Last Friday I picked up former Saints and Colts coach Jim Mora from his hotel. Among the many promo shoots he had to do that day, Mora still found time to talk football. The conversation eventually found itself on the topic of fantasy football. Pushing eighty these days, Mora is still as sharp as ever. When you hear a former NFL head coach speak, you generally are inclined to listen. Mora said that he doesn’t like fantasy football because it’s not like real football. Though he was not actually arguing in favor of the recreation, he was speaking to it’s biggest appeal: fantasy football is make believe, wonderfully delicious make believe.
Fantasy is an alternate reality: a supplement for a football crazed nation, a side-dish for team diehards to chow down on, a little dose of crazy to go with a big dose of testosterone. The concept is brilliant in it’s ego massaging essence. Letting an individual have the chance to create that one great team is something any frustrated sports fan is inclined to jump at. Fantasy adds an element of control that is nowhere to be found in reality sports (my name for recreation played on a field rather than a computer). Of course it’s easy to forget that a good fantasy player isn’t necessarily a winner on the field, and vice-versa, but don’t bother mentioning that during a good, old-fashioned “water cooler” argument.
The craze of fantasy football was born back in the early sixties. Some members of the Oakland Raiders front office and a few journalists created the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League), a touchdown only scoring entity that exists to this day. Since then the virtual sport has undergone many evolutions. The advent of computers let the scoring and logistics become more fluid and less time consuming – you wouldn’t know that given the hours I spend glued to a screen in hopes of squeezing a few extra points out of my backup wide receiver slot. As the game has become more organized and eventually corporate, it has became an opiate for adults missing the joys of elementary competition. It is estimated that anywhere from 27 to 47 million people play fantasy football each fall, and the business side produces upwards of 1 billion dollars annually. Perhaps even more telling is that a study conducted in the fall of 2012 estimated that over the course of a the fantasy football season (NFL season), employed players cost their businesses a combined 6.5 billion dollars. Though the winning and losing may be virtual, that number certainly isn’t. Leagues also often feature a buy in and money prize, but the real plunder is bragging rights and the opportunity to lord over your friends or co-workers. That spirit of fantasy domination has even been adapted into a TV comedy, The League (if you’re not a fan of fantasy football or sports, the show is still an absolute riot).
Fantasy football is taxing, traumatic fun. Depending on where you finish in your league it can be the height of sports utopia, or a 1984 like culture of oppression. Whether you end up on Mount Olympus with the fantasy gods, or deep in the heart of Hades’ underworld with other hapless team owners, the journey getting there is a lively, spirited obsession that can break friendships, ruin minds, and make Sunday the most stressful day of the week. For all you fantasy lovers, go decimate your league and bask in the glory of an artificial victory high! For you newcomers, come on in, the water is just fine – and very addictive.