Count me among the addicted.
For the next five months, I will live and die every Sunday afternoon with millions of others who will be parked in front of TV sets watching the action.
The National Football League is gearing up for another season of great runs, catches, and hits. But here’s the thing—I couldn’t care less who wins any of the games.
In fact, it took me five minutes of head-scratching to remember that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the defending Super Bowl champs.
The reason? Fantasy football.
Fantasy football has an entire legion of football fans ignoring final scores of games and skipping right to the box score to see how “their” guy did on any given Sunday between now and January.
It all starts this week when fantasy leagues across North America will hold their annual drafts.
If you’ve never participated in a fantasy football league draft, it goes something like this: you and roughly 11 of your buddies organize a time to meet online.
A half-an-hour before the start time, the computer randomly generates a draft order and 30 minutes later, you and all your buddies begin selecting real-life players that will make up your fantasy team.
Fantasy football players take the draft extremely seriously.
I’ve played in a league with a bunch of university buddies for the past five years. And I’ve never missed a draft, which is remarkable because for several of those years I lived in Asia and the time difference caused havoc with my schedule.
Like any person with a serious addiction, I have done some bizarre things to ensure I get my fix.
One year when I was living in South Korea, I had to get up in the middle of the night, walk down to the Internet cafe on the corner, and pay good money to use a computer just so I could participate in the draft.
I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
The draft is hilarious, especially if you are playing with a bunch of guys you know well. Within about two minutes of the first pick, the good-natured jabs begin flying back and forth.
Five minutes after that, someone invariably makes an awful pick because they either are flustered by said good-natured jabs or they panicked because they didn’t know who to pick.
A bad fantasy pick is deadly for a couple of reasons, with the first being that your friends will NEVER let you forget it.
I had a buddy who drafted Ravens’ running back Jamal Lewis the year he injured his knee in the pre-season—not knowing Lewis would miss the entire season.
Like sharks with blood in the water, the verbal jabs were merciless. He never recovered from that pick and finished the season in last place. And every year since, he’s had to endure the barrage of Jamal Lewis jokes every time he picks.
The second reason is that one bad pick can sink your entire season. I had Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb last season, which was great until he suffered his sports hernia injury and didn’t finish the season.
Now injuries are a part of the game and I accept that, but I had the opportunity to take Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (a guy who never gets injured unless he’s riding his motorcycle) and passed.
I kicked myself repeatedly as I went from dominating to struggling in a matter of weeks.
So with all that in mind, I’ve devised a list of rules ever y fantasy owner should adhere to leading up to the draft:
1. Take a minute to look at the injury report from pre-season games.
The pre-season is boring, boring football, but it’s important to keep an eye on it because every year someone drafts an injured player or a guy who has retired.
2. Rookies are gambles best taken in the late rounds of your draft.
Never, and I mean never, draft a rookie over an established player at any position. There are going to be a lot of people who draft Reggie Bush this year who will be disappointed when he doesn’t set the world on fire.
3. Prepare but don’t over-do it.
It’s important to have a short list of guys you would like to draft and a few sleepers for the later rounds. However, you don’t need a binder you’ve been working on all summer with charts and graphs to pick your team.
There is such a thing as too much information.
4. You can never have too many running backs.
It’s a fact of life that running backs get hurt, so you need to draft them early and often for your fantasy league.
The best part of having a ton of tailbacks is that late in the season, one of your buddies will be desperate for help and will give you half his team for one of your surplus guys.
5. Be sure to trash talk your friends during the draft.
Trash talking is the sure-fire way to throw your friends off during the draft and pressure them into making a bad pick.
These five simple rules should serve you well as you strive for fantasy football glory. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have football websites to scour and an addiction to feed.
Count me among the addicted.