering if the Redskins are any better with Mike Shanahan at the wheel than they were with Jim Zorn. But when Mr. Chow loses, I stand a lonely vigil. And you’ll do just about anything to make the vigil worthwhile.

A few years in, and you realize fantasy sports’ spot on the medal stand is in jeopardy. Other things in your life are vying for the spot, like finding a quiet hour to watch Mad Men, or maybe the changing-jersey girl from the NFL Red Zone Channel commercial. Even the draft, which was once a sacred holiday, gets squeezed in on a Tuesday night via the ESPN Draft Room and you’re reading Goodnight Moon to your kids in between draft picks while the commissioner threatens, via instant chat, to kill everyone in the league for not understanding the unilateral rule change he implemented two hours before the draft.

And then you’ll hit bottom. You’ll root against your own team, the team you’ve rooted for since you were seven years old, the one you watched win three Super Bowls growing up, because you own Tony Romo. It’s like that scene in Heathers, when Heather No. 1 is staring at the mirror in the bathroom of the Remington University party and spits water on her reflection (incidentally, I thought that was the strangest scene in the whole movie, clumsily stuck in as a way to develop Heather No. 1’s character). You’re disgusted with yourself, but you do it again and again, and it gets easier and easier because just once, you want to lift the Cup just one time, maybe even order Mr. Chow championship hats. Well, just one hat, because no one else cares. You know you’ve finally hit bottom when you find yourself yelling at the television during the Bills-Chiefs game, which has fewer television viewers than game announcers.

So what do you do then? Is it possible to keep fantasy sports fun? Strangely enough, I think they can, as long as you don’t care. This year I had a fellow league owner who recently moved to town over for one of my drafts this year, and it was the first time I’d seen a living soul during a draft in probably six years. We ate chicken wings and drank beer, and finally, fantasy sports were fun again. Mainly because I don’t care.

I finally realized that for fantasy sports to be fun, you have to stop caring. You have, at best, a 10 percent chance of winning the title in your league (12.5 percent in one of those sad little 8-team leagues). That means there’s a 90 percent chance you’re going to lose. It’s important to keep these stats in mind, but here’s the most important stat of all: a 100 percent chance that win or lose, no one else is going to care.

Now, all that being said, if I ever win a fantasy championship, I am totally sleeping with the league trophy.

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