The BAM League

By: Mark Koll


Chapter List:

1-    An Introduction to the BAM League

2-    Draft Day

3-    Week One: Fantasy Fans

4-    Week Two: Mental Athletics

5-    Week Three: Exiled From Paradise

6-    Week Four: Special Victims Unit

7-    Week Five: Fantasy as Identity

8-    Week Six: Plot Twists

9-    Week Seven: Confounding Confounders

10-  Week Eight: Fantasy Faith

11-  Week Nine: The Great Excuse

12-  Week Ten: A Man without a Country

13-  Week Eleven: The Lockout Apocalypse

14-  Week Twelve: Real-Life Fantasy

15-  Week Thirteen: Exit Strategies

16-  Playoffs: A Time for Wins

17-  Epilogue








An Introduction to the BAM League


            BAM stands for “Be a Man.  The motto is not just a call to manhood, but a rallying cry to those who attack life with intensity.  To those who squeeze the last drips of pleasure from the daily grind.  It is a mission statement from those unconcerned with the trite pleasantries of sedated interaction.  From those above the bullshit.  From those who forge out into uncharted areas of self-discovery, ill-suited for the disquieting rash of modernity; but embracing it anyway.  Be a fucking man, indeed.

            The BAM League is an all-inclusive Fantasy sports super-world, spanning all four major sports – football, basketball, baseball, and hockey – and sparing no detail of sporting possibility.  It is a Fantasy league that is predicated upon the constant consumption of the ever-present flurry of American sports.  It is Fantasy Boot Camp.  It is a lifestyle, a mindset, a war-zone, a midlife crisis, a No Man’s Land of statistical exactitudes.  Diagnosed lunacy is a winning trait to those that participate; or, maybe, just an all-consuming love of sports.  Three capitals: The BAM League.

            Disclaimer: I do not play Fantasy sports.  Anytime I hear the phrase “play fantasy” I think of some acne-ridden fat-body alone in his room, obsessing over mystical spell cards.  Perhaps I don’t participate because of my independent ways, or my laziness, or my insecure fear of embarrassment, but regardless of the cause, I have never played a single season of Fantasy sports of any kind.

            Then again, in very obvious ways, my life is full of Fantasy sports.  The alluring mania of Fantasy sportdom has ensnared legions of devoted followers.  I am surrounded by it and by them.  By force of sheer numbers, an entirely new sports industry has materialized from the thinnest of air.  In fact, it materialized in the brains of sports fans (where there is surely very thin air).  Every newspaper or magazine now comes equipped with a column offering Fantasy advice.  ESPN has been forced to become a Fantasy Mecca, offering extensive Fantasy research and hiring teams of analysts solely devoted to analyzing Fantasy sports.  Every male I know, and even a few females, involve themselves with Fantasy sports.  Most guys are in multiple leagues for just the NFL, while some up the ante and play in a number of separate leagues for the various professional sport leagues.  There is Fantasy for fishing, and Nascar, and bowling.  Golf, and tennis, and horse racing.  The more avidly-eclectic Fantasy followers eagerly await every batted ball, netted hoop, blasted puck, or spiraled pass – for there is always something on the line.  It is all much more specific and detailed than gambling or sports betting; Fantasy sports have become the looking glass by which no sporting event goes unnoticed.

            While Fantasy sports undoubtedly arose innocently, from a healthy – or decidedly unhealthy – love of sports, it has evolved into something much bigger and much more addictive over the last couple of decades.  Simply put: my friends are obsessed with Fantasy sports.  They do not hanker for the meager payouts at season’s end or even any bragging rights (topics we’ll discuss later on, but consider that it takes most people many minutes of thinking before they can remember which owner won the previous season, though it is difficult to tell if this is a symptom of them not caring who wins or their memory being clouded by the insane amount of Fantasy leagues they involve themselves with).  Fantasy is all about the process and the competition.  People play Fantasy as a means of agency.  It is something they choose to do, and that makes all the difference.  With all their hours of stat-hawking, trade-proposing, rumor-accumulating, and roster-worrying, Fantasy owners are expressing themselves through the performance of their team.  They define themselves by the quality of their decisions.  In the end, people who play Fantasy sports, win or lose, feel like they’ve accomplished something, or at least attempted something, despite the fact that they have accomplished or attempted nothing.

            That is not to belittle Fantasy or Fantasy players.  Sports knowledge is no less practical than an intimate knowledge of fashion, poetry, or yoga; to those uninvolved, it seems like a ridiculous waste of time.  But inside these circles of like-minded individuals, the hobby gains substance.  It is the crux of their worldview in many ways.  And though I do not play Fantasy sports, I feel like I have for many years.  After a lifetime of playing sports and watching sports, I’ve amassed a knowledge base on par with even the most dedicated Fantasy aficionados.  And due to this mostly useless backlog of knowledge, a strong part of me knows that it was a sense of wastefulness that inspired Fantasy leagues.  If I have all this knowledge going to waste, why not start an imaginary stat league to put that knowledge to use?  But though I have not succumbed to Fantasy inclusion just yet, I involve myself in the endless debates of player evaluation, weigh in on side-by-side team comparisons, and vehemently argue over draft value in the frenzied weeks leading up to a Fantasy draft.  I know Fantasy sports almost as well as those who play it, but because I abstain from actually doing it, I am left with a rather objective view of it all.  With nothing to gain or lose, I maintain the appropriate vantage point to observe Fantasy sports for what they have become, why people love them without reserve, and why they might matter.

            So that is what I set out to do: to better understand the underlying motivations for all this Fantasy worship.  I had no idea it would be so impossibly complicated.







Draft Day


            My closest friends devised the BAM League.  They describe it as a four-sport Keeper League with player retention based upon real-life contracts.  The whole league is a shit-storm of a spectacle: there are ten teams in the BAM League and thirteen owners (three teams are run by co-owners).  On the original draft day, in the fall of 2010, twelve of the thirteen owners assembled to draft all four sports at once.  The result was an exhaustive measure of phantasmagoric madness: over eighty rounds and fifteen hours of drafting.  Because the players could only be retained through contract, each pick was a hassled measuring of pros and cons and the black and white totem-pole of the player rankings was rendered useless.  In other words, an owner had to consider the value of a player in the upcoming season compared with how many years the player had left on his contract, because that is how long you would own your draftee, while simultaneously juggling four rosters, for four different sports, at the same time.  Once a player’s contract expired in real life, that player entered BAM League free agency and was cast back into the draft pool for the following year.

The original BAM League draft was already a clusterfuck, as it was nearly impossible for the owners to compare superstars from the different sports (none of them had ever considered the Fantasy implications of the varying sports against one another), but when the names of all the eligible picks were pooled into a massive database, the whole thing was bigger and more confusing than anyone could have imagined.  Three flat screen TVs were rigged together and used as surrogate monitors for a computer which toggled from team to team and sport to sport, showing the available players and the ones already drafted alongside an intricately-constructed Microsoft Excel document – referred to throughout the day as “The Big Board” – that contained the contract information for each one of the thousands of players that were under consideration.  It was a shit-storm alright.

This extravaganza started on a Sunday morning in the basement of Luke’s house.  Luke is a childhood friend of mine.  Matt K (my brother) and I live at the house with him.  Luke is one of the co-founders of the league and engineer of the mind-boggling Excel spreadsheets that were utilized on that first draft day.  Once the draft was finally over, night had fallen long ago.  The owners emerged from the basement looking haggard, shell-shocked, and in my opinion, completely unsure of what had just taken place.  None of them had ever participated in such a comprehensive Fantasy draft, though they were all seasoned Fantasy veterans, and no one seemed to know how to feel about any of it.  The original BAM League owners were: Luke, Matt V (the other co-founder), Matt K and Scott (co-owners), Anthony, Josh, Whalen, Johnstone and Van Eck (co-owners), Drish, Sipple, and the Rossman brothers (co-owners).  Ten teams.  Thirteen owners.

Van Eck was the only owner who couldn’t make the draft, having been scheduled for the day shift at a bar where he was a part-time bouncer, but his co-owner consulted with him for every pick by text message.  This meant Johnstone had to tell Van Eck the players that were taken, and by which owner, while relaying contract information and reiterating their unfilled roster positions.  Once the day was over, Johnstone and Van Eck had created a text thread that rivaled most novels.  It was over 1,500 texts long.

With the draft in the books, the BAM League had cemented its existence.  The hypothetical idea for the league, which originally sprang up from a frenzied conversation at a bar, had become an official Fantasy league.  The rules were set up in a way that would allow the BAM League to act as four separate Fantasy leagues, with a cumulative point system to decide an overall winner.  The entry fee was 200 dollars.  For year one, Josh won the hockey and basketball portions and finished third in the football portion, which was good enough to win the overall crown and 800 bucks in prize money.  It wasn’t until the BAM League was gearing up for its second full season that I officially decided to investigate the league and its troupe of Fantasy enthusiasts.  But because the BAM League is so expansive, and takes a full year to complete a season, to somewhat narrow my analysis, I focused on only the football portion of Season Two.  I hoped that my observations would serve a twofold purpose: to lend insight to the intricate details of BAM League operation, while offering a wider lens by which to understand Fantasy competition.  By implication, I further hoped that these things would coalesce in some fashion as to illuminate themselves.  But why football, instead of basketball or baseball?  Simple: Fantasy football is the most popular Fantasy sport.

Every sport is Fantasy-capable, in some regard, but Fantasy football reigns supreme.  It has by far the most active followers.  This may be attributable to many things, but its popularity, in my mind, is a result of the simplicity of its management.  The NFL’s week to week scheduling offers an extended period of decision; every owner has a full seven days to mull over changes and discuss things with other members in the league.  There is no urgency to Fantasy football.  It doesn’t demand much of the owner’s time to maintain a roster.  You have plenty of time to trade, add/drop, start/bench, talk shit, stare at projections, examine injury updates, talk more shit, and work yourself into a frothy lather over your upcoming match-up.  It sounds like a lot to do, but compare all that with the three other sports – NBA, MLB, NHL – which demand these things on a daily basis, and Fantasy football seems far preferable.  It doesn’t eat up as much of your time to play.

Fantasy football is also more fun for the NFL’s episodic schedule.  The day-to-day operation of the other leagues, especially baseball, leaves little to no time for planning or reflection.  These other sports require more roster maintenance and offer less excitement for the Fantasy owner, as the players compete almost every day.  The saturation of players performing eliminates the anticipation that makes the weekly schedule of the NFL so riveting.  Fantasy football is quick and easy and spread out.  You have a week to get your team in fighting shape and then, in one 7-8 hour window on Sunday afternoon, you know your fate.  Other sports are necessarily strung out over many games and feel less like a singular Fantasy event.  Baseball is a marathon; football is a sprint.  Fantasy football is experienced as a bullet-train of activity.  The NFL is the most popular sports league in America and is on another level of interest for Fantasy moguls.  The vast majority of Fantasy leagues are football-based.  It is with football that the obsessively-dedicated Fantasy zealots align their self-worth.  I knew that if I was going to examine one Fantasy sport, it had to be football.

Now, not every Fantasy football league is run the same.  There are many types: Keeper Leagues, PPR Leagues, Rotisserie Leagues, etc.  The draft is significantly affected by what type of league it is.  For example, if it is a Keeper League, an owner is usually only allowed to “keep” three players at season’s end.  This means that a team centralized around three consistent superstars can do well for several years, while the teams that rely on depth and a complete roster will have difficulty maintaining competitiveness.  For a Keeper League, the owner should aim for quality, not quantity.  For a PPR League (Point Per Reception), the drafter should aim for wide receivers and running backs with good hands, as the added points from catching passes can be a big boost to your overall scores.

Point systems, in this way, dictate the value of a position.  People should draft on the notion of scarcity.  That is, one should draft the players that are hardest to find.  If a position is deeper, and therefore more replaceable, it is best to stay away from it, as players of similar capabilities will likely be available later on in the draft.  It is a far superior method to draft on relative value and focus on positions that don’t have as many stand-out players; this is why running backs are so important come draft time.  There simply aren’t that many great running backs anymore.  They are scarcer than any other position.  Offensive schemes have changed and the NFL has become a passing league.  There are only five to ten reliable running backs worthy of a high draft pick, and the drop off from that handful to the rest of the league, in terms of yearly production, is startling.  Therefore, those few running backs that can be relied upon have become all the more important.

Consider this idea for quarterbacks.  Sure, there are only five to ten “truly great” quarterbacks in the NFL at any given time, but the drop off to the next ten is less severe.  An owner can acquire a passer ranked just below a top-tier guy in a much later round if he is patient enough.  An owner only needs one quarterback and with only ten teams drafting (in the case of the BAM League), it is likely that no one will touch that second level of quarterbacks early on, despite the fact that their statistical production will not be much worse than that of the top-tier quarterbacks.  If you wait to draft one of these quarterbacks later on, you can spend your earlier picks on positions for which it is harder to find equitable replacements.  In essence, it doesn’t make sense to waste an early draft pick on a position that you can fill later on.  On the flip side, you must snatch up hard-to-find players (like running backs) early and often, for once they’re gone, they’re gone.  Getting unique talents is more important than going after the steady and well-stocked positions.

The BAM League’s second season started with a new draft for all four sports, though this new draft was nothing close to the 15-hour ordeal of a year before.  Because most owners were smart enough to pick players with extended contracts, none needed to fill that many spaces on their rosters.  The draft was therefore quite truncated.  And because so many players were retained by contract, it followed that there weren’t many good players to be had anyway.  The biggest catches – stars whose contracts had run out – were taken immediately and the rest of the draft rounds were comprised of place-holders and roster-filler.

But even though the draft wasn’t as important as the previous year, it was still difficult to organize.  A Fantasy draft for football needs to be as close to the start of the NFL season as possible so owners can avoid taking a player that may end up being inactive, whether due to preseason injury or contract hold-outs (which have become more and more common).  In result, there is only about a two-week window which serves as an acceptable timeframe to hold the draft.  To complicate matters further for this new BAM League draft, one of the original owners, Anthony, had been kicked out of the league and was being replaced by Matt V’s little brother: Mark V.  Throw in the scheduling conflicts of the myriad number of other Fantasy football leagues these lunatics participate in and various other family and work-related commitments, and it becomes damn near impossible to find an appropriate time to hold a draft.  After rescheduling three times, the owners agreed to just run the draft in an ongoing chatroom on Facebook, which took three days to finish.

The chatroom itself was no major obstacle, though, because the entire BAM League is run by computer.  Like many other Fantasy leagues, the BAM League is constituted by a wide array of people and places.  Some leagues run for years, across the progression of people’s lives, and owners move away or become disinterested.  Some owners link up with new leagues or shift their focus to something else.  The mainstays, the ones for whom Fantasy will never get stale, keep the leagues going.  People get replaced, rules change, commissioners adapt, but the leagues continue.  Leagues started in mangy university dorms persist far past graduation, further than any friendship or reasonable passage of time.  The teams become like mini-corporations with faceless owners at the helm.  No one really cares who the owners are.  The team is all that matters, in the end.

And in this way, Fantasy sport is an equitable form of judgment.  Though it involves trash talking, insults, and plenty of spiteful biases; a team’s roster speaks for itself.  Even the most determined and cynical asshole has to respect a good roster.  To the people of the Fantasy community, there is nothing as awe-inspiring as a roster managed just right.

Still, other leagues are comprised of groups of close-knit friends that know each other well and don’t need to branch out to find new owners.  The BAM League is a mixture; there’s everything from lifelong friends, to general acquaintances, to complete strangers discovered through Fantasy competition.  I imagine that all Fantasy leagues are unique in this way: all formed along varying lines of familiarity between the owners.  Regardless, the second year draft is done.  And it was none too impressive.

I have heard tales of Fantasy drafts being wild parties.  For example, one story went that a league held a live draft and for each selection made, the owner had to take a shot of hard liquor to lock in the pick.  Other stories tell of destination drafts, where entire leagues go on vacation together with the intent of running the draft in some cool locale.  I’ve never witnessed one of these party drafts, nor am I sure they even exist, but they sound starkly different from what I witnessed with the BAM League draft: blank, emotionless faces lightly illuminated by the muted glow of a laptop or a smartphone.  It was robotic and stressful and deadly serious.  Once it was over, there seemed an audible sigh of collective relief as the owners appreciated the weightlessness of being “off the clock,” though, as I’ve explained, this new draft wasn’t all that important.

Post-draft brought the long hours of debate over which owner had the best draft and whose team looked the strongest, but above all, for reasons of self-elevation, everyone searched for the worst pick of the draft.  If everyone could be sure who made the very worst pick, regardless of the outcomes, no one would feel that bad about their chances.  And, to my surprise, all the owners are in perfect agreement (something that happens only rarely) over who made the worst pick: Drish taking Randy Moss in the seventh round.

Drish might be the most interesting BAM League owner.  He is a violent drunk, but downright affable when sober.  He’s a nice guy who can tear his friends apart with well-timed, incisive insults.  His intentions are always good, but he gets himself into all sorts of impossible situations.  When it comes to sports, he has ludicrous motives for liking a hodgepodge collective of sports teams.  He is fan of Duke basketball, the Cincinatti Reds, the Indiana Pacers, and above all, the New York Jets; it’s an assortment of teams random enough to make one think they should be mutually exclusive.

So why does he like exactly these teams?  Spontaneous propellants lead him off in all directions.  His fandom exists as a scattershot prayer.  It’s as if his blind faith in certain sport franchises was accrued by throwing darts at a map and aligning himself with wherever they may have landed.  While Drish is a beacon of sincerity, his bleeding heart leads him astray at times, directing him towards impulsive notions of propriety, typically nowhere near accurate.  It’s as if his head and his heart were somehow disconnected, both able, but aimed in conflicting directions.

This is not to say that Drish is some sort of idiot.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  He has amazing recall and a sharp, clever wit.  For a different Fantasy football league, he came up with the most original team name I’ve heard all fall (after selecting Santonio Holmes, a player on his beloved New York Jets, his team name was: “Holmes Alone Two: Lost in New York.”)  Drish is just a sucker for matters of the heart and taking Randy Moss in the seventh round is pure lunacy, seeing as though Randy Moss is not on an NFL team, and is, by all accounts, retired.

Drish fondly remembers a time when Randy Moss was a Fantasy stud on the long ago Vikings and his not-too-distant glory days in New England.  It is, as far as I can tell, a nostalgic pick.  But nostalgia has no place in Fantasy football.  The Randy Moss of today is undraftable and Drish took him in the seventh round when he should have taken somebody else.  Anybody else.

Still, Drish is nothing but prideful, and he refuses to accept that truth.  He has not knelt before the Fantasy Gods and offered up his submission in exchange for Fantasy knowledge, as one must.  He wants to go on believing in hunches and that Randy Moss is still Randy Moss.  He wants to prove the insiders and the stat-projectors and, especially, the other owners of the BAM League wrong.

Scott doesn’t agree.  He says, “Drish can’t help himself.  He’s a dumbfuck.”






Week One: Fantasy Fans


            I was born and raised in Chicago.  Thus, I am a Bears fan.  I don’t see any need to reconsider this simple truth.

            To me, and the vast majority of sports fans, your “beloved” team is nothing more than the franchise that represents your hometown.  So, I am a Bears fan, something I’m proud of and, with their endless string of hapless quarterbacks, ashamed of.  Similarly, I like to assume that everyone else from Chicago also roots for the Bears.  But, while every owner in the BAM League is originally from the Chicago area, it appears that none of them actively support the Bears.  The only team I see the owners rooting for is their Fantasy team.

            A few BAM League owners, like Drish, aligned themselves, for whatever reason, with an NFL team besides the Bears.  Others are technically Bears fans, but they favor the Bears with no more gusto than they might prefer one pizza joint over another; Matt K and Scott are like this, and are mostly ambivalent Bears fans.  One would think Luke was a Bears Superfan – a big, husky guy who likes to drink beer and has a closet full of Bears jerseys – but Luke never says much or shows any emotion, leaving you to wonder how much he actually cares.  Matt V, always seeking out opportunities to go against the grain, purposely roots against the Bears, hoping to irk me or any other Bears fans within earshot.  But mostly, his dickishness goes unnoticed, as no one is invested enough in the Bears to be offended.  On gameday, everyone is too tied up in their Fantasy rosters, where only individual players matter, to give a shit about the status of an entire team, even if that team is representing their hometown.

            To someone like Scott, as long as Miles Austin does well against the Jets in Dallas, he doesn’t care what happens to the Bears against Atlanta.  Fantasy concern spreads his interest out, segmenting it into disparate elements that are strewn about the American football map.  Scott has no Bears on his Fantasy rosters – their defensive brand of football has always rendered their players ill-suited for Fantasy performance – and Chicago, Scott’s hometown, holds no interest to him.  While Fantasy sports have facilitated a boon in general sports interest, hometown allegiance has suffered to a degree.  Scott is a South Side of Chicago product through and through, he has the accent and the signature sarcastic machismo, but when Fantasy is on the line, his roots are uprooted and transplanted to whatever TV channel has the game with the most Fantasy impact for him.  He is a fan of Fantasy more than anything else.

            And oh, those channels.  Luke’s house has five flat screens total: one in the basement (where the smokers smoke), two in the office, and two in the front room.  When the time came, it wasn’t even a question whether we would be ordering the NFL package from Comcast.  Home base, which is Luke’s living room on Sunday afternoons in the fall, needs every weapon available.  Laptops come out and smartphones are sent to browsers and sports apps and there are charger cords running off in every direction; the carpet becomes a black pit of electronic snakes.  As the games flicker by on the two wall-mounted flat screens, the living room is transformed into a buzzing data center – think NASA mission control – and every nugget of breaking news is devoured instantaneously.

            I always enjoy telling people something they don’t know, as it feeds my starving ego, but on an NFL Sunday at Luke’s house, I don’t even bother.  I can’t offer anything to anyone.  Stat totals and injury reports are endlessly refreshed for updates.  Every yard, in every game, is accounted for.  All the guys keep their weekly match-ups open for easy reference; Luke has a particular habit of staring at his roster for hours at a time, as if by sheer concentration he could will his team to victory.  His eyes rarely wander to the TV screens, instead preferring to get his news from the online tickers.  Everyone demands to know about every point that’s accrued, every fraction of a point, until each owner knows his fate with painstaking accuracy.

            Our crew for watching Sunday football is Luke, Matt K, Matt V, Scott, Drish, and myself.  It’s only Week One, but we fall back into the routine of years past right away.

            Luke, the earliest riser, is planted on the couch by ten a.m., taking in the kickoff shows, eating bagels, and listening to analysts until the first games at noon.  The NFL season is technically already underway, as the Packers played the Saints on Thursday night, and when Matt V rouses himself from the futon in the office, where he crashed after a Saturday night of barhopping, he complains that he is already scrambling, “from the way Drew Brees fucked me in garbage time.”  He is referring to the two late touchdowns scored by Brees against the Packers, which meant little in the Saints’ losing effort, but were critical in the Fantasy realm, where all stats are held equal.  Matt V sits next to Luke on the larger of the two couches.

Seating on Sunday afternoons is limited to these two couches, which can only fit four comfortably, and the carpeted floor.  One could resort to taking a dining chair from the kitchen and dragging it out to the front room, but it isn’t exactly a comfortable strategy to sit through eight hours of football in a chair with a rigid wooden back.  Your best bet, if you don’t get a spot on the couches, is to utilize the “Seat Save” rules and wait until someone makes for the bathroom and forgets to claim their territory.  Matt K emerges from his room, opposite the office on the first floor, just before the games get underway, and on cue, his co-owner, Scott, pops through the front door accompanied by Drish.  As if a shared epiphany, they all notice the two empty spots on the other couch at the same time.  A mad scramble ensues.  Drish trips to the ground and spends the rest of the day sprawled on the floor in front of the coffee table.  Matt and Scott smile from their new throne.

            Drish claims the ground doesn’t bother him, “It doesn’t matter where I sit.  I’m hung over anyway.  All I know is that I’m going to murder your punk-asses today.”

            Drish is matched-up against Matt K and Scott in the BAM League, a Week One rivalry game, and apparently feels confident that he will murder their punk-asses.  Matt V yawns and nods his head in agreement, as he too would like to see Matt K and Scott’s punk-asses get murdered.  Scott dismisses Drish’s dismissal, but shrugs his shoulders in indifference, as if he didn’t care if his punk-ass got murdered.

            Scott laments, “You’re probably right.  It’s just gonna be another year of Fantasy bullshit anyway.”

            Scott has always been a refreshing blend of optimism and pessimism.  Why is Scott excited?  “I can’t wait to see Drish’s retarded fucking picks blow up in his face.  Randy Moss!  Holy dog shit!”  Why is Scott expecting the worst?  “Because I can’t stand Fantasy more than anything in this world.”

            This love/hate relationship with Fantasy is a common theme for Scott and Matt K.  They consistently bemoan their supposed bad luck.  Matt K attributes his poor showing in the BAM League’s first full season (8th overall) solely to bad luck and injuries, “Football is dumb because there’s no way, ever, to know what’s going to happen.”

            Scott attributes his poor showing to Matt K.  To illustrate, he shows me a link on his phone to the four Fantasy baseball leagues he participated in over the summer.  Scott finished first or second in three of them, but in the fourth, which was the BAM League’s baseball portion, the only team Scott co-owns with Matt K, he finished in dead last – even behind Anthony, who was kicked out of the BAM League for being a lazy, terrible owner.

            Matt K and Scott’s claims of hating Fantasy are not wholly unique; it can be a frustrating endeavor.  But their constant complaints – about everything from league management to trade equity – make me wonder why I never see the opposite of loser’s remorse: winner’s elation.  The owners who win seem to take their success in stride, almost like mature adults, while the losers cry like rotten children.  Then again, such behavior is natural to competition that relies on extraneous factors that can’t be controlled, like luck.

            I supported myself for many years playing online poker.  I did pretty well and as time went on and my interest and success with the game led to my father getting involved.  He set up an online account to take his chances against the millions of other card players on the internet.  Things didn’t go as well for him.  Once a week, if not more, he would call to tell me about some horrendous string of misfortune that befell him on the virtual poker felts.  I listened to him – that’s all complainers really want: to be heard – but I knew firsthand that his experiences were nothing special.  I had suffered the same situations he had a thousand times over, with much more on the line.  I didn’t feel bad for him, but even if I did, it would do him no good.

            Poker and other strategy games are psychological struggles as much as they are competitions of skill.  Those with the mental fortitude to accept the things they cannot control are able to allocate their mental capacity towards exploiting the things they can, thereby finding success over time.  But, for some losers, who feel sure that the twists of fate are out to get them, the necessary defeat involved in variant results is too much to handle.  At some point, the “unlucky” end up wanting to lose.  From then on, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

            It isn’t that my dad wants to lose money, but he plays poker as a means of recreation or entertainment.  He is more interested in the aesthetic results that can be gleaned from the game; a viewpoint that leads one to believe that the game is comprised solely of luck and that the most successful players on the planet are also the luckiest.  This false notion accomplishes two things.  First, by attributing results to factors beyond their control, one need not accept responsibility for the outcomes.  A loss, therefore, is never indicative of any shortcomings of the player.  Second, bad luck becomes proof of bad luck.  Anytime a losing player experiences misfortune – though every player will undoubtedly experience the same – it is considered damning proof that the game is rigged and that no one is as unlucky as they are.

            My father’s attitude towards poker is similar to Scott’s attitude towards Fantasy sports: the game itself is unfair, but only unfair to them.  Both feel special in their bad luck.  But because all Fantasy players believe themselves to be capable owners, when winning comes, it is expected; winners see no reason to celebrate something they knew was going to happen.  In this way, the losers are always going to be more vocal than the winners.

            The only celebrating I ever see is in appreciation of someone else’s misfortune.  It’s Fantasy schadenfreude – the German word for taking pleasure in the misery of others – and it’s much more off-putting when due to injury.  A torn ACL, which spells the end of a season for a player, and, in the NFL, possibly a career, is met with jubilation if that player is owned by an owner one loves to root against.  Matt K has a particularly long history of having players on his roster getting seriously injured, and everyone is thoroughly amused by this, “Koll Injury Curse.”  Matt K is my brother, and I don’t appreciate my last name being attached so something so negative, but even I laugh a little when Scott and Drish cooperate to compile a list of players Matt K has “hurt” over the past few years.  It’s a massive list with over thirty names on it.  Scott then sets about predicting who Matt K will hurt on their BAM League football roster in the upcoming season, settling on their best player: Andre Johnson.

            But as only Scott can pull off, while clearly anticipating grim things to come, he is in a good mood, infused with energy for the first Sunday of the season.  With each new year there is the intoxicating hope that things might be different.  It’s the same reason my father keeps playing a new hand of poker after being bent over the barrel so many times before: there’s always a fresh start to be had.

            So the entire crew is assembled in Luke’s living room, the tedious pre-game shows finally send us out to the actual games, the kicker sets the ball on the tee, takes a few leggy strides, wallops a BOOT, and the first football Sunday of the year has begun.  Nobody moves.  Nobody.  Moves.

            Throughout the day, Matt V and Scott will take infrequent smoke breaks in the basement, people will rise and fall for trips to the bathroom or to pay a food delivery man, and an ass-cheek may lift to let out a rancid-sounding fart, but on the whole, until it’s dark out, nobody moves at all.  The war is on; everyone digs into their trench and awaits the sound of drums.  The games come and go with steady regularity, with a few surprises sprinkled in, and the in-game breaks are considered old news by the time they appear on the screens, having been heralded minutes before from an online game track.

            Judging from their reactions throughout the day, it would appear that Scott and Matt K have had nothing go right (“Of course Tolbert scores twice when he’s on our bench when DeAngelo Williams hasn’t done dick all day”), Matt V has had nothing go wrong (an almost giddy look on his face, utterly amused by everything, especially Scott’s bitching), and the quiet guy, Luke, is still a mystery (his face carrying a countenance of catatonic coma), having done nothing all day but stare at his laptop’s silvery slip of a screen.  It’s important to remember that the BAM League, as big as it is, isn’t anyone’s only concern.  Every owner is in at least two other leagues.  Luke is in five total.

When the day finally wears itself out for the BAM League, Matt K and Scott win their match-up against Drish, Matt V loses (barring a massive effort from Kyle Orton on Monday Night Football), and Luke wins.  After a single day, I’m already having trouble separating the owners from the team they own and Fantasy football seems more confusing, unpredictable, and complicated than I’d ever realized.  Each owner has won and lost; there are no overarching emotions, like happiness or sadness.  Even with things that went right, owners moan about what could have been better.  No one seems thankful for what could have been worse.  Wins and losses are substituted for one another and canceled out.  Everyone just deals with it and looks to the next week.  One thing is for sure: no one has any time to care about the Bears.  Even though they won.

Week Two: Mental Athletics


            My earliest memories of sports had nothing to do with watching them on TV.  For example, though I grew up in Chicago during the Nineties, I can really only identify with Jordan’s second trio of championships, when I was a little older.  In my mind, I picture Jordan as the savvy veteran he became after coming back from retirement.  The earlier stuff – the battles with Detroit or the slam dunk contests – happened before I could appreciate sports from a remove, as a viewer.  When I was small, the only thing I liked about sports was the physicality.  I was never interested in watching sports on TV; I’d rather go to the front yard or to the alley and do it myself.  To this day, I prefer the bodily movement of sport to the intellectual appreciation of fandom.  I have a hard time watching sports games unless there is particular significance to the game.  My interest wanes almost immediately.  I’d always rather play than watch.  It’s something that turns me off about Fantasy sports: that they corrupt something so primal – a physical struggle – into something so scientific.  So objective.  So modern.

            Watching an event is accompanied by the knowledge that you are removed from it.  We bridge that distance with judgment and analysis so that we feel we are participating to a degree, but we know we actually aren’t; we’re just watching.  Playing sports doesn’t require such compensatory measures.  It doesn’t involve much thinking of any kind.  Little is said or reflected upon while a sport is taking place.  Sports are won with hands and feet and movement.  Not brain power.

            There’s something to be said for “heady players,” or “clever players,” or players with a “high sports IQ,” but largely, success in sports is achieved with brute force and bursts of speed – things that are instantly relatable for an eight-year old.  Back then, I could run and jump like Jordan, at least in my mind, so there was no reason to gawk at him during NBA on NBC.  I don’t remember watching sports at that age because it could never have compared with the flowing experience of actually playing the sport.  I could move and imagine; I couldn’t strategize or interpret.

            But while I was much more interested in playing sports than watching them, there were still ways I was interacting with sports from a more noetic perspective.  Both involved baseball, which was a foundational pillar of my childhood.

            Until I hit puberty, opening a pack of baseball cards was the only orgasm I knew.  It was better than Christmas morning.  Chasing that enthralling high of opening a new pack and finding a rare insert, my brother (Matt K) and I amassed a king’s ransom of baseball cards.  Sometimes we grew impatient with the infrequency of finding our favorite players in the packs that my father surprised us with from time to time, so we would ride our bikes up to the busy street and visit the local card shop.  There, we would cheat our way to a few of those embossed specials with our birthday money or whatever we could scrounge up shoveling snow for the neighbors.  We’d buy up our favorite players’ cards by the handful.  My brother’s favorite player back then, along with most other kids who were born in the eighties, was Ken Griffey Jr.  An early indicator of my individualistic ways, my favorite player was Barry Bonds, then a brash young star from Pittsburgh, who had a polarizing effect on the baseball world long before there was any talk of steroid use.  Bonds seemed so cool and confident, I was responding to his swagger, though, at the time, I didn’t know what swagger was.  My personal collection of Bonds baseball cards, mostly hawked from that card shop, topped out at over 500.

            But the cards weren’t what mattered.  The players didn’t necessarily matter either, though I did love Barry Bonds with all my heart.  Besides the initial excitement of opening a fresh pack, the real fun was in looking up the value of the cards.  We bought Beckett magazine (an index denoting card values) as often as we could.  It was all about how much a card was worth.

            Looking back, it was disgusting behavior for such a young kid to be already immersed in our culture’s obsession with money, but that was all we cared for: dollar signs.  It wasn’t that you had a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card; it was that you had the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card worth one hundred bucks.  At that age, a hundred dollars was an impossible amount of money.  And while nothing is sacred when you are young, and everything can be discarded for a passing whim – your piggy bank smashed to pieces at the sound of an approaching ice cream truck, your favorite toy abandoned for a shiner new one – a highly-valuable baseball card was a holy relic.  It was assumed that you would never let it go, that it would grow old with you, and it would gain value all the while.

            Then again, kids don’t have even a rudimentary knowledge of how an economy works; at least, I didn’t.  A simple law of economics is that when the demand for and price of basic goods goes down, the demand for and price of luxury goods plummets.  This rule is especially true for flimsy pieces of colorful cardboard with pictures of mostly-retired baseball players.  As I got older, my childhood collection devalued.  My cards aren’t worth shit anymore.  Now, they sit in a giant blue bin at my parent’s house, untouched and unloved for many years.

            In some ways, all that hard work and time spent amassing that collection was for nothing.  But in other ways, it offered me invaluable experience for appreciating sports in a new way.  It was an introduction to sports as understood through statistics, for each card had a flip-side littered with various numbers and metrics.  I remember thinking the stats were fascinating; it was a very easy way to compare the worth of a player.  My mind was opened to the possibility of considering sports as something other than a purely physical competition.  If numbers could explain things so readily, there had to be a higher logic at play.  Surrounded by all those thousands of cards, with all the diverse faces and personalities staring back at me, I felt sure that baseball involved more than just wooden bats and base paths.  It seemed important to figure out exactly what that might be.  From then on, sports changed for me.  Even when I wasn’t playing, sports became something that commanded my attention as I struggled with the internal processes that made them so fascinating and mysterious.  Sports cards were an important stepping stone in my ascension to sports fanaticism.

            Another childhood hobby that was geared towards thinking about sports from a remove was a game I invented called “Cardball.”  And while in hindsight it’s a fact I did not invent the game – the pre-existence of the cards I used is proof of this – nothing stopped me from loving the game as if I had.

            Somehow I came into possession of these baseball “playing cards.”  Each card denoted a baseball event: a single, a double, a home run, a pop out, a passed ball, a stolen base, etc.  The cards were akin to a random event generator for baseball.  All I had to do was pull a card, mark down what it said, return it to the deck, and reshuffle.  The continuous shuffle made all events equally likely, which doesn’t quite square with the actual odds of each event (homeruns are obviously not as common as singles), but the game seemed completely pure to me.  There was no cheating to this game.  I never knew what card was coming.

            My dad coached Little League and we always had a few spare scorebooks lying around, so I set up game after game, using real life ballplayers, historical personages, my friends, and even names I made up on the spot to constitute the opposing lineups.  From there, I would pull the cards one by one and play out nine innings of, what seemed to me, actual baseball.  The results were imaginary, and meant almost nothing, but I found them infinitely more interesting than anything I might see watching a Cubs day game or a White Sox night game on TV.  I took to keeping records and tracking statistics for these imaginary games.  I spent hours working out the particulars of the games, endlessly fascinated by something that involved nothing more than a few playing cards and a blank score sheet.  Looking through the years, it’s obvious to me now why I enjoyed Cardball so thoroughly: it was my game.

            I am the youngest child of three, with Matt K two years older than me and an older sister, Melissa, who came five years before me.  Melissa liked to play “teacher” with me, where I would play whipping-boy student, and she would dole out punishments for my homework assignments, which I could never complete to her satisfaction.  Matt K was a video-gamer, obsessed with adventure or story-world games.  Even when the game was designed for two players, I was only ever allowed to watch.  But for Cardball, I was the coach, the scorekeeper, the statistician, the umpire, the commissioner; I was in charge of it all.  It was nice to have all that control.  I had a personal stake in the results of Cardball because they were my results.  These results only meant something to me.

            And while we love sports for their infinitely variant nature and their ability to confound predictors, I think we feel a little helpless when we talk about the management of professional sports.  When we get to a certain age, we can accept that we will not become professional athletes (most of us anyway), but being denied intellectual input with issues to which we can contribute seems unfair.  Everyone “knows” what their favorite team should do to get back on top.  Everyone “knows” who should be hired, fired, or traded away.  Everyone has the “perfect game plan” for that next big game.  But none of us, the general public that is, has any actual control over these things.  We mere mortals simply have to accept that the issues involving our beloved sports franchises are dealt with by elite professionals, a miniscule fraction of the sports nation, a tiny, elevated minority…that might as well be a mystical council of wizards for how far away it all seems.

            I once suggested to Matt V that all teams and stadiums should be publicly owned.  I proposed that all club decisions should go to a city-wide vote for those so inclined and all proceeds from the operation of the franchise should go to the municipality that governs it.  Matt V said, “That sounds like communism.”  And he’s right.  Not that my idea was communistic, but that our sports teams exist in a world of privatized capitalism.  The teams and the decisions that control them are off-limits to the vast majority.  But, and I can’t stress this enough – the sports are not.  Professional sport leagues may be elitist and completely controlled by business interests, but sports as an experience is owned by everyone.  Regardless if you are playing the sport, collecting baseball cards, competing in Fantasy leagues, or are an eight-year old playing Cardball: sports will always be experienced on an intimate, personal level.

            My love of sports has evolved in my lifetime.  First, I was enamored with the physical beauty of sports.  Later, I found a mental appreciation of sports.  Even now, I still find new facets that deepen and strengthen their allure.  Fantasy sports are yet another one of these facets.  Denied input in the real sports world, Fantasy owners did like I did: they huddled under the dining room table, spread out a score sheet, and started marking down numbers that meant something to them.  Sports, in this way, are endlessly versatile; they offer new perspectives of meaning for anyone who wants them.  So though professional sports are not ours, we carve our own layer of meaning from them and play our own version of their sports.  Doing so makes them ours.









Week Three: Exiled From Paradise


            Fantasy owners operate on contradiction.  They are fucked up in a lot of ways.  The league contains copious amounts of utter hatred that can turn nasty or confusingly hilarious in a moment’s time.  The owners spend numberless hours obsessing over roster decisions while the rest of their lives are wasted in a lazy stupor.  Though there are clear winners and losers at the end of each Fantasy season, each owner somehow emerges feeling superior to everyone else: the winners can’t imagine any other outcomes having taken place and the losers excuse away their failures as beyond their control, thereby negating the assertion that an owner has any tangible effect on his team’s success at all.

            Yet, there is consistency to these Fantasy contradictions and that’s why I can accept them.  Everything in Fantasy is done for personal satisfaction; along these lines, everything makes sense.  It’s selfishness that sustains the BAM League and what makes it so fun: a shark-tank of egos bashing away at one another over imaginary Fantasy stats.  Everyone is out to prove that they are better and smarter than everyone else.  It’s comical and highly entertaining to see the owners get all worked up about who is best at what.  I can accept the hypocrisy and oddity that allows for this comedy and entertainment.  I can even accept that I’ll never completely understand why people play Fantasy sports over, say, board games or card games, which offer a similar brand of amusing competition.  But what I can’t accept is inconsistency.

            Before the start of its second year, the BAM League unanimously voted to kick an owner out of the league and replace him with Matt V’s little brother, Mark V.  No complaints there.  There are any number of reasons why that move might have been necessary.  However, the problem I have is that the ex-owner was kicked out because he was a bad owner.  This person finished dead last in the overall BAM League standings for year one and was deemed unworthy of the league.  But kicking him out because of his poor performance is entirely inconsistent with the selfishness the BAM League is founded upon.

            Too illuminate my frustration, meet Anthony.  Anthony was a guy I knew in high school.  He went to a public school just down the road from the Catholic school I attended and we met through a friend of a friend.  We gravitated towards each other based on a mutual fascination with poker.  We’d scrounge up games on backyard patio tables or in cluttered garages – anything to get our poker fix.  We were both hopelessly seduced by the elusive nature of the game.  Eventually, we merged our separate circles of friends (Luke was a part of mine) into a conglomeration that could be relied upon to get a poker game going whenever we wanted one, which was as often as possible.

            Anthony was a big winner in these games.  He had an impressive confidence about him and egotism goes a long way in live poker.  It’s shocking how the money flows from the uncomfortable to the comfortable; the best players usually have the best social skills.  Anthony had a way of convincing others, even his own best friends, to let him bully them out of winning pots.  Mentally, Anthony was rock solid and couldn’t be bested.  To beat Anthony, you needed some luck on your side.  But because poker, like anything else, isn’t won by waiting around for luck, Anthony usually did very well.  The stakes weren’t sky-high, it was just broke high school kids after all, but it was obvious over time that Anthony was winning most of the money.

            I could tell Anthony was a sharp guy.  He had a measured sense of reflection in his speech.  He never seemed too eager or relaxed, just calm and focused.  Maybe he only seemed smart by comparison, as he wasn’t a typical high school loudmouth when most people were, but he seemed like a generally bright guy.  Time passed and we moved off to college.  I lost touch with Anthony at some point.

            It was one of those “It’s a Small World” tangled webs of familiarity that brought Anthony to the BAM League.  Sipple was a high school friend of Johnstone.  Luke and I were high school friends with Johnstone’s older brother.  When the BAM League was first formed, it was difficult for Luke to secure enough owners because no one had ever heard of anything like the BAM League.  People were wary of the idea.  To compensate, Luke extended invitations to anyone and everyone, including Johnstone’s older brother, who we don’t see very much anymore.  But though he declined, his little brother was eager to join up, with the caveat that he could share a team with another of our friends, Van Eck.  Johnstone told Sipple about the league and Sipple followed suit, preferring to manage a team of his own.  As luck would allow, Sipple explained the league to a childhood friend of his and that friend wanted into the BAM League as well.  Luke laughed a little when he found out that the tenth and final owner for his dream Fantasy league would be the same person he had sat across from during all those high school poker games.  It was Anthony.

            Anthony came to the original BAM League draft and endured the long day with all the other owners.  He was a little flummoxed by the whole thing, but before he left the house that night we shook hands after making a vague agreement to try and get a poker game together, “like the old days.”  I told him I felt ancient even having “old days” to talk about.  We both laughed a little.  I wished him luck in the BAM League, though, because Anthony was a natural strategist, I figured he wouldn’t need any luck and would do quite well for himself.

           But quickly, everyone would find out that the BAM League was a daily responsibility.  To Luke and Matt V (league co-founders and co-commissioners), it is an hourly responsibility.  Not everyone has the time or necessary vigilance to maintain their rosters, but more importantly, most don’t have the motivation.  In order to compete in the BAM League, you have to really love Fantasy.

            Anthony, I found out later, had graduated from the Northern Illinois business program and had been hired to a good job working in downtown Chicago.  To an outsider, like me, it would be easy to imagine him being too busy with his job to satisfy the rigorous demands of the BAM League.  And apparently, he was.

            Though Anthony got off to a decent start for the football portion of the schedule, losing in the opening round of the playoffs, he put up goose eggs for the other three sports, leaving him in dead last by year’s end.  He accrued only two ranking points for the overall tally.  Was it bad luck?  Was it bad decisions?  Was it a lack of knowledge?

            Everyone seems to agree that Anthony simply didn’t try hard enough.  He wasn’t a terrible owner; he was an absent owner.  And to the bloodthirsty Fantasy mongers, there is nothing worse.  Weeks would go by and injured players would remain in Anthony’s lineup.  His inbox on the league site would lay silent, manifest as the place trade offers go to die.  Procuring his input on league matters was damn near impossible, as it took weeks to get a hold of him for any purpose.

            By the end of the first full BAM League season, Luke didn’t hesitate to call for a vote to replace Anthony.  Tellingly, Anthony didn’t even know about the vote until it had passed unanimously.  Even Sipple, who brought Anthony into the league, voted in favor of removal.  For Luke’s part, Anthony was never a close friend; he was just someone he shared a hobby with in the past.  But it wouldn’t have mattered if he was Luke’s best friend.  The purity of the league supercedes all else.  Anything that detracts from the league is a besmirchment on that person’s reputation.  For example, when there are complaints about policy changes enacted by Luke or Matt V, it is a very personal attack on them, not just the rule they changed.  Fantasy sports, in this way, extend to reality.  To people so inclined, there is no greater judge of character.

            Anthony wasn’t considerate enough to maintain his rosters and his results reflected that, so in a certain light, his ejection from the league makes perfect sense.  But in a different light, a light unobscured by the twisted morality of Fantasy sports, kicking Anthony out is complete lunacy.

            To participate in a Fantasy league, there is really only one requirement: pay the fee.  The league, though not centralized around payouts, it still run through financial incentive.  I am certain that people play for reasons other than money, but the prize money is a bit of capitalistic cherry-topping to enhance that interest.  No one can ignore the money, so it acts as a BAM League adhesive.  In theory, as long as you pay your fee, you can do whatever you’d like.  You can drive your teams into the ground if you so choose; it’s your team after all.

            But Anthony paid his 200 dollars to join the BAM League’s inaugural season.  He even paid his money up front, on draft day.  It seems likely that he would have paid the fee again for the second season too, as Anthony was later vocal, once he heard about the vote to kick him out, that he wanted to stay in the league.  Anthony could offer no other reason for his first year sluggishness other than that he got “sidetracked with his new job.”

            But, like I said, the money isn’t what the owners crave; it’s the competition.  Everyone was a little more than pissed off, enough to revoke Anthony’s BAM League privileges, that his teams in basketball, hockey, and baseball were so damned pathetic.  Each week matched up against Anthony amounted to a BYE week.  There were no decisions necessary to beat Anthony: his roster managing was so sloppy and infrequent that he never stood a chance.  And no one was happy about these free wins against Anthony.  That is what I don’t understand.

            Professional sports are founded on exploitation.  On advantage.  Those most able are burdened with the task of utilizing their advantages.  There is no mercy.  No equity.  The strong beat up on the week.  The better beat up on the worse.  Sports are games of positioning, of angling the game towards your strengths.  Any advantageous opportunities must be seized in order to win.  So, if Fantasy sports are any reflection of actual sports, the other owners should have salivated over the easy wins Anthony provided them.  But they didn’t.  They were angry.

            I can attribute this reaction as proof that there is a limit to the satisfaction one can get from exploitation.  There is no physical limit, as the more talented players of any sport could conceivably go on defeating the lesser-abled for all eternity, but a limit derived from a spirit of fair play, which in turn is derived from a hankering for competition.

            It is the mysterious cause of great teams “playing down to their opponents”: athletes thrive on challenge.  Conversely, athletes lack motivation when facing an opponent they know to be lesser; one they know they should beat.  This means, strangely, that even though sporting competition is a constant search for advantage, athletes are less inclined to exploit the advantages that are most obvious.  Psychologically, this makes sense, as players just want credit for their actions.  There is no credit awarded for beating an opponent you were supposed to beat.  Credit is given for squeaking out those close games, making that clutch play, or upsetting a greater foe.  No one cares when the higher seed wins like they were supposed to.

            Inside this balance of desiring strong competition and an innate urge to win, what an athlete really wants is a conquerable opponent; one that is fairly-matched, but beatable.  Fantasy owners, as surrogate athletes, want the same thing.  In specific BAM League terms, people don’t want to play against Anthony (too easy) or Matt V (too hard); they want to face a reasonably capable owner (like Whalen or Van Eck).  In this regard, Fantasy is little more than entertainment: owners just want something to interact with.  A blowout – going either way – is no fun for anyone.

            But still, sports are tallied up with wins and losses.  And whether one plays in the BAM League for money, pride, bragging rights, or whatever, wins and losses are what matter in the end.  I can rationalize it anyway I want, but if Anthony pays his league fee and keeps up minimal participation, why wouldn’t people take the free wins against him?  Why would the entire league vote unanimously to replace Anthony with Mark V, a much more active Fantasy owner and thereby tougher opponent?  Why would the BAM League want a punching bag replaced with a machine that could punch back?

            I can square the decision with selfishness, in a sense, because the owners are only motivated when there is a chance to look good.  And no one looks good beating up on a dud owner like Anthony; you look more like a bully.  But admirably, I think Anthony actually got kicked out for reasons of fair play.  It wasn’t fair to anyone – not to the other owners, not to the equity of the BAM League, not even to Anthony – that such lop-sided match-ups were occurring week in week out.  This must mean that, somewhere within the Fantasy world of put-downs and bickering, there is a spirit of kinship and equality.  Though it baffles me, too busy living in the real world where I take whatever wins I can get, Fantasy owners seem to only be satisfied with wins that they have earned.  None of the owners want any damn handouts.  So hit the bricks, Anthony.  The BAM League has spoken.








Week Four: Special Victims Unit


            There’s been a rape.  It’s the talk of the BAM League.  True, it was only a trade-rape, but from the way the owners are raving about it, one would think an actual rape had occurred.

            One of the more interesting facets of the BAM League is inter-sport trading.  Because a single owner controls four rosters spanning the four major sports, he has a lot of trading material at his disposal.  Hockey players can be traded for baseball players or basketball for football or in combination or one for the other and back around again.  In the BAM League, there are no rules limiting trades; your trading options are as limitless as your imagination.

            As evidenced by the first BAM League season, a common strategy is to dump one sport’s roster when in the championship hunt for a different sport.  For example, if I make the playoffs in baseball and I think I have a legitimate chance to win, but feel I need one more strong contributor to put me over the top, I may trade away one of my better basketball players to secure that extra baseball insurance.  In the vacuum of side by side comparison, the trade will look unbalanced, as it would require the sacrifice of a basketball player that far outranks the baseball player to get the deal through.  A trade like this would be done to improve a single roster in the owner’s stable at the expense of a different roster.  But the move would be done near or during the playoffs, when the money is on the line, thereby justifying itself with quick results.  It’s risky, but possibly worth the risk.  The wide-open trading of the BAM League allows for these types of trade strategies.  That being said, the majority of trades are still intra-sport, as equity is easier to agree upon.

            And it should be noted how the trade process works in the BAM league, though it is nothing out of the ordinary.  Once an owner proposes a trade to another owner, that owner must choose to accept the trade, reject it, or construct a counter-offer.  If the trade is accepted, the fairness of the trade is judged in a league-wide vote amongst the other eight owners (the co-owned teams only get one vote).  In the case of a 4-4 split, the trade goes through, as it not considered blatantly unfair.

            Trades are an important part of Fantasy management.  It’s important to get rid of players that are overrated, and sell high, while accumulating players that are underrated on the cheap, and buy low.  The timing of the trade is what matters most, as variant performance is what makes good players become available.  And, in my opinion, that is precisely how owners make the majority of their mistakes with trades: bad timing.

            Fantasy owners have the entire off-season and the draft to straighten out their roster for a single sport.  One would think that with all that time to plan, barring any unforeseeable setbacks, maintaining a competitive roster would be entirely doable.  Granted, discerning the capability of a an individual player cannot be done with any practical accuracy until the season is underway, but it’s foolish to throw away all that off-season planning and consideration based on early season impressions.  Sports are too variant to be judged on small sample sizes.  A single-game performance is almost impossible to gauge correctly; it could just as easily be a fluke as it could be a sign of good things to come.  Patience is critical.  It takes time to be sure.

            If a player is projected to be good, it makes sense to wait until that projection can be verified or rejected.  This is especially true for football, as the results can be wildly different from game to game, season to season.  It is more useful to focus on expected averages than single game performances.  Yet, football also has the shortest schedule; therefore, it tests your patience the most.  But the objective is to acquire accurate information about the players you own or might potentially own.  The better your information, the more effective your decisions will be.  Nothing can be done without reliable, proven statistics to work with.

            While this reasoning sounds contradictory to my earlier draft advice – to draft singular talents over the more consistent talents – it is actually a complimentary idea.  If you draft a player because you recognize potential (a first-year starter or a highly-touted rookie), early troubles may cause you to question the merit of your decision.  But a bad start is hardly ever a definitive notion of what that player will be.  Drafting prospects is a necessary part of Fantasy sports, as there aren’t enough established stars to go around, and not every prospect will turn out as planned, even in the long run.  Still, it is important to realize that prospects are, by nature, inconsistent.  That bad start may be an apparition belying the good things that are to come.  If you write that player off immediately, you may miss out on something special.

            The stalwarts of the NFL – Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald – are rare.  If an owner acquires one of these players, even if they are sluggish early in the season, he need not worry about them.  These are superstars, stat-hounds, and consistent performers that can be relied upon.  But, owners cannot win with only one of these elite players.  Due to the spread-the-wealth nature of a Fantasy draft, each owner will get one super-stud to build their team around.  And because each owner has one of these players, they are canceled out to a degree.  Aaron Rodgers may lead the NFL is Fantasy points this season, but there will never be an outrageous distance between him and the other great stat producers.  Therefore, Fantasy owners differentiate themselves with their ability to pick the best of the rest: players no one can be completely sure about.  The point battle in any weekly match-up is typically won at all the positions unmanned by the mega-stars, because their point totals are much more variable.

            But to reiterate: these other players are NOT mega-stars.  With mid-level players and potential stars, it’s rarely obvious exactly what stats they will produce.  The thought that a player could be adequately pegged in a short amount of time is wishful thinking.  Some start hot and flame out.  Others stumble at the outset, only to emerge as reliable contributors.  Having the patience to wait until things are more solidified in statistical truth is an essential quality for Fantasy competition.  A hasty trade trigger-finger could result in the loss of player that is one-of-a-kind; which is the last thing any owner would want to have happen.  Instinct is good, but allowing enough time to judge the validity of instinct is better.

            Still, here we are, only three weeks into the season, gearing up for the Week Four slate of match-ups, and one BAM League owner has decided to ignore the virtue of patience.  In an effort to fire-sale his team and start from scratch, Sipple has traded away Chris Johnson.

            Chris Johnson comes from an even tougher category to evaluate Fantasy value: the flash in the pan.  But what a flash it was.  In 2009, Johnson racked up 2,000 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns.  The bookends to that year, 2008 and 2010, were impressive as well; in both he rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged 11 touchdowns per season.  The thing about Chris Johnson is that his dominance came seemingly out of nowhere.  He went from unknown to unstoppable.  With players of this type, it is difficult to tell how long their success can last, especially coupled with how short the shelf-life is for an NFL running back.  Regardless, with three strong seasons under his man-sized belt, Chris Johnson is recognized as one of the premier backs in football.  He may not ever duplicate his monstrous statistical prowess of 2009, but he is undoubtedly top-tier.  To trade a player like Chris Johnson, one of the few exceptional running backs left in the NFL, one would need a hell of a lot in return.

            I’ve seen nonsensical, lop-sided trades before.  Scott has a particular habit, owing to his self-defeating hatred of his own rosters, of practically giving players away for free, just to rid himself of the source of his annoyance.  I’ve even heard whispers of racism perverting the Fantasy realm, with bigots attempting to maintain a roster of only white players (an impetus that makes no ethical, sporting, or Fantasy sense).  Still, most trades balance themselves out, if for no other reason than that both owners are attempting to make their rosters better.  There can be error in judgment or added stipulations that make the literal deal seem inequitable, but trades, on the whole, are usually pretty even.

            Regarding Sipple’s trade, there is much debate over whether he exacted a balanced exchange of players.  The facts of the case are simple: Sipple proposed the trade to Johnstone and Van Eck.  They quickly agreed.  The details of the trade went to a league-wide vote.  The owners voted in favor of the trade’s fairness, 5 to 3.  The specifics of the trade were as follows: Sipple gave up Chris Johnson for Marshawn Lynch, Santonio Holmes, and Michael Jenkins.

            The three owners who voted against the trade were Matt V, Luke, and Scott.  Even Fantasy sport, it would seem, has its cliques.  More practically, some people in the BAM League know each other better than others, just like I explained earlier about Fantasy leagues forming on varying lines of familiarity.  While Luke faced difficulty in populating the owners of the BAM League at the outset, his principal problem arose from the rarity of having ten extremely close friends that could be relied upon for something as specific and extensive as the BAM League aimed to be (note that Luke couldn’t even count on me to be an owner).

            One of the BAM League owners, Whalen, was discovered by Matt V through Fantasy competition years ago.  Until the day of the original BAM League draft, Matt V had never met Whalen in person.  This lack of familiarity, while unimportant to the actual operation of the league, does create a disconnect between the “other” owners and the core group that constitutes its original base (the same core group that gathers each Sunday at Luke’s house to watch football).  These are the same people that do everything else together as well: play real sports, go on vacations, go out on the weekends, and everything in between.  I grew up with most of these guys.  And though this closeness leads to a vicious desire to destroy one another in all things, we all think alike, because we are alike.  We prefer similar music.  We have similar hobbies.  We all consume sports at an urgent pace.  It’s not surprising that Matt V, Luke, and Scott were the only ones who opposed the Chris Johnson trade, because they all have similar mindsets.

            When it comes to administrative decisions for the BAM League, though the league is officially run by Matt V and Luke, issues are commonly discussed with input from our core group before the rest of the league is allowed to weigh in.  Most people, including me, would say this is patently unfair, but really, it’s just a reality of the people in the league.  When an idea pops into someone’s head, they typically will discuss the idea with those closest to them before putting that idea into action.  Matt V and Luke are not trying to exclude the rest of the BAM League, they are just acting on the natural impulse to consult with those nearby.  And besides, Matt V and Luke discuss everything pertaining to Fantasy in such minute detail that, though they surely inhabit the selfishness that makes for a great Fantasy owner, everything decided for the BAM League is well thought out and well intentioned.

            The Chris Johnson trade, however, has created a chasm in the BAM League.  Matt V is outraged.  He is threatening to outright veto the transaction and ignore the league-wide ratification vote.  Luke has spent his time pleading with the other owners, trying to change their minds about the fairness of the trade.  He wants a new vote.  Scott and Matt K, who used their collective vote to declare that they weren’t in favor of the trade, are not that vocal about their displeasure, but it is clear they agree with Matt V and Luke.  Sipple and Johnsone and Van Eck all seem happy with the deal that was made.  The rest of the league doesn’t seem that concerned.

            With so many competing interests, the issue is far from black and white.  There are many sides to argue.  So was the trade fair?

            From a numbers standpoint, there is nothing that can be decided.  Chris Johnson’s star potential cannot be quantified.  His stats over the years far outshine those of the players he was traded for, but his 2011 production, though only through three weeks, makes this trade unbalanced in the other direction, as Lynch, Holmes, and Jenkins have combined to score more Fantasy points than Johnson.  But three players take up three roster spots, and there really isn’t a way of turning this into a stat-by-stat analysis.  Unless we incorporate career numbers, which may not have much bearing here, there is no clear-cut statistical advantage to either side of the trade.  Johnstone argues this case: that the trade is even from a numbers standpoint.

            But from a subjective standpoint, the deal seems askew.  Though Chris Johnson has gotten off to a horrid start in the 2011-2012 season – averaging just 32.6 yards per game and yet to score a single touchdown – he is still Chris Johnson.  His name alone is worth more than the combined worth of Lynch, Holmes, and Jenkins.  Chris Johnson is still a starting running back on a 2-1 team with an ancient Matt Hasselback under center, so he is bound to continue getting a lot of touches.  On the other hand, none of the players Sipple received for Johnson pass the smell test, in that none of their names ring out with any particular emphasis.  This is Matt V’s primary complaint with the trade: that The Chris Johnson could be considered comparable to “such fucking scrubs.”

            A closer examination of these other players lends some merit to Matt V’s diminutive appraisal.  Marshawn Lynch is an aging running back primarily used for short yardage situations, though this role didn’t translate to touchdowns in 2010, as he had only six all year.  Santonio Holmes is in his second year with the Jets.  His first year marked the second-lowest receptions total of his entire career.  Though he is still a number-one receiver, his quarterback is the clueless Mark Sanchez, who finished dead last in the AFC for QB-passer rating in 2010, and wide-receiver production is very closely intertwined to QB production.  The third musketeer, Michael Jenkins, seems to be a trivial add-on to the deal, having been acquired by Johnstone on the waiver-wire only days before the trade.  Free agents are free agents for a reason: they aren’t worth owing.  From a player-by-player analysis, it is clear that the trade isn’t very equitable.

            Then again, the owners involved with the trade, and the rest of the league, thought the trade was fine.  To make matters worse, the owner who detractors think got cheated in the deal, Sipple, was the one who proposed the trade.  From an egalitarian standpoint, the trade is perfectly legit.  Sipple is happy, Johnstone and Van Eck are happy, and the rest of the league voted in favor of the trade’s fairness.  And, I think, it’s important to remember why league voting exists: to stop collusion between owners.  Collusion is when two owners cooperate to gain an unfair advantage.  By instituting league ratifications for all trades, collusion should never happen.  But no one is accusing Sipple and Johnstone of collusion.  They followed the rules.  So, other than a disagreement over player value, what is there to complain about?

            For one thing, the moral motives don’t necessarily matter.  Whether Sipple knew or didn’t know what he was doing is inconsequential.  League ratification of all trades is also a measure to protect owners against themselves.  More importantly, it protects the integrity of the entire league.  Johnstone picked up an elite running back for next to nothing; things like that can’t be allowed to happen.  As for Sipple, his track record would lead one to believe that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing anyway.  He finished 9th overall in the first year of the BAM League, only ahead of the exiled Anthony.  While Sipple’s dumping of Chris Johnson could be justified as an attempt to start fresh and salvage the rest of the season, the players he received in return don’t make any sense.  Maybe Sipple didn’t think about the trade very long and failed to realize what a bad trade it was.  Maybe he has some inside knowledge about Chris Johnson that the other owners don’t.  But critics of the trade don’t care about Sipple’s motivation – or lack of one.  They care about a trade that could disrupt the league.

            Matt V’s concern, therefore, is born out of the same selfishness that makes him a good owner.  He filters every aspect of Fantasy operation through how it will affect his own chances.  This Chris Johnson trade could hurt him badly; that’s why he’s really upset about it.  Johnstone and Van Eck’s team is in Matt V’s division, which means they are matched up twice per regular season.  In addition, Johnstone and Van Eck’s team won the football portion of the BAM League’s inaugural season.  So, a roster that was already good has gotten, presumably, much better, and Matt V will have to play this super-squad more than once.  On the flip-side, Josh, the reigning BAM League champion (who narrowly beat out Matt V at year’s end), is in the opposite division with Sipple.  That means that Josh, Matt V’s biggest competition in the BAM League, will get to play Sipple’s Chris Johnson-less squad as many times as Matt V has to get knocked around by Johnstone’s juggernaut roster.  Matt V is terrified at the thought of Josh getting a softer schedule while his is made immeasurably more difficult.

            So it is a selfish objection to the trade by Matt V, even though he is absolutely correct that the trade was unfair.  So why the hell did the rest of the league approve the trade?

            The answer lies in the varying levels of familiarity within the BAM League.  The other owners don’t know each other all that well.  They aren’t in our clique.  They are just Fantasy owners in the BAM League.  And most people don’t like to make a fuss with strangers; they’d rather just let it go and move on.  Unless things are supremely unfair, and this trade probably doesn’t reach that level of impossible unfairness, owners tend to ratify trades regardless of the details.  Good evidence of this is Drish, who, even though he is one of our close friends, approved the trade.  To him, he sees no cause to impede on the free will of someone else, “If they want to trade…let ‘em.”

            It’s also possible that the other owners didn’t think all that much about the trade, like Sipple himself, and just let it pass.  Maybe they don’t obsess over Fantasy issues like my friends do.  I’m starting to suspect that the people closest to me are unique in their Fantasy fervor.  They seem to care more than the others.  And, whether for good or bad reasons, they think the trade was bullshit.  But rules are rules.  There will be no veto.  There will be no re-vote.  The trade stands.

            On Thursday night, only hours after the trade had gone through, sparking a tidal wave of debate on the message board, Johnstone was over at the house.  We were hanging out and playing bumper pool in the basement.  In between drags of his cigarette, Johnstone explained the trade like this:

            “Hell no it wasn’t a fair trade.  But if he wants to trade me that, why wouldn’t I take it?”

            In regards to Matt V’s complaints, he says:

“Matt V is full of shit because he would have taken it too.  I don’t really give a fuck what he says though, because the trade went through.  No one can do anything about it now.  I got Chris Johnson and that’s that.”

            Johnstone pauses and then shakes his head softly, grinning a little.

            “But I did trade-rape the fuck out of him.”








Week Five: Fantasy as Identity


            Since the idea for the BAM League came about, I have been staunch in my opinion that there should be a trophy for the champion.  The league is so rigorously expansive that whoever emerges victorious should surely gain the company of a shiny metal tower denoting the accomplishment.  Trophies are appropriate to sporting achievement and at least a trophy is something a champion can touch.  The rest of the league is tracked on the computer.  All of those hard-fought Fantasy victories will eventually fade to little more than cyber-dust.  It’s a shame.

            But, now firmly into the second year of the BAM League, there is still no trophy.  There are only the payouts.  As an ex-poker player, I surely appreciate the satisfaction of a cash prize, but the BAM League payout scheme is faulty.  The amounts are too spread thin from all the spots that get paid.  Money is awarded for making the playoffs in a single sport, winning a division in a single sport, or winning the playoffs in a single sport.  After multiplying those payouts by four (for each sport), there are also the overall payouts, for which the top three finishers receive money.  Half of the two-thousand dollar prize pool (10 teams * $200) goes to individual sport payouts and the other half goes to the cumulative winners.  Josh, the reigning champ, won two individual sports and the overall BAM League title, earning $800.  Subtracting his entry fee, Josh only made six hundred dollars of profit.  This hardly seems adequate.  If the point of the BAM League is to assess overall Fantasy skill, the lion’s share of the prize pool should go to the overall winner.  Josh got only 40% of the total prize pool.  And if you factor in the man-hours he must have spent maintaining his rosters, that six hundred dollars is only a measly pittance when converted to dollars per hour.  I contend that the BAM League should be winner-take-all, as it matches up better with the cutthroat nature of Fantasy competition.  Or at least give the winner a damn trophy to hold.

            But because the owners have never made any qualms about the payout structure of the BAM League, or the lack of a trophy, their indifference proves that there is more than money propelling the league onward.  In fact, it seems that no one in the BAM League is playing just for money.  So what are they playing for?

There is a television show on FX, called simply The League, that attempts to answer this question. describes The League in this way: “A group of avid Fantasy football fans tries to balance their time in the league with their real lives.  It becomes a challenge, though, when the good-natured competition gives way to a win-at-all-costs mentality, which begins to spill over into their relationships and even the workplace.”  This description could be an easy stand-in for everything that the BAM League aims to be, and the success of the show (now in its third season) is a clear indicator of how widespread the appeal of Fantasy sports has become.  The fact that a “Fantasy football show” could even get developed for television is revealing.  While probably imagined as a niche-interest show, appealing to 20-something guys who are attracted to gross-out, quick-witted cable comedies, The League has acquired an impressive following.  Despite its late air-time (10:30 EST), The League (according to regularly outperforms Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption; non-fiction sports commentary vehicles broadcast on ESPN, a network devoted entirely to sports.  It is probable that a general interest in Fantasy leagues is what spurs the interest towards The League, which goes to great lengths to explore the inner-workings of Fantasy competition.  The show, while still a light-hearted comedy, illuminates the complicated male relationships that constitute Fantasy leagues and, above all else, works to legitimize Fantasy and explain the various motivations for why people play.

            Appropriately, as far as I can recall, The League never once mentions league fees or payouts.  The fictional league plays only for the perceived glory of winning the championship trophy, which has gone by many names, but was originally known as “The Shiva.”  The characters are driven by the sole ambition of beating their friends and the Shiva is a tangible manifestation of that victory.  Money comes and goes.  The Shiva is a legacy.

            The show also makes a reasonable attempt at depicting the lives of people consumed by Fantasy sports: the endless bickering over league operation, the maniacal care put into roster maintenance, and the flouting of all other responsibilities as somehow less important.  The League, like the BAM League, tests the owners in every way.  It tests friendships, commitments, and the owner’s willingness to sacrifice.  While the show is uneven at times, and devolves into desperate slapstick at its worst moments, when the plot of the episode pertains specifically to Fantasy concerns (like draft day), The League reaches an intense level of absurdity that very seamlessly extends to actual Fantasy leagues.  Real-life Fantasy owners, and certainly the BAM League owners, may not be as ostentatious as the owners in The League, but there is no doubt that they care every bit as much.

            And one must remember that The League is only about Fantasy football.  While I explained that Fantasy football is king of the Fantasy realm, the BAM League goes beyond it, into a year-round whirlwind of Fantasy bombardment.  As one sport ends, another has already begun.  People who limit themselves to only Fantasy football, which is the overwhelming majority of casual Fantasy players, have an off-season just like the actors from The League, just like the NFL players in real life.  At season’s end, the actors go home, the NFLers retreat to their mansions, and the Fantasy football leagues take a break.  Everyone is on hiatus.  While Fantasy thoughts may be aroused from time to time when there is something pertinent in the national headlines (like the NFL lockout over this past summer), owners mostly let their Fantasy consciousnesses go into hibernation until the fall, when “The League” starts back up again for everyone; players, actors, and owners alike.

            The BAM League is more exaggerated than even a fictionalized depiction of Fantasy sports.  It is the hardcore version of Fantasy involvement.  BAM League owners are different.  They play for more than money.  They take no breaks.  There is no off-season.

            By the time the first year of the BAM League ended, with the conclusion of the 2011 MLB season, the 2011 NFL season was already underway.  Thus, year two of the BAM League was underway as well.  Josh didn’t have even a moment to enjoy his overall championship, because he had to focus on the new season that was already upon him.  In a typical sports year, out of 365 possible days, there are only two days without at least one of the four major professional sports leagues in action.  These two days are during the MLB’s All-Star weekend.  How do the BAM League owners spend these two days, with no roster to set and no decisions to make?  They watch the Home Run Derby.  The next night, they watch the All-Star Game.

            Matt V takes his sports obsession to a different level.  He’s a little older than the other guys (28) and has done Fantasy sports for longer.  He consumes sports information at an indomitable rate.  He plays in dozens of Fantasy leagues, but he also dedicates numberless hours to various sports-junkie online contests.  On, he does Streak for Cash and Beat the Streak and every March he fills out fifty or so free brackets for the NCAA tournament promotion.  He’s even participated in several free Fantasy leagues with absolute strangers on, just to tinker around with new strategies.  But no matter how much he does, I get the impression that he always wants more.  He listens to sports radio.  He gets mobile alerts sent to his phone.  Fantasy sports are his primary and only interest.  I’m positive that his dream job would be to work as a Fantasy analyst for ESPN.

            But until that day comes, Matt V works as a CFO for a nonprofit organization called Blue Cap (a company that offers education, housing, and job-placement to the mentally disadvantaged).  As a hell-of-a-young CFO, he earns a great living overseeing a multi-million dollar a year operation.  Hearing these details, one would assume, like I did, that Matt V’s Fantasy obsession has been somewhat of a hindrance to his work performance.  With all the time I know he spends on managing his Fantasy rosters, I found it hard to believe that he could still find time to run the entire financial component of an entire company.  So I asked him the question in reverse, not how much time he spends on Fantasy, which would be quite difficult to answer with any accuracy, but rather how long it takes him to handle his work-related responsibilities.  Being truthful, he explained to me, barring special events like tax season or a company audit, “I can do a month’s work in a few days.”  Matt V is a sharp guy and a whiz with computers, but this still wasn’t something I expected: a whole month’s work in “a few days.”

            I had to ask the next logical question, “How do you spend the rest of your time at work?”

            “Well, I’m also the IT guy, so I have to be ready in case someone needs help with a computer or something.”

            “But that can’t be that often, I’d imagine.”

            “No, but I have to handle all the payroll checks and make sure the budget is right and deal with all the bank accounts too.”

           “Okay, fine.  But what really takes up your time?”

            That stuff all takes up my time.”


            He smiles a little guiltily and admits, “Fantasy.”

            Matt V came into our circle of friends in a strange way.  Though I knew his little brother from the neighborhood growing up (Mark V – newest BAM League member), I didn’t meet Matt V until much later, through my older sister.  They were close friends for a time, but after their age group finished college and people drifted off to settle into careers and filter out their energetic days of partying, Matt V attached himself to me and my brother’s younger group as a means of continuing the college fun.  He was a couple years older than our other friends, but his bright attitude made him a welcome addition.  Eventually, I too graduated from college, but by then, Matt V and I were such good friends (and age difference meant so little after college) that we remained close.

            Now, his life seems well-adjusted, because it is: good job, nice car, and a long-term girlfriend.  He’s well setup for the future.  But these aren’t the things I like about him.  I like that he, though older, makes me feel younger.  He attacks life with insane optimism, as if the shadows of this world were invisible to him.  He’s a nice guy who laughs whenever he can.  He is the only person I know who I can truly say enjoys Fantasy, so I can’t fault him for his dedication to it.

            Fantasy, to him, is just a projection of oneself.  You get out of it what you are willing to get out of yourself.  Matt V takes a serene pleasure from life and that extends to everything around him.  He puts himself into his Fantasy teams – his devotion, his intelligence, his care – and the team morphs into an extension of himself.  From that reflective truth, he can draw back something real in return.  Fantasy becomes Reality.

            Owners, at some level, play Fantasy sports as a means of expression.  Most of us will not be bosses or chairmen or administrators.  It isn’t much, but it’s something: anyone can be a Fantasy owner.  Anyone can shape that reality.  And we all come equipped with our own idiosyncrasies and shape that reality differently.  Matt V sees Fantasy as a delightful frolic through a plain of pleasant risk.  Luke sees Fantasy as a serious requirement; a rite of passage.  Matt and Scott see Fantasy as a cosmic test of their endurance for ill-fortune.  Drish attaches the same supernatural destiny to Fantasy as he does every other facet of his life, beckoned by the magical strings of fate.  Fantasy becomes an accumulation of fragments from one’s personality.  The first draft pick you make is yourself.

            On the battlefields of Fantasy, you control how you are seen by the quality of your work.  And it seems to follow that if I had a Fantasy team it would be a part of who I am.  The team would be riddled with cynicism – like I am.  It would reek of over-thinking things – like I do.  The team would be undoubtedly, irrevocably, unequivocally…me.  And if, somehow, I was to become a BAM League victor, I’d want a damn trophy for my troubles.









Week Six: Plot Twists


Fantasy is a search for truth.  The more truth you possess, in terms of accurate information, the better owner you will be.  But owners that are too stubborn to view their truths without bias have a difficult time judging the chasm between a correct decision and an incorrect decision.  The egos of the owners lead them to believe that things will always turn out for the best – save for eternal pessimists, like Scott, who believe that the sky is always falling – despite the lack of evidence to support their belief.  These men will argue until they’re blue in the face that their decisions were correct, regardless of insurmountable truth to the contrary.

But sometimes, the situation is too complicated to use overarching qualifiers like “right” and “wrong” when evaluating Fantasy decisions.  Take Luke for example.  Luke controls five Fantasy football rosters, of which his BAM League roster is just one.  His giant stable of owned players leaves him with frequently conflicting interests.  Varied ownership from league to league can create a situation whereby an owner can be matched against the very player they own in a different league.  And in such a case, what does the owner want to happen?  Would you want a good or bad performance?  Either result will have beneficial and adverse effects for your rosters; it can be a close call.  I would prefer Fantasy competition in a simpler form, with the lines of opposition clearly drawn.  With one team and one roster, I would always know what I wanted out of everyone.  It would be much easier.

But Luke loves the constant action of owning multiple teams.  He seems to enjoy the difficult task of balancing players (even when they are matched against themselves).  So how does Luke deal with the jumble of competing interests every Sunday?  Well, it depends.  Some owners have a league that stands out to them, whether because it is comprised of their closest friends or the payouts are the most lucrative, and success in that league trumps all other concerns.  For the majority of Sundays, Luke feels this way about the BAM League: it’s what he cares about the most, so he roots for whatever players will benefit him with regards to that league above all others.  But to complicate the matter further, these are not always one-to-one situations where you own a player in one league and are matched-up against that player in a different league.  Consider Luke’s rosters for Week Six.  Luke owns Philip Rivers in the BAM League, but is slated against Philip Rivers in two of his other Fantasy football leagues.  Fortunately for him, the San Diego Chargers are on BYE for Week Six.  Rivers is therefore unavailable, offering Luke a chance to avoid a sticky situation.  To cover his empty quarterback slot in the BAM League, Luke cleverly picked up Jay Cutler, as the Bears are playing the hapless Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.  But Luke wasn’t all that uniquely clever, as both of his opponents that owned Philip Rivers picked up Jay Cutler as well.  The situation is right back where it began for Luke, with Cutler inserted into the complicated give-and-take that Rivers would have presented.

The BAM League is what Luke cares about the most – having created it himself – but with two other leagues to worry about, Luke’s interest is spread thin regarding Cutler.  He doesn’t really know what he wants to happen, so he doesn’t worry about it too much, “If he blows up, I’ll win BAM.  If he duds, I’ll win the other two.  It’s cool either way.”  And besides, he has dozens of other players to concern himself with.

Week Six storms onto the scene.  The games stream by until day lulls into night.  The actualization of the NFL schedule is always anti-climactic, if only because it’s over so quickly.  Most of the games are bunched together, and it feels like the opening rounds of March Madness, which is to say that there is far too much to interpret all at once, and things are winding down before you’ve had a chance to take stock of it all.  With the NFL, you can plan and plot all you’d like; once the games start, there is nothing that can be done except to watch.  It’s one of the beauties of Gameday: a resolution to your decisions.  Nothing can be changed after kickoff.  Luke watches the day games with the same stark focus he always does, making sure every one of his players is accounted for, but it isn’t until the brief dry-spell in the Sunday schedule just before Sunday Night Football that Luke takes a closer look at the implications Cutler may have on his match-ups.

In the space of the next half hour, Luke figures a few things out.  First, none of his match-ups involving Jay Cutler have any Jets or Dolphins in them, therefore Monday Night Football will have no bearing on their outcomes.  Second, his Cutler match-ups are very close.  Third, and most surprising, Luke has determined that he could potentially win all three of those match-ups.  And because there are no other owned players on the Bears or the Vikings besides Cutler, the entirety of Luke’s fortunes rest on Cutler alone.  In specific, Luke needs Cutler to score 15 or 16 points to win the three match-ups: exactly 15 or 16.

            Of course, there are plenty of other scenarios that can take place.  In the BAM League, Luke trails by 14 points, so he needs Cutler to score at least 15 to get the win.  For one of his other leagues in which his opponent picked up Cutler, Luke is winning by 17, so he could withstand 16 and under from Cutler and still manage to get that win.  In the third league, Luke is up by a healthy 32 points; he is in practically no danger of losing that match-up.  So, in reality, Luke is likely to get two out of the three wins, whether Cutler plays poorly or well.  Still, to get all three wins, Cutler must earn 15 or 16 Fantasy points exactly.

            Fantasy scoring for quarterbacks is simple in the BAM League: 1 point for 25 yards of passing, 4 points for a passing touchdown, 1 point for 10 yards of rushing, 6 points for a rushing touchdown, and minus 2 points for fumbles or interceptions.  As this is a pretty standard scoring system for quarterbacks, it isn’t surprising that the other two leagues of concern to Luke at the moment use an identical scoring system.  But no scoring system accounts for how arbitrarily events happen on a football field.  A defensive back can slip and fall and give up a wide open touchdown.  A lineman can tip a pass and lead to a random interception.  The ref can spot the ball a yard too long or too short and push a player over or under the next yardage plateau for earning Fantasy points.  The player doesn’t control every aspect of his performance, especially quarterbacks, who rely on receivers to catch their passes and linemen to keep them vertical.  And though statistical projections hold true over time with a large enough sample size, anything can happen in a single game.  Something as arbitrary as Fantasy points can be controlled by nothing but pure happenstance.  It would be borderline psychotic to try and predict an exact point total; there are too many variables.

            Calculating that he needs Cutler to get exactly 15 or 16 points isn’t that crazy of Luke, as long as it’s done for calculation’s sake.  And mostly, I think it was.  Luke just wanted to know his best-case scenario.  Such a prerogative fits Luke’s personality: always preferring to focus on what can go right, content to deal with what can go wrong when it does.  Luke is not much of a talker, even among his closest friends, and lives his life free of any nonsense.  He’ll talk about things when they meet some minimum level of interest to him, but for the most part, he plays it pretty close to the vest.

            This is not to imply that Luke has nothing to say, as his brain is constantly active.  Even his long stretches of silence on football Sundays are periods of intense reflection.  Every year, for every league he participates in, Luke makes the most transactions.  He likes to take mental responsibility for his teams; there is a theory or specific line of reasoning behind every player Luke owns.  He does not believe in fate or luck, only choices and results.  He has a long history in poker as well, and the indisputable rule of card games, because they are based in statistics, is that things even out over time.  Luke’s constant roster fluctuations are his mathematical equivalent of throwing shit against a wall and knowing something will soon stick.  If he makes enough moves, some of them will eventually work out, and he can build around that success.  It is the exact opposite of what I suggest: a model of patient ownership, so as to be absolutely sure about the players you are dropping or adding.  While my advice is methodical caution, Luke’s is balls-to-the-wall aggression.  He enacts complicated multi-player trades and picks up long-shot free agents as temporary placeholders and stalks the Waiver Wire and does whatever it takes to scrape out wins.  Luke is always on the prowl and it has served him well in Fantasy over the years.

            But Luke, despite his rationality, has succumbed to the logical fallacy of wishful thinking: just because you wish something to be true does not dictate its likelihood.  Fantasy competition, it seems, has led him to neglect the other golden rule of poker: managing expectations.  There is nothing strange about Luke calculating that he needs Cutler to score exactly 15 or 16 points; it wasn’t even that difficult to figure out.  The strange thing is that Luke expects it to happen.

            Every year during March Madness, I hear similar nonsense, “Well if all these teams win, so I can still get those other points later on, and these one-seeds get upset, so everybody loses the points I already lost, and then this eleven-seed wins it all…I’d win.  It could totally happen.”

            A game later, of course, something goes wrong and the whole elaborate scheme falls like a trail of dominoes.  Just because things can happen doesn’t mean they will.  So what are Cutler’s actual chances of scoring exactly 15 or 16 points?

            Luke has already done his research.  Here are Cutler’s Fantasy totals for the year so far: Week One (18), Week Two (16), Week Three (17), Week Four (2), Week Five (13).  His five-week average stands at 13.2 Fantasy points per game.  But if you eliminate the statistical outlier – the two points Cutler scored in Week Four, when the Bears ran the ball 31 times for 224 yards against the Carolina Panthers’ toll-booth run defense – Jay Cutler’s Fantasy point average is exactly 16.  So, with the numbers slightly cooked, Cutler is averaging precisely the amount Luke needs him to score.  Then again, averages are mathematical calculations after the fact, not predictions.  In addition, in five games, Cutler has only hit Luke’s exact mark of 15 or 16 once (in Week Three).  So is there any way to quantify Cutler’s chances of getting exactly 15 or 16?  Probably not.  Personally, 15 or 16 points seems no more likely to me than 17 or 18 or 13 or 14.  Then there is always the possibility that he goes way over or way under the mark.  I’d place the probability of Cutler getting exactly 15 or 16 points at under 10%, and even with that, I feel like I’m being generous.  Luke disagrees, “I think he’ll be right around there if things hold steady.  I think it’ll happen.”

            Luke’s hopefulness reveals much about Fantasy sports.  In fact, it is an easy way to understand why all sports exist: the chance that something perfect will happen.  We use sports as a means of striving towards perfection.  And unlike other endeavors, like art or religion, perfection in sports seems within reach, not some impossible ideal.  When we line up our golf shot on a tee-box, we know how unlikely it is that we will hit that hole-in-one, but some irrational part of ourselves still expects the best.  We spend our entire lives expecting the best.  Sports allow us to believe in ourselves.  Sports, in return, are predicated on that belief, just as is life.

            But for all his belief, things don’t go well for Luke in the first half of Sunday Night Football.  The Bears maul the Vikings and go into the locker room with a 26-3 lead.  Jay Cutler has already thrown for 193 passing yards and two touchdowns, for a Fantasy point total of 15.  With a full half to go, things look grim for Luke.  But as the Bears step back on to the field to receive the kickoff at the start of the second half (another bad sign), Luke doesn’t even flinch.  His eyes stay fixed on his silver laptop, like always, and he continues to filter through the stats, taking them in bit by bit.  He must know how unlikely his 15 or 16 point prognostication is by now, but if he does, he isn’t showing it.  He isn’t animated or stressed.  He just waits to see what happens.

            On the fourth play of the opening drive, Jared Allen bull-rushes Cutler and sacks him, forcing a fumble that is recovered by the Vikings.  Cutler is deducted two points for the lost fumble, taking his Fantasy point total down to 13.  Luke doesn’t smile or celebrate.  He just waits.  The Vikings drive the rest of the field and score a touchdown, but just as the Bears get back on the field, Devin Hester returns the kickoff 98 yards for a score.  Cutler never gets to touch the field.  Luke continues to wait.  The Vikings go three-and-out on their next drive and punt.  After another good return by Hester, Cutler completes two passes for 34 yards and the Bears take a field goal.  Cutler stands at 14 Fantasy points.  The Bears quickly get the ball back (Donovan McNabb looks like a clueless rookie leading purple’s offense) and Cutler connects on three passes for 24 more yards before the third quarter runs out.  Cutler is up to 251 passing yards on the day, good for 16 Fantasy points, and is already at the maximum threshold for Luke’s tiny window, with a full quarter left to play.  If Luke is worried, I don’t see it.  He seems content to wait.

            The Bears kick a field goal and after a failed fourth-down conversion by the Vikings, they get the ball back with ten minutes left to play.  On second down, Cutler hits Roy Williams across the middle for 16 yards, boosting his total yardage to 267.  He is 8 yards from the next 25-yard point plateau.  Two plays later, Cutler looks back to Williams, eyeing him on an out-route some twelve yards down the field.  The pass sails high.  Luke just waits.  The Bears punt, but once again, the Vikings give it back in short order.  The Bears offense comes back on the field with 4:06 remaining.  The Bears quarterback squats under the center and barks out the snap count, only there is no #6 on the back of his jersey.  Luke doesn’t move at all.  He just waits.  It’s #12.  Cutler is out.  The backup is in.  The Bears pick up a first down and run out the rest of the clock.  Luke wins all three match-ups involving Cutler.  For the rest of the night, I’m riddled with uncertainty about the difference between coincidence and miracles.  Luke reveals nothing.  He just goes on waiting to see what happens next.

Week Seven: Confounding Confounders


            Chicago is a big city.  To help people get around there is an arsenal of highways and interchanges that swoop from district to district, connecting the disparate neighborhoods into a metropolitan whole.  Living on the southern fringe of Chicago – one foot in town, one foot in the suburbs – those freeways are a major help when I need to get up north or downtown.  But these roads are beset by a constant barrage of motorists all going in the same direction – north in the morning, south in the evening – and constricted by the suffocating grasp of myriad construction crews.  It’s hard to tell at times whether it’s worth it to take the highway with all that clutter about (twice as bad when the weather turns sour), or if it’s better to just take the side roads to get to where you need to be.  The back streets only offer a slow crawl uptown, but it is immeasurably preferable to a stalled-traffic purgatory (a freeway parking lot), during which life seems very much not worth the trouble.

            But these difficult decisions are made easy with the help of traffic reports.  It’s just a shame that I have no clue how to use them.

            I hear the traffic reports on every radio station, AM and FM; they aren’t hard to find.  The hosting DJ will kick control over to some “other” person, whose apparent sole purpose is to monitor traffic patterns, and this nameless person is allowed ten to fifteen seconds to enumerate travel times for every major route in the city.  These descriptions are blurted out with the velocity of an auctioneer or those guys who read medicinal side effects in commercials: “35 to the Loop and 20 from the Bishop Ford going southbound; two-lane pile-up headed out of the city on the Ryan and 40 from the Circle to the Exchange…”  But 35 minutes from where to the Loop?  A travel time to a destination is meaningless without a starting point.  Is 35 minutes bad or good?  Where exactly is that two-lane pile up?  What the fuck is the Circle?  Where the fuck is the Exchange?  These are the type of questions I would bark at my poor dashboard, having been yet again stymied by the incomprehensible traffic reports.

            Luckily, with the emergence of smartphone apps and navigations systems, no one has to rely on these reports any longer.  In map form, these conveniences will show you traffic congestion in a perfectly understandable way.  Because I don’t need them anymore, those radio reports float in and out of my ear unnoticed.  I get around the city just fine.  Sure, I get stuck in my own share of traffic jams, but while idling on a resurfaced section of Chicago highway, I never think to myself: If only I’d listened to a traffic report first…

            In fact, the only time I think about traffic reports at all is when everyone is gathered at Luke’s house for a Sunday of NFL football.  For all the bringing together language can accomplish, if you don’t speak that tongue, it can seem like an impenetrable barrier.  It’s Week Seven – in hieroglyphics.

“That scumbag Burress just scored.”  Scott says to no one.

            “Is Tebow even gonna start the second?”  Drish queries.

“He only had 24 passing yards in the first half.”  Matt V says, not quite answering.

            “He’d start on Oakland.”

            Boller and Palmer.  What a joke.”

            “Al Davis died.  They’re fucked anyway.”  Luke chimes in.

            “What does that matter?”

            “It’s the death curse.”  Luke explains.

“Actually, teams play better after tragedies.”  Matt K waxes philosophical.

            “Depends, I guess.”

“Six fucking picks, though!”

“This Browns/Seahawks game is brutal.”

“It’s like watching paint dry.”

“It’s like watching water boil.”

“It’s like watching a big pile of dogshit.”

“Rodgers is a boss hog.”

            “I hope they lose.”


            “Them.”  He points.  He nods.

            “Kansas City Defense, baby!”

            Burress scored again.”

            “Three?”  Someone asks.

            “Three.”   Someone answers.


            “Hank Williams Jr. got fired.”

            “No more ‘Are you ready for some football?”


“Sad, kinda.”

            “He compared Obama to Hitler.”

            “Ingram is gonna blow up later.”

            “I’m gonna go blow up that toilet in a minute.”

            “Fuck the Saints.”

            “Fuck you.”

            “Where did Chris Painter go to college?”

            “It’s Curtis.”






            “Forte is shitting all over the Bucs.”

            “Good thing I benched him.”

            “Why the fuck…”

            “Your whole team belongs on the bench.”

            “I’m changing my team name to the Long Boners.”

            “I saw Cutler at a bar once.  He’s tiny.”

            “Shut the fuck up.”

            “Demarco Murray 91 yard TD!”




            “Whose Bye week?”

“LT sucks.”

            “Diarrhea, I swear.”

            “100-yard bonuses in that league.”

            “Down by 7 and a half.”

            “Breaking Bad.”

“Monday Night is dogshit again.”

            “We had Columbus Day off, that’s why.”

            “Next week.”



            This is my image of the afterlife: you spend your time going over your actual life.  Once you arrive at this next plane of existence, you are given a giant list.  The list contains totals for everything you’ve ever done.  It notes how many times you shook a person’s hand.  How many hours you spent sleeping.  How many times you had sex.  How many Oreo’s you ate.  How many light-switches you flipped.  Everything.  It’s your life, by the numbers.

            Your list also has a transcript and playback feature, in case you want to see all those Oreos or read about why there wasn’t more sex to be had.  But you could also go back and catch people lying to you.  You could figure out where you lost that damn digital camera all those years ago.  You could decide the precise moment when you stopped caring about cartoons.  You can watch yourself eat your first chicken nugget.  Then your last.

            After you’ve had time enough to re-watch your life as many times as you’d like, The Being will sit down with you and talk about your life.  The Being will answer any questions you might have and help illuminate the motives behind the life that was yours.  If you want, the Being will go over your life moment by moment, from beginning to end, and help you make sense of it all.  It will be truthful and significant and honest; a moment of supreme clarity.

            But, when you get to the traffic reports and the Fantasy football discussion, The Being will probably just shrug his shoulders and move on to the next thing.








Week Eight: Fantasy Faith


            Jim the Flower Guy is a bearded Grizzly Bear of a man who sells flowers at the corner of 111th and Pulaski, which is less than a mile from Luke’s house.  He wears a neon-yellow construction vest and hobbles up and down the rows of cars stopped at red lights, holding out a white bucket full of single-stem roses.  Well into his sixties, Jim is at his corner will alarming regularity; there is hardly a time that you wouldn’t see him out there.  Early in the morning, well past nightfall, lots of snow or lots of rain…Jim is always out peddling his ware.

            Though he is slovenly and overweight, Jim’s work ethic gives him a blue-collar grace.  He is a man of the people.  Who else could devote himself to such a menial, constant task?  He is a staple of the community as well, or least Alsip Plaza, the smallish strip mall that inhabits one corner of his intersection; the other three by a hot dog stand, an agricultural high school, and a cemetery.  People wave to him.  Sometimes, he waves back.  But perhaps Jim’s biggest role is local legend.  There are rumors that he sleeps in the cemetery.  That he’s an eccentric millionaire.  That he grows the roses himself, in some private garden illegally dug into one of the nearby forest preserves in the west suburbs.  Other rumors claim that he steals the roses from what people leave behind on the tombstones in the cemetery.

I only know Jim’s name from an article that was written about him in a local newspaper.  “He’s a nice guy.  We let him use the bathroom whenever he needs it,” said the owner of a gas station down the road.  “His roses are beautiful,” said a girl who works at the hot dog stand.  The community not only permits Jim to do his thing, we embrace him and his roses and his legends.  We choose to ignore the thought that he is likely a homeless addict of one kind or another. Van Eck (BAM League co-owner with Johnstone) went as Jim the Flower Guy for Halloween one year, getting all the details right except the scraggliness of his white beard.

            But though Jim’s corner is less than a mile from where I live, and I pass him almost every day, I have never seen him sell one flower.  He always has a full stock of roses in his bucket: a robust bushel of tiny red bulbs poking out over the white rim.  There are differing reports as to how well Jim’s roses sell, as a Jim the Flower Guy conversation always leads to the issue of money.  Some claim he makes, “More than you’d think!”  Others contend that he earns, “Next to nothing.”  Because I’ve never seen him nab a customer, I’m under the impression that Jim’s roses aren’t in high demand, but I figure he must sell enough to justify being out there all day, everyday.  And that he is, lugging his bucket through the rows of halted cars, despite the weather or Chicagoans’ tendency to ignore people begging or selling things on the street.

            Still, I wonder what he’s really getting out of his effort.  There are no health benefits for his job.  There is no hierarchy for advancement.  No retirement plan.  It’s not something you can get certified in: hawking roses.  Then again, there is no competition for his job.  There are no crabby co-workers for him to deal with or domineering bosses to fend off.  No clock to punch, no quota to fill.  Jim can sell as many or as few flowers as he likes in peace, outside, taking in lungfuls of the mostly-unpolluted air of the near suburbs.

            Seeing Jim at his corner, I am conflicted: it is both sad and sweet at the same time.  I can’t help but be overcome with fascination.  Jim stands out not because he sells roses on a street corner, but because he lives a life no one else would, whatever that life may entail, and however terrible or terrific it might be.  He doesn’t belong in the modern world, yet no one will tell him to leave, or beg him to come back if he did.  Like an unexplained force of nature, Jim the Flower Guy is just there.

            And speaking of things that don’t belong: Tim Tebow is now a starting quarterback in the NFL.  In Week Seven, he led the Broncos to an improbable come-from-behind win over the Dolphins.  And even though beating the Dolphins is nothing worth writing home about, football analysts have talked about little else.  Tebowmania is in full swing.  Tebow is not what anyone would consider a typical quarterback and, like a car wreck, we can’t help but slow down and stare at him: a wobbly-passing, ground-scrambling, God-praising QB who can barely throw a five-yard out and doesn’t know how to do anything but win.

            But the BAM League owners, while intrigued by Tebowmania, aren’t very concerned with the young upstart from the University of Florida.  Regardless if he is a “winner” or “plays with heart,” Tim Tebow is not a Fantasy quarterback.  Intangibles mean nothing to Fantasy owners and Tebow’s worth is comprised entirely of them.

            Just to be sure, I took a closer look at Tebow’s numbers under the Fantasy microscope and discovered that the owners may be wrong about Tebow.  In Week Five, playing only the second half of the game, Tebow produced 16 Fantasy points.  In his first full start of the 2011 season, Week Six, he put up 19 points.  These aren’t monolithic numbers, and one would be hard-pressed to imagine Tebow ever producing a 30 or 40 point performance, but his consistency is respectable.  Plus, Tebow has a few things going for him that actually lend well to Fantasy ownership.  He is a running quarterback when rushing yards for QBs are worth two and a half times what passing yards are worth.  He is also notorious for protecting the football, so he is averse to point deductions from fumbles or interceptions.  Above all, despite a college career as a running quarterback playing in the rough-and-tumble SEC, Tebow has shown a remarkable ability to stay healthy and avoid injury (perhaps one of the most important traits to Fantasy owners).

            But Tebow’s past and present are shrouded in oddity.  His future is uncertain, at best.  At this early juncture, most NFL experts can’t imagine Tebow developing into a legitimate passer; therefore, they can’t imagine him developing into a legitimate quarterback.  No one has ever played the position exactly the way Tebow plays the position.  When sports fans see something new or atypical, we tend to disbelieve it as a viable approach, simply because our favoring of tradition won’t allow us to betray our better sense.  Consider Dick Fosbury and his “Fosbury Flop,” which revolutionized the way Olympic athletes compete in the High Jump.  Most people thought Fosbury was a lunatic for attempting to jump over the bar backwards.  Today, it is standard practice for high jumpers the world over.

            Still, Tebow seems like a long shot and it is even longer odds that he will revolutionize anything about the quarterback position.  BAM League owners won’t take a chance on him until his potential for success is more statistically significant.  Fantasy owners, though hasty at times, do try to operate on certainties.  The sparseness of those certainties is what makes Fantasy sports so interesting and fun.  But there is perhaps no greater uncertainty in the NFL right now than Tim Tebow.  Like Jim the Flower Guy, people just don’t know what to make of him.  No one knows enough about him to understand what he’s all about.  There are rumors and there is speculation, but there are no normative attributes by which we could judge his worth.  Jim and Tim are both mysteries.

            In Week Five, I argued that Fantasy management is intertwined with an owner’s identity.  How we live our lives is who we are.  So what can be gleaned from Jim and Tim, for whom there is no reference point?  There is nothing I could say that wouldn’t rely on those rumors or speculations, so I won’t even bother.  So let’s shift focus to the BAM League owners.  I took the owners I knew best and tried to imagine how they would complete a simple sentence: “Fantasy is _______.”  With very little thought, I came up with these answers:


            Luke: “Fantasy is meticulous planning.”

            Drish: “Fantasy is fate.”

            Matt K: “Fantasy is luck.”
            Matt V: “Fantasy is fun.”

            Scott: “Fantasy is bullshit.”


            Part of me was surprised at how easy it was to boil down their personalities into a few syllables, but I know these people well.  I grew up with them.  I’ve had a whole lifetime to learn their natures.  In addition, I don’t think any of them are all that complicated.  I don’t think I am, either.  We all live within the confines of regular life – school, work, parenthood, death – and though our personalities may differ wildly, we all adhere to the general patterns of behavior for people living on the South Side of Chicago.  Outliers, exceptionals, trendsetters, and progressives be damned; the BAM League is full of average dudes.

            But the BAM League, for as big as it aims to be, is only a miniscule fraction of the Fantasy universe.  Fantasy is now a global phenomenon.  Participants come from all walks of life.  There is no standard of success.  There is no requirement for style.  Fantasy transcends description in that it can only be consumed at an individual level, almost like a religion.  What is selling roses to Jim?  What does he get out of it?  What is fourth-quarter heroics to Tebow?  How does he keep doing it?  I’m not even sure they could tell you.  Some things just are.  Some things are too complicated to understand.

            You may see Jim’s bucket still full of unsold roses or see Tebow go three quarters without completing a single pass.  The next day, you may see Jim back on his corner with a new bucket of roses and the Broncos in the winning column.  There are unexplained forces that govern existence.  The only victory is in accepting that we do no understand these people as well as we’d like to.  In fact, it is better as it is, with them as mysteries, because if we knew the truth – that Jim sold just enough roses to get drunk every night or that Tebow’s heroics were somehow illusory – we would stop caring about these people altogether.  The intrigue is born of the impossibility of knowing these people as they are.  Maybe Jim sells a thousand roses a day.  Maybe Tebow will become a Hall of Fame quarterback.  While life is a pursuit of exactitudes, much like Fantasy, the truly elusive is considered the most important.  We spend our entire lives looking up at the things we can never know.

            Fantasy, in this same way, operates on faith and the perpetual struggle to know yourself.  Owners participate not because they know things, but because they wish to test the limits of the things they will never know.  For each thing you claim to know, you are defining a limit of the things you do not.  Jim and Tim and Fantasy are just figments of a faith in the things we can’t know.  We believe them to be whatever we want.  And they in turn, to their credit, don’t mind what that might be.




Week Nine: The Great Excuse


            Monday Night Football is the wedding-party table of the NFL schedule.  The game is typically singled out for the quality of the teams involved or for a longstanding rivalry, which enhances interest, but it is actually just the stand alone nature of the game that attracts viewers.  MNF is useful as a distraction, when the workweek seems so endless, and to Fantasy owners, who are normal working stiffs in real life, it is a chance to hold on to their weekend for a few moments longer.  The game also gains a sense of elevated importance because it is positioned at the end of the weekly Fantasy schedule; commonly, owners rely upon Monday Night Football as a last resort to stage a comeback in their match-ups.  When things line up in just the right way, MNF can be the Fantasy lynchpin that decides and owner’s fate.  And every Monday night, the game takes center stage, with its own day, its own broadcast, its own energy: a primetime spectacular.  But mostly, the game is a bore.

            Each Monday, you hear whatever song replaced Are you Ready for Some Football?, listen to Jon Gruden talk about his favorite players and what great “motors” they have, tolerate the long segment where each player is allowed to specify where they went to college, as if it made any difference at all, try to keep your eyelids from lulling shut as Mike Torico explains (for the 1,000,000th time) that a replay challenge can only overturn a call on the field with “indisputable evidence,” and somewhere along the way watch a completely average NFL football game.

            Because of the late starting time (7:30 CST), most people I know don’t watch the whole game.  It isn’t rare for the game to be a blowout, and sometimes the preseason projections go askew and both teams involved are duds, but even when there is a good game brewing between two good teams, a person needs a pretty damn good reason to keep watching past 11:00 P.M. if they have to be up for work at 6:00 A.M.

But for Fantasy owners, all it takes is a little Fantasy impact.  If an owner is hanging on by a narrow lead, he’ll ride out the game until morning breaks if he has to, just to make sure that lead holds.  If behind, as long as they have a player on the field, and a prayer in their heart, the owner watches with the eager hope that they can make up the difference.  These scenarios can be outrageous long shots – like trailing by 50 points with nothing left but your kicker – but as long as there is some rooting interest in regards to Fantasy, owners are tuned in and jacked up for Monday Night Football.

For Week Nine, everyone is particularly excited for Monday Night Football, which will feature the Bears and the Eagles.  Plans are made to meet at a bar for the game.  Scott warns, “We gotta get there early so we can get some seats at the bar.”  Everyone agrees with this.  Matt V will be coming straight from work; he has a late meeting.  Drish is psyched, “I’m gonna be buying Bombs (hard liquor shots mixed with Red Bull) all night.”  Luke is damn near giddy, which for him just means he smiles and his pale skin reddens a bit, “It’s gonna be sick.”

But of all the owners, only Matt K has any particular Fantasy interest in the game, as Michael Vick is on his BAM League roster.  Still, trailing by only 11 points, and also owning Jeremy Maclin, it seems preposterous that he wouldn’t make up the difference and get the win (unless the Koll Injury Curse rears its ugly head).  Somehow, it isn’t Fantasy that brings the excitement for Week Nine and Monday Night Football; it’s that the Chicago Bears are playing.

In Week One, I explained that most of my friends care little for the Bears, though they all are Chicago products.  They are much too concerned with Fantasy results to invest their interest in the fate of their hometown team.  So why do the Bears matter now?  Why is it that Week Nine will mark only the second time all season that the guys get together at a bar to watch an NFL game?  The only other time was in Week Five, when, unsurprisingly, the Bears were featured on Monday Night Football against the Lions.  That game was a penalty-ridden catastrophe, riddled with sloppy play and absent of any mental wherewithal; there was plenty to comment on/complain about, and needless to say, the bar was a lot of fun that night.  But what is it about MNF that makes the Bears game suddenly seem relevant, when – gasp – it has nothing to do with Fantasy?

As explained at the outset, the timing of the game is what makes it special.  It gives it a particular emphasis.  The game isn’t worth any more (a win on Monday night is still just a single win), but it certainly feels like it is.  On Sundays, when the Bears game is tucked into the barrage of the NFL schedule, the people at Luke’s house have far too many Fantasy considerations pulling them in every direction to care about what happens to the “Monsters of Midway.”  Monday Night Football is a distillation of Fantasy concern because it is only a single game.  Even if you have something at stake, the game itself takes precedence because there isn’t much else to distract you from it.  For a fleeting second, Fantasy fans revert back to football fans.

For Eagles/Bears, I see some of that football fervor reemerging; some of that uncalculated fan-hood that existed before the Fantasy owners traded their favorite team’s colors for the black and white of a computerized, imaginary roster.  There’s a freshness to it.  For the first time, when we are all gathered in the dimly-lit bar, I feel like we are about to watch a game of real humans competing on a football field, rather than hassling over Fantasy-point robots assembling scores on a production line.  It makes things better that the Bears are doing well (4-3) and their opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles (self-proclaimed “Dream Team”).  Plus, the game is more interesting due to its likely playoff implications.  But Matt V and Drish hate the Bears.  They spend the entire game reveling in their pitfalls.  Scott and Matt K get twisted in some discussion about the recently-completed MLB season, arguing over which team had a more epic collapse, the Red Sox (as Matt K contends) or the Braves (who Scott argues for, though he mostly does this because the Braves are Matt K’s favorite baseball team).  Luke doesn’t say much, as usual.  Everyone watches the game on the many screens mounted on every wall, but no one seems that interested in it.  So why the hell was it so important to drop everything and flee to the bar to watch the Bears on Monday Night Football?  Because the game was just an excuse to do so.

As I’ve argued, sports are consumed individually: we draw out our own meaning and significance from what they offer.  But those individual experiences are strengthened through communal interaction.  That is why Fantasy leagues prosper: we share our fanaticism and it grows from the sharing.  It gains power from within to without.  We seek signs of shared humanity as a way of justifying our personal preferences.  You can love sports on your own, but you won’t truly love sports until you see how much other people love sports.  We define our lives through connection.

So, for all types of reasons, we deem things “special occasions” and upon that flimsy excuse we fulfill our need for interaction.  The event itself bears no particular significance other than the significance we assign to it, but we revere these occasions as inviolate birth-rights.  The Super Bowl, March Madness, Birthdays, Weddings, New Year’s Eve, Lunar Eclipses, the Kentucky Derby – they are all things we decided were special and worth our notice.  Based on that decision, we use these occasions as an excuse to stop and celebrate, act out, and be a little foolish/selfish.

On a more specific level, men use these events as excuses to party with their buddies.  A dedicated boyfriend may get a free pass to go out with the guys if he can convince his girlfriend that the event warrants it, “Buy Honey, it’s the Bears on Monday Night…”  A hard-working businessman may delay an assignment to go out and enjoy himself, “I’ll just stay late at the office tomorrow.  Can’t miss this game…”  Even those without commitments utilize special events as justification to live it up, pretending that they wouldn’t have done so without any prompting, though they would have, “Gotta go out now.  It’s the Bears on Monday Night for fuck’s sake.”

These excuses are self-delusions, of course.  The rarity of the event doesn’t always imply significance.  Not everything is like diamonds, with worth gleaned from its scarcity.  Sports fans have a particular habit of attributing meaning to things and pretending that the meaning was there all along.  But sports have no intrinsic value; they are just games humans made up.  We are the ones who decided that the Stanley Cup matters, that the World Series is important, that NBA champions have accomplished something worth accomplishing.  But, strangely, it is this mystique of prestige which creates our fascination with sports.  So, in effect, we are drawn to the perceived atmosphere that sports offer, though we were the ones who created it and populate it.  We almost act as though sports are doing us a favor.  I’ve heard sports legends say much of the same, “I’m honored to play this sport.”  And it’s true: sports are fun to play, sports are fun to watch.  But we are the ones who made them that way.  They are actualized from our pre-existing desires for competition and friendship and camaraderie and devotion.  And we keep upping the ante to make sure our interest in sports never wanes; the interest in our own creation.  From these efforts, new things, like Fantasy sports, come about.  Sports are our gardens.  We tend them.

To do so, we trick ourselves into caring more about things like the Bears playing on Monday Night Football, though we have no particular reason to care any extra about it.  None of the owners have changed their perspectives; they still are Fantasy devotees through and through.  But for this night, they allow themselves to be inspired by the intersection of their hometown team and the glamour of MNF.  In accordance, they dress up a little and abandon their couches for the exuberance of the pub, the jocularity of a buddy’s house, or the roaring velocity of the stadium.  They ignore that they already wanted to do these things, and use the impetus of an “important game” as an excuse to “bro-out” and drink beer with the guys because men are just children who look old.  Sports are excellent at providing opportunities to do exactly that.

So sports are a useful excuse for homo-social interaction.  But does that mean no one really cares about sports?  Are they only a convenient excuse to satisfy our need for connection?  I think not.  Sports are something more.  This is proven by the variety of things that draw people in: the unpredictability, the strategy, the athletic artistry, etc.  Sports have a force all their own, though that force is a credit to us.

But it can be argued that the excuse offered by sports can be found elsewhere in life.  If all we want is something to interact with and talk about, there are plenty of other things to satisfy those prerogatives.  So, once again, sports become a very particular form of self-expression.  The Fantasy owners do not choose video gaming, or cooking, or blogging, or flying kites to define themselves upon (though they may do all of these things).  They choose sports and its blossoming community which is unlike any other.  The cosmic entity that is Sports allows for planetary rings of social interaction, mental engagement, and personal expression.  Sports create space around themselves, space enough for one to cheer in the stands, revel in the tailgate, follow on the screen, track on the web, and cherish in your heart.

From this regard, Fantasy sports make perfect sense.  They are nothing more than collectives of like-minded fans interacting with each other.  It’s no different than book clubs or motorcycle gangs.  For while those literature enthusiasts and gear-heads may gather under the pretense of hobbyism, the real reason everyone is drawn to the center is to show-off, compete, brag, degrade, embellish, one-up, and ultimately, win respect…all of the pieces crucial to a thriving Fantasy community.

Watching Monday Night Football at the bar, I realize that I don’t really care about the Bears.  I don’t really care about a bunch of millionaires tackling each other in pursuit of a brown, leather oval.  I don’t really care who wins the game.  I care who I’m with.  I care about the space that surrounds the sport.  I care about the space that we create.







Week Ten: A Man without a Country


            On Sunday morning, I plug my laptop charger into the outlet behind the end table.  My cord is just one of many such cords in Luke’s living room, which meander around the carpet in a non-linear transfusion of power from socket to socket.  The floor surrounding the couches is a cluttered mess of insulated plastic; a tangled web of electric current.  But it is a necessary mess.  The cords power the laptops and smartphones.

Computers and phones: the backbones of our civilization.  It’s hard to imagine modern life without them.  Computers and phones: they are the pillars of not just our world, but the nuclear batteries that keep the Fantasy world humming along.  Computers and phones: I’m not sure Fantasy would exist without them.  Can you imagine a Fantasy league scored by hand, using the box scores in the newspaper?  The very thought brings to mind prehistoric men scribbling on the walls of a cave.

            It’s still early, only 11:15.  The games don’t start until noon.  I fall into the couch next to Matt V and get comfortable before balancing the laptop on my knees and pressing the power button.  The screen flickers and comes to life, its fourteen-inch monitor piqued by a glowing, iridescent blackness.  I stare deep into the face of my machine as the bytes align and the processor conducts things to order.  An elbow breaks my trance, plowing into my upper ribs, just below my left armpit.  I turn, confused.  Matt V retracts his elbow.  He looks incredulous.

            “What the fuck do you need your laptop for?”

            It’s finally, painfully obvious that I am not one of them.  It’s taken ten long weeks of detailing the habits and rituals of the Fantasy owners, but I see clearly now that I will never truly understand them, nor will I ever truly be one of them.  I am not a BAM Leaguer.  Luke’s little semi-circle of couches and TVs was pre-destined for a very specific purpose, that of Fantasy warfare, and I am no more than an intruder.  I don’t play Fantasy sports, so I don’t belong.  In exactly this spot, I am an other.

            Matt V cannot understand why, on a Sunday in the fall, the holiest of Fantasy days, I would need a laptop out.  He knows I have no rosters to watch and no match-ups to follow; in his mind, these facts conclude that I shouldn’t need a laptop.  In his mind, on this day, there is only Fantasy.  Time stops.  Other concerns melt away.  The spaces at the edges of the map cease to exist or matter.  Fantasy football is all there is.  And to be honest, I’m pretty ashamed that I don’t have a place in it all.

            Sundays used to be quite different for me.  For over six years, Sundays were the most important day of my week, though its importance had nothing to do with football or Fantasy considerations.  Sunday was the day of the Sunday Majors.

            As I’ve mentioned before, I supported myself for many years by playing poker; primarily online poker.  Every internet poker site offers a regular tournament schedule Monday through Saturday, and these daily tournaments attract a steady number of entrants and have predictable prize pools.  A few higher buy-in tourneys are sprinkled in to the mix, but the bulk of the mega-tournaments are saved for the Sunday “Major” tournaments, a nickname penned by professional players.  On Sundays, the more casual players, those who have actual jobs during the week and play poker mainly for entertainment purposes, log on in frenetic droves, playing a wild, easily exploitable brand of poker.  The card sharks salivate over these inexperienced fishies.  Each site has a special schedule of tournaments reserved just for Sundays to accommodate the influx of players.  Sundays are otherworldly for this reason: the buy-ins are higher, the player fields are larger, and the payouts are life-changing.  To any card player worth his salt, or with any sense in his head, Sundays are all that matter.

            Back when I was still playing poker for a living, the sheer intensity of the Sunday Majors, because there was so much that could be won or lost, cast a deep shadow over professional football.  I could keep up with basketball and baseball during the week, but because the NFL exists almost solely as a Sunday sport, I had no choice but to let it slip from my thoughts.  Sundays were dedicated to cards; I had no time for anything else.  When Chicago made it to Super Bowl XLI, though the Bears were my childhood favorite, I confess that I only watched a few minutes of the game.  For years I knew very little about the NFL.  I knew even less about Fantasy football. 

            But in the spring of 2011, the US Department of Justice shut down the three biggest online poker sites in the world in one fell swoop.  What was left behind was a mangy pile of unproven sites and diminished opportunities.  I gave up poker altogether, opting to pursue other professional opportunities.  An unintended upside to this decision was that my Sundays were once again free.  Come fall and the return of the NFL (which was the start of the BAM League’s second year), I was ready to get back into professional football.  To focus my ambition, I decided to document the BAM League and get a handle on why people play Fantasy sports, as I recognized them as inextricably linked to sports obsession.  But all I’ve learned so far is just how far apart I am from it all.  I find myself unable to care about real sports or Fantasy sports for even a fraction of how much the BAM owners care.  I’ve been genuinely shocked at how little I understand about the inner-workings of a Fantasy league.  I’ve had to have many things, like the player contract particulars that govern BAM League ownership, repeated to me many times before I understand them (though much of that contract nonsense still mystifies me).

            At first, I considered jumping into the fire and joining the BAM League, as a spot had become available after one owner was ejected (Anthony).  It made sense that if I wanted to understand what was going on and what it took to be a good Fantasy owner and sports lover, I should get in there and try to document my progression from the inside out.  I decided against this for many reasons, including intimidation at the owners’ wealth of sports knowledge and my lack of it, but I was primarily concerned that Fantasy would consume me like it had them.  I have a vicious drive for competition; it’s one of the things that helped me find success in poker.  And my phone has already become an unconscious extension of my body, as I check, with compulsive frequency, for any notification that might exist.  I stare at text message threads and shuffle through photos and recheck Facebook and Twitter endlessly in an attempt to satisfy some unquenchable fix for social knowledge.  If I added Fantasy apps and sports updates to my list of concerns, I’m not sure there would be room left in my life for anything other than sleeping and breathing.  I see how much time the owners dedicate to Fantasy sports and it disgusts me more than a little.  I can’t imagine spending that much time doing anything.  It felt wiser, at least in terms of maintaining my sanity, that I not bury myself in the euphoria of the BAM League.

            And in another regard, I’m proud of my abstinence from Fantasy.  My girlfriend is similarly pleased that I don’t participate in the Fantasy mania that she sees each time she hangs out with my friends (God forbid on a Sunday in the fall).  She thinks it’s foolish.  At times, so do I.  But my pride stems from the feeling of being unique: doing things others won’t or refusing to do things others don’t.  I like that I’m the only one out of my close friends that isn’t a Fantasy owner.  It may not be an important distinction in the ultimate tally of my life, but it’s a distinction nonetheless.

            Still, I can’t shake the feeling of being adrift on NFL Sundays.  I am now disconnected from poker, which I know well, and surrounded by Fantasy football, which I don’t.  It’s lonely to feel so displaced.

            Being an outsider has always been a double-edged position for me.  I savor the individualism, but feel estranged from the connections I lack.  I like being the one who “isn’t wasting his time on Fantasy,” but I’ve felt like a fool when standing in a circle of Fantasy discussion with nothing to offer.  As a person keen on impressing others (we all have our egos to satisfy), it’s real shot to the gut for me to feel so helpless.

            My initial response to this feeling, when I recognized it, was to deflect it.  I derided everyone else.  It wasn’t me, the lone protestor, who was the weird one; it was everyone else that was in the wrong.  It was the people who devoted such vast amounts of time to such a fruitless endeavor that were the weird ones.  “You’re an idiot!” I told anyone who would listen.  “What the fuck is wrong with you?”  I’d ask of any owner within earshot.

            But that strategy wore out my welcome pretty quickly.  People just started tuning me out.  Everyone liked Fantasy too much to listen to my self-serving proselytizing.  I get enough respect amongst my friends to give my words their proper weight, but when it came to Fantasy discussion, no one wanted to hear my bullshit, uninformed opinions.  I was only separating myself further.

            The only logical solution, if I wanted the sense of alienation to go away, was to join the fray.  I started asking questions about Fantasy operation.  I considered how real sports related to Fantasy sports.  I listened and remembered and learned.  I was not eager to join the actual Fantasy leagues, but if Fantasy acumen was what allowed for acceptance, then I would do everything I could.  Every time an argument broke out, over player value or a new league rule, I’d pick a side and argue for its merit.  I’d shout and complain with the same conviction as all the owners.  I copied Matt V’s style of always having one solid statistic to back up any claim I made.  I impressed others with knowledge of contract details and whispers from the rumor mill.  I pretended I cared, and in time, I did care.  At some point, I found myself back inside the circle.  I could move seamlessly from the real world into their world of Fantasy.

            I had switched from “Mark: Anti-Fantasy Crusader” to “Mark: Fantasy Neutral.”  I didn’t play Fantasy, but at least I spoke the language.  It was a subtle switch in some regards, but large in scope.  I still don’t have the desire to become a Fantasy owner, but I am motivated to participate with Fantasy at some level; which is to say that I am interested in Fantasy and invested in it to a degree, at arm’s length, but perhaps lacking the dedication required to actually compete.  It’s not that I have more important things to do, or am fearful that I’ll never be a good owner, it’s just that, for entertainment value, I prefer other things.  Fantasy sports, to me, are intriguing in a vacuum of theorized discussion.  The results by year’s end are unimportant to me other than for shaping future discussions.  They satisfy no other need of mine.

            Above all, I’ve not done Fantasy sports for so long that it would feel strange, possibly hypocritical, to start now.  And I think people realize this about me.  It’s a part of who I am: the guy who doesn’t play Fantasy sports.  I hate to be defined in negation, but I’m comfortable with where I stand, for the most part.  I am just one of the guys when the Fantasy roundtable begins at the bar or on Luke’s couches, but you won’t find my name attached to any cyber match-ups.  I am there, but apart.  Just enough in, just enough out.  It’s right where I belong.

            Matt V doesn’t question me being with him and the other Fantasy owners on an NFL Sunday because that fits his preconceived notion of who I am: a sports lover.  However, having a laptop out, when laptops are, in his mind, only useful for Fantasy considerations, doesn’t match.  I’m not an owner, so I shouldn’t need a laptop.  It’s fascinating how Matt V’s view of things has been completely twisted by Fantasy.  It filters everything he does; everything he sees.  He literally scratches his head in confusion, trying to understand why I would have a laptop out on a Fantasy Sunday, disregarding the fact that there are a million reasons I might have a laptop out.  I try to appease him,

            “Well, you know, computers can be used for things other than checking Fantasy teams.  Even on a Sunday.”

            He grins a little and leans back into the couch.  As his body seeps into the soft, brown cushions, my words seep into his soft, brown skull.  But the idea is awkward for him and he grimaces.  In a curious, but doubtful tone, he asks,

            “Like what?”







Week Eleven: The Lockout Apocalypse


            For most of the summer, the NFL Lockout loomed over the BAM League.  Though Matt V and Luke were painstakingly detailed when they created the BAM League’s list of rules, trying to envision every issue that might come up, they forgot to account for a lockout.  There was no back-up plan prepared for if an entire sport were to vanish for a full season.  As the summer wound down, and the second year BAM draft approached, things seemed grim.  No one knew what to do if the NFL Lockout persisted through the fall.

            Luckily, the NFL brass got together and worked out a new collective bargaining agreement with plenty of time left before the start of the 2011-2012 Season.  The BAM League chugged forward as well with a truncated second year draft to round out the rosters.  On September 8th, 2011, the BAM League and the NFL both started a new season, just as planned.

            But eleven weeks later, while the NFL carries on unharmed by its could-have-been lockout, things look grim once again.  The NBA Lockout has fallen upon the BAM League with seemingly twice the staying power of the NFL’s.  Times are desperate.

            To a casual observer, a lockout doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  It would seem that the BAM League could easily operate minus one of the four sports.  So, if the NFL or NBA locked out for a season, the BAM League would just have three sports for that year.  Three sports seems like plenty to decide an overall Fantasy champion, and it probably is, but the difficulty posed by a lockout lies with the complexity of the BAM League’s interwoven grid of dependents.  Let me explain.

            Managing four separate rosters across four separate sports requires not just attention and research, it requires delicate balance.  Everyone wants to compete in each sport, but finding that roster parity can be problematic.  If you spread yourself too thin, you may end up unable to compete in any sport.  An owner cannot make such broad goals (other than an overall intention to compete for the BAM League title); an owner must capture opportunities wherever he finds them.  For this reason, no owner is equal in all sports.  Sometimes the owner has intimate knowledge of a sport and chooses to exploit that knowledge by pursuing success in that portion of the league at the expense of the other portions.  For example, Van Eck is the only BAM League owner who played hockey growing up.  In result, he is the most avid and knowledgeable hockey fan out of the thirteen owners.  For the original BAM League draft, he went after hockey players early and often.  Later, during the NHL season, he made shrewd moves to compliment his stable of high draft picks and, unsurprisingly, did very well, finishing second for that portion.  However, Van Eck’s (who is a co-owner with Johnstone) other rosters suffered from his focus on hockey, ending up wildly unbalanced; he and Johnstone’s teams didn’t contend in any of the other three sports.

            Or, due to draft circumstance and contract obstacles, an owner may be forced to beef up one roster and let another dip in quality.  Or maybe an owner wants to make an elaborate, multi-sport trade to pick up a superstar, fully aware that he will have to deplete his other rosters to do so.

            The point is, for varying reasons, the BAM League owners have multiple rosters of varying importance to their overall chances.  Unless an owner is extremely fortunate, with all the breaks going his way, it is next to impossible to contend for the individual league crown in each sport.  Therefore, to compete for the overall BAM League championship, the owners must maximize their output in certain sports to lessen the burden on their lesser rosters.  And because owners must necessarily depend on specific rosters makes lockouts extremely troublesome.  It is why the NBA Lockout is such a tricky issue to deal with.

            Take Matt K and Scott, who are co-owners.  Their basketball roster is their best roster by a mile and a half.  It offers them their best chance to win an individual sport.  For whatever reason, they drafted very well for basketball.  This, in and of itself, was a contentious issue of debate before the original BAM League draft: which sport should an owner draft first?  It is a reoccurring obstacle presented by the complexity of the BAM League: in a game of details and numbers, how does one discern which are the most important?  Which is a roundabout way of asking how to find success in the BAM League.

            In my view, there is no single approach that will guarantee success, as the BAM League is a chessboard of moveable pieces.  However, there are two primary approaches to BAM League management that at least attempt to maximize on the mixed nature of the BAM type of Fantasy league: a sport-based approach and an owner-based approach.

            For the sport-based approach, one would sort out the sports themselves, trying to ascertain which sports rely most heavily on the draft.  This is another topic of debate, but most agree that football rosters are most dependent on the draft while baseball rosters are the least dependent.  Football is the hardest Fantasy sport to find dependable roster additions or replacements.  As I’ve mentioned before about football, the consistently great performers are scant and therefore obvious; the outstanding players are easily recognized and gobbled up by owners early in the draft.  Talent reveals itself more readily in football.

            Baseball, on the other hand, is such a slow and methodical game, which such a long season, that a player’s worth will fluctuate often.  The spread-out nature of the season leads to slumps and peaks of production.  Because of the variance of statistics from player to player, from game to game, Fantasy baseball rosters are much more dependent on depth than talent.  And in baseball, perhaps more than any of the other sports, a lot of guys get a chance to contribute.  Due to batting orders and pitching rotations, every player gets an identical opportunity to succeed.  Whether you are a seasoned veteran or a minor-leaguer called up for your first big-league game: an at-bat is an at-bat.  It starts with no balls and no strikes.  In hockey and basketball and football, this isn’t necessarily the case.  If you aren’t talented enough, you might never get an opportunity to succeed, because it takes a minimum of talent to set up those opportunities.  In basketball, you have to be able to get open before you take that shot, in football before you catch that pass, in hockey before you score that goal.  Baseball has no prerequisites to statistical production.  You step into the batter’s box or step onto the mound and are given the same fair shot the superstars get.  This is why there are so many players available to be picked up during the course of the MLB season: lots of players get a chance.

            Baseball rosters, therefore, have the highest turnover rate in terms of Fantasy ownership.  Football has the lowest.  The draft is immeasurably more important for football than it is for baseball.  If you were to take a sport-based approach to Fantasy competition, you would notice this difference and draft football before anything else, banking on the more liquid talent pool presented by the other sports later on.

            The other approach would be for an owner to utilize their own skill set.  Much like how Van Eck found success in hockey for year one of the BAM League, the better an owner knows a sport, the better he will manage a roster inside that sport.  But, counter to Van Eck’s theory of drafting the sport he knows best first, the logical thing to do would be to draft quicker for the sports you know less about.  For example, I’ve known basketball my entire life.  If I had to pick sport to hang my hat upon, it would surely be basketball and the NBA.  If I were an owner in the BAM League, I would feel more equipped to make basketball decisions over decisions for any other sport.  With my experience in the sport, I can look past the numbers and gauge a more subjective, but possibly more accurate, evaluation of the players.  This would allow me to correctly regard the value of my own players and players I could potentially add to my roster.

            And if I am capable of this, it would make sense not to waste my high draft picks where my talents lie.  I should instead draft high in sports I am less able to make informed decisions about.  In such sports, I must necessarily depend more on players from the draft (where online player rankings make things easier to judge), because my lack of intimate knowledge for that sport will not allow me fix things later on.  I won’t know who to pick up, who to get rid of, or what my team needs because I don’t understand the sport well enough.  The draft would have to carry me, or else I wouldn’t stand a chance in that foreign sport (which is exactly how I would describe hockey as it relates to me).  So, with this approach, it is paramount to utilize early draft picks in sports you are less knowledgeable about, while relying on your areas of expertise to compensate in the other sports through savvy in-season management.

            Or, an owner could attempt to merge the two approaches: trying to find a balance between the particulars of the various sports and servicing their own personal expertise.  But in reality, most BAM League owners didn’t follow either approach.  Most just took the biggest names available when it was their pick, regardless of the sport or their proclivity towards it.  No one wanted to miss out on the best guy available; “the best guy available” as defined by the ESPN player rankings.  People ditched the more high-minded approaches for instinct, whim, and the simplicity of a rankings list.  The player contracts also lodged a considerable kink into the reasoning behind each pick, making the correct pick almost impossible to figure out.

            So, because the owners just grabbed whoever fell to them, they ended up with wildly unbalanced rosters right from the start.  Parity be damned, the owners just went for broke and snatched up the best players they could with little to no consideration of roster equity until the much later rounds of the draft.  Matt K and Scott ended up with a bunch of good basketball players when the smoke cleared, through almost no agenda of their own.  They got Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and even Blake Griffin (then starting his impressive Rookie of the Year campaign after spending a year side-lined with injury).  These were not personal preferences of Matt K or Scott; they were just the superstars available when their picks came around.  The fact that they were all basketball players never crossed their minds.  “We just felt that we couldn’t pass any of them up,” explained Matt K.

            Consequently, Matt K and Scott’s chances in the BAM League heavily relied upon them winning the NBA portion of the schedule.  And even though they failed to do so for the BAM League’s first season, their hefty basketball roster remains intact for the new year, and they are once again counting on its success so they can compete for the BAM League championship.  But with the NBA season in jeopardy, Matt K and Scott are in danger of missing out on their best chance to win an individual sport, which would surely doom their chances at a BAM League title.

            Their dependency on basketball was no conscious decision (both are bigger baseball fans than anything else), so they can hardly be blamed for stocking up that particular roster.  Similarly, they cannot be held accountable for failing to predict the cancellation of an entire sport’s season through a lockout.  And it is entirely unfair to simply dismiss the basketball portion from the BAM League schedule, as it would make it damn near impossible for Matt K and Scott to contend.  So what is to be done about the NBA Lockout?  With no pre-existing policy in place to handle the situation, the BAM League has reached a difficult impasse.

            While nothing has been decided, everyone has an opinion.  Luke wants to just leave the NBA out, despite the detrimental effect it might have on an owner’s chances, because a lockout could happen in any sport and the consequences of that randomness could befall anyone at anytime.  He considers lockouts fair game to the process of sports.  He suggests going on with only football, hockey, and baseball for the BAM League’s second season and reintroducing the basketball portion when the NBA returns in 2012.  Scott, cynical as ever, wants to blow up the entire BAM League, because no rule was in place, and start from scratch when baseball returns in the spring.  Drish proposes that they use the results from last year’s NBA season as compensation for those relying on their basketball rosters (though this would be unfair to Mark V, new BAM League owner, who would inherit Anthony’s last-place finish along with his neglected rosters).  Whalen wants to do a college basketball Fantasy league as a temporary stop-gap measure until the NBA returns, using players from Division One universities across the country.  Johnstone is a proponent of doing a condensed version of the same thing, drafting only players that make the March Madness tournament at year’s end.  He envisions the entire BAM League basketball portion being decided in a few frenzied weeks of college post-season hoops.  Matt V, the great compromiser and eternal optimist, believes that the situation could be resolved by using a little bit of everything.  He suggests they create a “sliding scale” that would include credit for an owner’s performance in the previous basketball season, a shortened Fantasy season based on the March Madness tournament, and an adjustment of future draft picks to equalize any discrepancies.  The way he describes it, he makes it sound like the simplest thing in the world, though I haven’t the slightest clue what this “sliding scale” would look like.

            To the surprise of no one, the owners cannot agree on a single strategy to rectify the problem of the NBA Lockout.  Weeks keep going by, more NBA games get canceled, and the season seems more and more unlikely.  The sports analysts continue to ruminate about Billy Hunter’s pride and David Stern’s egotism and the racial tension between the players and the league office and millionaire crybabies crying for more millions and college dropouts negotiating with Harvard-educated legal teams and arbitration committees and anti-trust lawsuits and decertification processes and 51% and 50% and 49.2% and everything sounds like some biblical plague of legalese come to destroy the NBA, and in effect, the BAM League.

            Luke is worried.  Possibly more worried than I’ve ever seen him, seeing as though he guards his emotions so closely.  He knows how unfair it would be to not offer equity to the owners screwed by the lockout, but he also knows, no matter what they decide, not every owner will be happy.  And when owners aren’t happy, they tend to abandon Fantasy leagues.  There are always other leagues that can be found; nothing quite like the BAM League, but owners will sacrifice to make sure the league operates according to their wishes.  Luke knows that some of the BAM owners might vacate unless they figure something out that satisfies everyone.  He isn’t optimistic, “It could all end right here.  Barely into the second year of it.”

            I read a story once online that talked about a man who read War and Peace in a single day.  He was a speed reader who loved to read and had read thousands of books.  He made outrageous claims: that he finished The Great Gatsby over a lunch break and Catch-22 while taking a bath.  Some skeptical reporters decided to test the man, putting him alone in a room with an obscure volume of travel fiction from the 19th century that he couldn’t possibly have read before.  After forty-five minutes, the man finished the book, though it was well over a five hundred pages long.  The man was then given a fifty-question test on various parts of the book.  The questions were nothing too specific, but things one couldn’t know unless they read the entirety of the text.  The man got all fifty questions right.

Years after, a reporter did a follow up on the speed reader and was surprised to find that the man was no longer reading.  At some point, the man got around to reading War and Peace, which he accomplished in one rigorous, 24-hour marathon, and decided he didn’t want to read anymore.

            “But why would you give up something you loved so much?  Something you were so good at?”  The reporter asked.

            “I can’t imagine reading something better,” was all he could say.

            On Saturday night, Luke and I were at a bar with a few of our friends, BAM Leaguers included.  Like on NFL Sundays, Luke’s eyes are always glued to a screen of some sort, even at the bar.  While I spent the evening bullshitting and trading stories, Luke busied himself staring up at the row of flat-screen TVs that hung above the bar.  Every few minutes he’d scroll through his phone, looking from one sports site to the next.

            Randomly scrolling through his Twitter feed (comprised entirely of athletes and sports writers), Luke’s eyes light up.  With some grotesque Jack-o-Lantern smile on his face, he holds up his phone for me to see.  @jadanda: “So we’re only about 2 weeks away from NBA teams overspending on a lukewarm crop of free agents.”  Translation: the NBA is back.  Moments later, the truth is confirmed on one of the TV screens above the bar.  Luke is practically shaking with excitement and relief.  I ask him why he looks so damn happy.

            “I can’t imagine reading something better,” was all he could say.








Week Twelve: Real-Life Fantasy


            Much of art is concerned with the difference between illusion and reality.  At some point, the deep thinkers of the world started to regard perception as a mental trick: a deception that left us blind to our truer natures.  Reality was considered eternally elusive, fogged by the stilted recognition that we attempt to view it with.  And though the question of reality and non-reality remains unresolved, humans no longer think of the two states as entirely separate entities: true states and imagined states intermingle to compose what we consider a daily reality, though that reality may not be akin to the truthful reality that eludes our perception.  In this way, our reality is in error.  Our truth is skewed by the lies it exists within.

            Fantasy sports and real sports have a similar relationship: their ends and means overlap to a large degree.  This makes sense for two reasons.  First, Fantasy sports evolved from real sports and therefore are derivative of the same reality.  Second, there is an obvious correlation between statistical production in a real sport and statistical production in a Fantasy league.  In this way, Fantasy sports and real sports operate upon the same truth: the inherent purity of statistics and numbers.

            But Fantasy sports are only derivative; they have no bearing on real sports.  Fantasy points, though indicative of game-altering success on the playing field, don’t affect the outcome of the game itself.  For example, Wes Welker’s ridiculous Fantasy stats cannot get him to a Super Bowl, or even a Pro Bowl.  Only his NFL stats can do that.  Conversely, the non-statistical intangibles that could get Welker to those illustrious Bowls mean nothing to a Fantasy owner.  Though based on the same event, Wes Welker’s game stats are considered differently by real-life football watchers and Fantasy enthusiasts; the former sees his stats as earned on a grassy field, while the latter sees them as products of weightless cyberspace.  Still, a touchdown in real life is a touchdown in Fantasy, so is there really any important difference?  There is.  It’s a difference of agenda.

            As far as the New England Patriots are concerned, Wes Welker catching a 56-yard touchdown pass is a good thing because it bolsters their chances of winning the game, and thereby, improves their chances of winning the Super Bowl.  Similarly, when Wes Welker catches that same 56-yard touchdown for a Fantasy owner, it bolsters the owner’s chances of winning his weekly match-up, and thereby, improves his chances of winning the Fantasy league championship.  Though the descriptions seem identical, it is clear that “real” sports are not played to accrue statistics.  Statistics are byproducts of a concentrated effort to win games.  You can win an NFL game with miserable statistics (I have seen this happen plenty of times with the Bears).  But, “Fantasy” sports are derived entirely from statistics.  You cannot win a Fantasy match-up without statistics.  This is an important difference, as it means Wes Welker’s role on the Patriots is different than his role on “The Lance Ball Danglers” (Matt V’s BAM League Fantasy football team).  For the Patriots, Welker is a tool used to win football games; whether he is throwing a key block on a running play, chasing down an interceptor to save a touchdown, or coaching up a rookie on the sideline, he is performing his duty to help the team win.  But those things are meaningless to Fantasy owners.  To them, Welker is a tool used to collect Fantasy points.  Even winning is meaningless, as there are no Fantasy points earned for winning a game.  If Welker performs well, catching 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, Matt V could care less if his efforts were in vain and the Patriots lost.  If Welker puts up stats like that, Matt V would be as happy as a pig in shit.  In effect, he doesn’t care about the team his player represents, or even the player himself.  The stats are all that matter.

            Fantasy sports, in this way, operate with a large level of ignorance.  They zero in on a very narrow facet of sports – the stats – and ignore the potpourri of other details that make sports fascinating.  They ignore just how hard it is to judge athletic performance.  Sports rely on many intangibles – Leadership, Poise, Clutchness, Off-the-Field Discipline, Humility, Sacrifice, Coaching – that don’t show up on a stat sheet.  Fantasy sport is a “fantasy,” because it purports to encompass the entirety of sports on a computer printout; a statistical reiteration of bare numbers devoid of any context or reference point.  Sports could never be encapsulated in such a simplistic way.  There are things in sports, much like in life, that are unquantifiable.  It’s what makes sports, and life, so great.

            So “real” sports are geared towards a general notion of winning and “Fantasy” sports are geared solely towards statistical accumulation.  And this separation of purpose is critical to how the different camps of fans judge the value of a sporting event.  Take, for example, the infamous “Rick Davis Triple-Double.”

            On March 16th, 2003, Ricky Davis was closing out a game playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.  In the final minute of the fourth quarter, Davis realized he was one rebound shy of his first career triple-double.  To compensate, Davis threw the ball off his own team’s basket to secure the tenth and final rebound he needed.  The Cavs were playing the Jazz that night and the visitors were none too happy with Ricky’s stat padding, especially Deshawn Stevenson, who went after him and committed an intentionally hard foul to express his disgust with the unsportsmanlike behavior exhibited by Davis.  Afterwards, the Cavaliers fined Davis for his self-serving statistical ploy and the city of Cleveland forever dubbed him “Wrong-Rim Ricky.”  Most sports fans were outraged by Davis’ selfishness, as sports were supposed to operate with a code of ethics.  This code isn’t written down, but everyone knows the bylaws: when your team has an insurmountable lead, you call off the dogs.  Cheap shots are never acceptable.  And you do not go after stats just for stats’ sake.  It just isn’t done.

            As it turned out, the NBA took away Davis’ final rebound and denied him the triple-double, but to Fantasy owners, that rebound would have been just another rebound.  The uproar over such a blatant violation of the sports honor code would never be heard in an online Fantasy league.  “Real” sports are played by humans and come with all the delicate attributes that make humans unique.  “Fantasy” sports are just a tally of numbers that have no tangible consequence other than the imagined scenarios of its participants.  Real sports are human dramas.  Fantasy sports are box scores.

            But, Fantasy sports are that way for a good reason.  They are necessarily superficial.  There is no way to completely merge the warm-blooded athletic sports with the cold calculation of the Fantasy realm.  In other words, there would never be a way to create a scoring system that could encapsulate the myriad intricacies and intangibility of actual sports.  Fantasy sports are hollow because the meatier aspects of sport can’t be locked down into neat rows of numbers.  Real sports are too complex, so Fantasy point systems ignore the complications and operate on simplicity.

            For their part, real sports are only simple in one way: whoever scores the most points wins.  But then again, even “winning” is a subjective term, and in a million other ways, sports are infinitely obscure and impossible to define.  Fantasy sports rely on the fantasy that those million other things could be ignored and that we could satisfy gamesmanship with stats and scores alone.  But if that were the case, there would never be a reason to watch an athletic competition; we could just look up the score the next day in the newspaper and be completely satisfied.  But because we don’t experience sports from that extreme of a remove, real sports and Fantasy sports are nothing alike.  Their agendas are completely different.

            “Real” sports are closer to “real life,” hence the dichotomy with “fantasy.”  But most Fantasy players would tell you that Fantasy sports aren’t meant to be a reflection of real-life sports, though they take their cue from it.  Fantasy is meant to be a world unto itself.  And that is probably for the best, as it would be damn near impossible to identify the all-encompassing pinpoints that could explain what we regard as reality.  But what if we tried anyway?  How close could we come to creating a “Real-Life Fantasy Scoring System?”  If we assigned Fantasy points to things people did in real life, how close would that final tally be to the actual value of a person’s life?

            If I considered my own life, I could assign various points to the things I accomplish.  I could gauge the success of my life with my expectation of it, merging my fantasy of life with the reality of what it turns out to be.  I could get 25 points for graduating college, 30 for getting a good job, 50 for signing a mortgage, 100 for getting married, and 500 per baby I produce with my wife.  These, more or less, would be the Fantasy stats of my life: the things most readily noticed and quantified.  This score would be relatively easy to calculate and even easier to compare against others.  I could decide, based on this life-score, whether I was worthy of a high draft pick or was just a mid-level nobody, perpetually doomed to free agency.

But then, I would have to factor in the intangibles of my life to add depth to the numbers.  I would have to award or deduct points based on my happiness, sensitivity to others, willingness to sacrifice, tolerance, capacity for love, and the millions of other things that make me, me.  For every trait that I accounted for, thousands of others would go unnoted.  Humans are never conscious of all the factors that constitute the particulars of their lives, but those factors are every bit as important as the college degree, the house, and the kids; maybe even more important.  And no matter how long you try, you could never come up with an adequate diagnostic for a human life.  We cannot talk about life, much like we cannot talk about real sports, without a feeling of incompleteness.

And even at the very end of my life, I wouldn’t be able to tell much about my own value, other than what I perceive through my emotions, which I explained at the outset, can be misled through the illusions of reality.  I guess that’s what God and the Day of Judgment are for: to explain the unexplainable.  But life is great because it’s riddled with doubt.  We can never account for everything.  “Fantasy” sports are hollow because they don’t pretend that they could account for everything that sports mean.  “Real” sports will forever trump “Fantasy” sports for just this reason: life will always trump our idea of life.







Week Thirteen: Exit Strategies


            Most Fantasy football leagues have a regular season that runs parallel to the first thirteen weeks of the NFL schedule.  Weeks 14-16 are then used to decide the playoffs, while Week 17 of the NFL season is lopped-off and ignored, as many starters are rendered inactive, skewing the productivity of the owners’ rosters.  The BAM League Fantasy football portion runs with the same format: thirteen weeks for the regular season, three weeks for the playoffs.  And because an owner only has thirteen weekly match-ups to secure a playoff position, every week is critical.  With Fantasy football, as opposed to baseball or basketball, an owner doesn’t have the luxury of an elongated season to make alterations and right the ship before things are beyond salvaging.  Playoff implications are impacted right from the onset.  You have to get it going early or an entire season will go to waste.

The BAM League’s playoff structure allows for six of the ten owners to compete in the post-season.  These six are comprised of the two division winners and four Wild Card teams (two from each division).  The Wild Card teams square off in the first round of the playoffs, fighting for the chance to compete against the divisional winners, who receive a well-earned BYE into the second round.  The victors of those match-ups then meet in the final match-up, where a champion of the individual sport is crowned (earning a cash prize and those all-important ranking points towards the overall BAM League title).

With one week left in the regular season, most of the playoff picture has been solidified.  If the regular season had ended after Week 12, the owners that would make the playoffs would be: (from the “Douchebags” Division) Whalen, Johnstone (co-owner with Van Eck), and Matt V, along with (from the “Dickheads” Division) Josh, Luke, and Matt K (co-owner with Scott).  Mathematically, only one of those teams can lose their playoff position: Matt K and Scott’s team.  But this could only happen with an unlikely scenario taking place.  Unfortunately for Matt K and Scott, the same exact scenario happened last year.

A year ago, leading up to Week 13 in the BAM League’s first year, Luke held the second Wild Card spot in the Dickheads Division.  For the final week, he held his own destiny; if he won his last match-up (against Josh), he was guaranteed to make the playoffs.  However, if Luke lost to Josh and Drish won his match-up (against Sipple), the spots reversed and Drish would take Luke’s spot in the playoffs.  To complicate matters further, if both Luke and Drish lost their Week 13 match-ups, the door would be open for Josh to sneak into the playoffs.  But by beating Luke, Josh would only be pulling his regular season record even with Luke’s.  The first tie-breaker would be their head to head records, which, assuming Josh won, would also be even at one win a piece.  The second tie-breaker would be total points scored throughout the season.  Therefore, Josh needed not only Drish to lose and to beat Luke in his own match-up, but he had to make up the whopping 58 points he trailed Luke by for the season total to win the tie-breaker.  As it happened, Josh’s roster put up its biggest point total of the season (136), crushing Luke, whose roster put up its lowest point total of the season (70), and Drish fell to Sipple.  Propelled by his improbable comeback, Josh went on to finish third in the playoffs, securing five ranking points that would prove pivotal in his eventual triumph over Matt V in the overall BAM rankings by year’s end.

This season, it is Sipple who finds himself in Josh’s precarious position.  It was Sipple, you might remember, who instigated the much-debated Chris Johnson trade in Week Four.  With the clarity of hindsight, Sipple now looks like a visionary for the trade, having avoided Chris Johnson’s Fantasy suicide, and procured Marsawhn Lynch, who turned out to be a top-ten running back that outperformed Johnson in every important statistical category: attempts, yards, and touchdowns.  But, Fantasy success involves more than distancing yourself from potential flops; it involves cultivating a capable cast of contributors.  Sipple struggled to find a balanced batch of useful players and limped past Week 12 with a 5-7 record.  Trailing Josh (who already clinched the division), Luke, and Matt K and Scott, despite his valiant efforts, Sipple is still on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in.

And if Sipple is the Josh of a year ago, then Matt K and Scott are the Luke of a year ago: if they win their Week 13 match-up, they guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs.  This is big news.  Scott claims, “Me and Matt have played together in dozens of Fantasy football leagues.  I don’t remember EVER making the playoffs with his sorry ass.”

Still, while Sipple would love to keep their streak of missing the playoffs alive by taking their spot in the post-season, Matt K and Scott’s squad isn’t all he has to overcome.  If Scott and Matt K lose, their playoff spot would fall to Mark V, assuming he wins his Week 13 match-up against Drish (who has had yet another awful season, only managing two victories).  Mark V might be more deserving of the playoffs than any other owner for assembling a competitive roster from the ashen pile of refuse he inherited from the exiled ex-owner, Anthony.  But if Matt K and Scott lose, and Mark V loses, and Sipple wins while making up the 28-point deficit for the tie-breaker­Sipple will repeat Josh’s incredible comeback of a year ago and earn a Wild Card slot for the playoffs.

Now, as far as I know, lightning is like roulette: the past doesn’t inform the future.  No matter how many spins of a roulette wheel you see, each roll is a separate event.  Just because you saw ten red numbers in a row doesn’t change the likelihood of the next number being black.  Similarly, lightning striking in one spot doesn’t indicate that the spot is anymore prone to lightning, unless you’re messing around with metal poles and making it so.

But in the fantastical world of Fantasy sports, two identical lightning strikes seem inevitable.  Scott in particular feels the fuzzy pull of accumulating electricity surrounding his roster’s playoff chances.  He fully expects Matt K’s lightning-rod bad luck to take the brunt of the bolt.  But somehow, Scott is almost giddy at the thought that things will go badly and that, when their team is eliminated from the playoffs, he will be able to forever denounce Matt K as the unluckiest person alive.  Scott comes as close as one can to actively rooting against his own team, just for the sheer amusement of it.  Matt K is terrified.  He also is sure that misfortune will soon be upon him, saying, “Of course it will happen.”  Scott echoes the thought, “We’re fucked.  I can feel it coming.”  They remind me of those “End of the World” prognosticators.  For them, recognizing bad luck is a way of gaining leverage over it.  Even the apocalypse won’t be that bad, as long as they see it coming.  But there’s a reason for the way they think.  It started many years before, when the only “Fantasy” they knew was Kirby’s Dream World.

Matt K and Scott have been best friends since early childhood.  They were both part of a small group of neighborhood friends that did everything together: they joined the Cub Scouts, had sleepovers, obsessed over videogames (where they met Kirby), and above all else, played Little League baseball.  All the guys played at Scottsdale Ford City, which was a small recreational league that utilized the cluster of baseball diamonds sprawled out to the side of a SweetHearts candy manufacturer.  In the shadow of the huge factory, with sugary smells thick in the air, the boys ran away the long days of endless summer at the Ford City fields.  Tees were used until the boys were strong enough to hit live pitching and the need for skill continued to rise with the ranks, from Midgets to Minors to Majors.

But as the neighborhood group got a little older, the cohesion dissolved.  Matt K and Scott branched out to pursue new interests.  They got into heavy metal music and started going to concerts dressed in all black.  They bought guitars with their birthday dollars and dreamed of starting a band together; a dream that no one else really shared.  Soon, the field at Owen Park that had played host to so many of their childhood pick-up baseball games – their own little Sandlot – was abandoned.  Matt K and Scott’s bond strengthened as they further distanced themselves from their neighborhood pals.  As grammar school neared an end, there were now girls to worry about.  Music had become a source of identity.  Sports, too, evolved into a serious pursuit, and they joined a traveling baseball team to find greater challenges.  High school was just over the horizon.

But none of this changed how any of the boys felt about Scottsdale Ford City.  Sure, there were bigger and better things out there now that they were growing up.  And, surely, there were bigger and better things in store for Matt K and Scott.  But Scottsdale Ford City was their league.  Constructed from the close-knit group of families of the surrounding communities, Scottsdale meant something to the kids and parents that played and coached.  The league was as important, sincere, and sweet as the candy made right next door.  Years later, Scott got an “SFC” tattoo across his back to express gratitude for his beloved Little League.

The summer after seventh grade, Matt K and Scott both made the all-star team at Scottsdale, which was no surprise.  They made the all-star team every year.  Matt was a sure-hitting, sure-handed shortstop and Scott was a fire-baller on the mound; they were always among Scottsdale’s standouts.  That year in particular was much anticipated not only because it was agreed that Scottsdale had assembled one of its best all-star teams to date (which included several of the boys from Matt K and Scott’s circle of neighborhood friends), but because the boys were all twelve years old and were going to compete in the Little League World Series.

Many people aren’t aware that the LLWS begins locally, with small rec-league tournaments that feed into the larger national tournaments.  In result, almost every twelve-year-old kid, who plays in any type of Little League, gets a chance to compete in the LLWS.  The same leagues and teams move on just about every year, due to the concentration of talent in certain locations, but it would be hard to imagine a fairer system, as everyone gets a chance: from the backwoods prairie leagues to the professionally-ran super-leagues.

With expectations high, Scottsdale was randomly selected to host their regional tournament.  The dads got to work and did an outstanding job cleaning the park: the fields were as manicured and pretty as anyone had ever seen them.  Everyone was very excited, though hopes soured a bit when it was learned that the local powerhouse, West Lawn, was slated to play in the Scottsdale regional.

Both Scottsdale and West Lawn dispensed of their preliminary opponents with ease, setting up the regional championship everyone had expected.  Scott was the starting pitcher for Scottsdale and did well, holding the brawny freaks from West Lawn to just two runs in six innings of work.  But despite his efforts, Scottsdale trailed 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, and final, inning.

The whole game was intensely exciting.  Several of the parents had to be calmed down after growing agitated with the umpires or getting engaged in a vicious shouting match with the West Lawn crowd.  There was an electricity to the day that seemed pulled from the ground itself, making useless the maze of power lines that circled the fields from above, running off in every direction.  The parents, the coaches, the players; everything seemed connected by the current of streaming energy.  Down to their last two outs, Matt K drew a walk, putting the tying run at first base.  Scott ambled to the plate.  After waiting out two high fastballs that seemed like Major League laser-beams, Scott stepped back into the box ahead two balls and no strikes – a hitter’s count.

Teenage maturation had not yet descended upon Scott and he wasn’t much more than a bony little skeleton: knobby knees and toothpick arms.  He twisted his spikes into the dirt and you could almost hear his batting gloves grinding into the handle of the bat, leather on leather.  The pitcher wound and hurled.  In a simple rotation of hands and hips, Scott’s length of aluminum, glinting silver in the afternoon sun, connected with the ball and sent it flying.  What was probably just a lazy fly ball back then seemed like a majestic, towering drive that flew, and flew, and flew, out towards the outfield, out towards the SweetHearts factory, out past childhood itself; landing in the finely-mowed grass beyond the plastic yellow tubing that lined the top of the outfield fence.  A homerun.  A walk-off homerun.

Though Scottsdale’s Little League World Series dreams would end only two games later in the sectional finals, Scott’s heroics were in many ways a culmination.  His clutch homerun was an emblem of what his group of childhood friends was capable of.  Everyone started referring to Scottsdale as “Scott’s Dale.”  The boys hadn’t gotten to go downstate or play on TV, but they beat West Lawn.  They defended the home field that meant so much to them.  They guarded that which mattered.  With high school entrance exams coming in the fall and manhood just around the corner, for everyone, and Matt K and Scott especially, life seemed very doable.

But when they arrived at high school (St. Laurence for Matt K, St. Rita for Scott), things were different than they thought they would be.  Scott, local hero, was inexplicably cut from the freshman baseball team, which he would forever after attribute to that homerun against West Lawn in the LLWS, as many of the St. Rita coaches had sons on that team, and with one swing of the bat, Scott dashed any hopes they had of moving on.  A top basketball recruit at St. Laurence, Matt K started his freshman year of hoops as the first man off the bench for the A-team.  By season’s end, he was squarely on the B-team; a switch that seemed unnecessary and unfair.

Only a little more than a year removed from the height of their childhood success at the SweetHearts baseball diamonds, Scott and Matt K got their first sampling of adult politics.  It left a sour taste in their mouths.  They became irrevocably cynical.  Their friendship strengthened once again, cemented by a mutual distrust of others.  They started expecting things to never turn out as planned.

Time did what it could to lessen that distrust, but it never really went away.  All grown up (Matt K is a teacher at an inner-city public school and Scott is a soon-to-be fireman), their anger has softened into a jocular bewilderment with the ways of the world.  They aren’t bitter or regretful, just suspicious of things.  They expect the worst mostly, and when it comes, it amuses them.  Because of this, they both have a hard time enjoying success, however fleeting.  They set their sights a little lower, usually unwilling to wish for any extended period of luck, taking pride in their opportunities for self-effacement.  They seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves in times of disaster, like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, yucking it up while he rode that bomb to his death.  And who am I (who are we?) to question what makes someone happy?

Scott very badly wants his team to tank its Week 13 match-up and miss the playoffs yet again to laugh about his misfortune and have irrefutable proof that Matt K is the biggest jinx in the world.  Matt K thinks they will lose regardless of what he wants to happen.  They both would enjoy blaming the whole fiasco on one another when the time comes, but they also want further validation of their shared expectation that life is defined by Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will.

Ah, but life is a bit more slippery.  Matt K and Scott win easily, securing the final playoff spot.  Heading into Week 14, now owning a championship-contending roster, there is some strangeness about them.  Scott doesn’t talk about Matt K’s injury curse.  Matt K even thinks they are the favorite in their opening round match-up against Luke.  How have things changed so quickly?  What drug have they been given?

Is it hope?









Playoffs: A Time for Wins


            Sporting success is judged through expectation; not all results are viewed the same.  Traditionally dominant sports cities, with dozens of championship banners hanging in the rafters of their mega-arenas, define a “successful” season differently than would a traditionally pathetic sports town, whose arenas’ rafters are despairingly vacant.  The Los Angeles Lakers are satiated by nothing less than a championship.  The Minnesota Timberwolves would be ecstatic to have a winning record.  The New York Yankees care about rings.  The Kansas City Royals care about season-by-season improvement, in the hopes that improvement will one day pave the way to compete for championships.  Identical records can mean very different things to particular franchises and their fan-base.  Gauging the success of a season depends upon the pre-existing expectations with which the observer makes his observations.

            Fantasy sports operate with a similar level of perceptual success.  The BAM League owners run the gamut in this regard.  Drish, who lost his Week 13 match-up and finished with just two wins, is still optimistic, despite such an awful result to his season.  He is confident he acquired players that, though they didn’t offer short-term success, will lay the foundation for better things to come once the assembled pieces fall into place.  Heading into the playoffs, Matt K and Scott already consider their Fantasy football season a resounding triumph.  In their view of things, everyone who makes the playoffs is a winner.  Matt V, though a happy-go-lucky guy, won’t really be happy unless he takes the overall title for the BAM League.  He will only be pleased by winning the football portion because it is a helpful step towards that end.  Anything less would be unacceptable.

            Week 14 marked the first week of the playoffs.  Matt V and Josh, unsurprisingly, won their divisions and earned the first-round BYEs, which meant that the Wild Card match-ups were consisted of: Johnstone and Van Eck vs. Whalen, Matt K and Scott vs. Luke.  Whalen jumped all over his opponents, winning by well over fifty points.  Matt K and Scott advanced by a much slimmer margin, aided by a fortuitous blocked-punt touchdown on Monday Night Football.  In accordance with their strange superstitions and legendary history of misfortunes, it seemed fitting to everyone that their first playoff victory in the BAM League would be catalyzed by a miraculous touchdown by their defense.

            This strangeness followed the final four owners (Josh, Whalen, Matt V, Matt K and Scott) into Week 15 and the second round of the playoffs, with three NFL-defining streaks coming to an end.  The Indianapolis Colts somehow mustered a win over the Tennessee Titans after rattling off thirteen losses in a row to start the season.  The seemingly indestructible Green Bay Packers then proceeded to ruin their chance at a perfect season by losing to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.  Thirteen wins and thirteen losses; both streaks halted and sent a game in the opposite direction.  But perhaps most shocking of all, Tim Tebow’s miracle-ridden, God-mandated win streak sputtered to a close at six games.

            But, as has been pointed out before, Fantasy scores aren’t contingent upon the results of the NFL teams, just the statistical production of the players.  The upheaval in the NFL’s Week 15 didn’t translate to Fantasy competition.  Matt V, though hampered by an uncharacteristically poor performance by Wes Welker, still beat Matt K and Scott with ease.  Josh similarly manhandled Whalen’s surging roster, despite his quarterback, Fantasy-stud Aaron Rodgers, putting up his lowest Fantasy point total of the year.  Relying on the depth of their rosters, and a few timely pickups off the Waiver Wire, Matt V and Josh earned championship births.

            Because Josh and Matt V finished first and second in the overall BAM League standings for year one, no one was very surprised to find them once again at the head of the Fantasy pack.  Scott claims that Matt V’s Fantasy success is a result of him, “cheating all the goddamn time,” while going on to say that Josh’s dominance stems from, “the eighty-pound horseshoe stuck up his ass.”  But regardless of how deserving Scott may deem them of the honor, Josh and Matt V were to meet in the BAM League’s Fantasy football championship in Week 16.  Over the long Christmas weekend, a winner would be decided.

            But, now well into the second year of the BAM League, many owners are, like Scott, growing suspicious of Matt V and Josh’s continued success.  A few are willing to acknowledge their Fantasy skill, but most are confused by it.  A large majority of the owners still consider Fantasy a “wait-and-see” type of strategy game: you do your homework, you make the best decisions you can, but in the end, you are a victim to fate.

I, for one, refuse to believe in such a helpless view of circumstance.  In fact, I suspect that it is exactly thinking like that, whereby people attribute their failures to sheer happenstance, which makes those failures inevitable.  The other owners should be taking their cues from Matt V and Josh, not questioning the validity of their success.  It is due to no cosmic forces that Matt V and Josh have yet again risen to the apex of Fantasy mountain.  I am sure of this.  So what exactly are they doing differently?  What makes them such great Fantasy owners?

            Josh can attribute the strength of his Fantasy football roster to his owning of the Fantasy MVP for the 2011 NFL season: Rob Gronkowski.  There is very little room for debate on this.  Through 15 weeks, Gronkowski had already amassed 1,141 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.  These numbers are otherworldly, and would be welcomed by any Fantasy owner, but they are even more impressive seeing as though Gronkowski is a tight-end.  The only tight-end in the NFL with numbers even close to Gronkowski’s is Jimmy Graham (owned by Whalen, eventual third-place finisher).  But Gronkowski, in only his second season, at just 22 years of age, has seven more touchdowns than Graham.  With two weeks left in the NFL season, Gronkowski has already shattered the single season record for touchdowns by a tight-end.  If you were to rank Gronkowski’s statistics alongside wide-reicevers, he’d be seventh in yardage, but first in touchdowns.  In fact, accounting for all the position players (which excludes quarterbacks), only Lesean McCoy has more touchdowns than “Gronk.”

            As mentioned before, Fantasy value is relational.  It’s important to have strong, star-worthy performers on your roster, but it’s far more useful to have unique talents that other owners can’t compete with.  Tight-ends may be the most spread out and variable position players from team to team.  Some NFL teams hardly use a tight-end at all.  Others, like the Patriots (Gronkowski) and the Saints (Graham), use them as primary receivers.  There are only a handful of tight-ends that can be considered quality performers, at least in the eyes of Fantasy production.  Josh recognized a goldmine in Gronkowski, “He had a pretty good year last year, ten touchdowns or something like that, and since he was only a rookie, it seemed like he might do even more this year.  Plus, the Patriots’ defense was going to be really bad, so they were going to have to score more points, which meant more trips to the Red Zone, where tight-ends are more useful.  But, really, I just wanted a tight-end that would never lose his own match-up.”

            Josh’s explanation reveals a lot about how he approaches Fantasy decisions and why they tend to turn out well.  First, Josh has an intimate knowledge of stats and the particulars of the sport.  It turns out that Gronkowski had exactly ten touchdowns in his rookie season.  In addition, with the loss of key players in their secondary and a diminished defensive line, the Patriot’s defense turned out to be one of the worst in the league.  His thought that a bad defense would necessitate an improved offense was spot on as well, as New England was in the top five of almost every offensive statistical category, which benefited Gronkowski greatly.

But most telling is Josh’s final comment, about the importance of having his tight-end win, “his own match-up.”  What Josh means is that managing a roster requires delicate balance.  You must make up for your weaknesses by compensating in other areas.  He envisions match-ups within the overall match-up of roster against roster.  He predicted that if he acquired Gronkowski, which cost him two hockey players and a closer in baseball (transacted just before the second year draft), he would win the tight-end match-up almost every week in the Fantasy football portion, seeing as though there are so few quality tight-ends to be had.  Guaranteeing a win in that match-up would put less stress on his other positions.  This logic holds true for any position, but Josh correctly recognized the tight-end position as particularly useful in this regard, as he envisioned Gronkowski maturing into a supreme Fantasy force.  And he was right.  Gronkowski’s production as a tight-end, while others operated with little to no contribution from the position, afforded Josh almost a double-digit cushion every week.  It’s not surprising that Josh went on to win most of his match-ups with this edge , finishing with a league-leading regular season record of 11-2.

            Matt V took a much more traditional approach to his football roster: he built his team around running backs.  Midway through the first BAM League season, he orchestrated a complicated multi-sport deal to acquire Maurice Jones-Drew.  To push the trade through, he sacrificed Zdeno Chara, (Matt V’s best hockey player and hands down the best defenseman in the NHL) and Jacoby Ellisbury (a legitimate MVP candidate for the 2011 MLB season).  Though Matt V was giving up a lot of value, he deems baseball and hockey his best two sports to manage.  He believes that his knowledge of those sports allows him to do without the dependability of Chara and Ellisbury.  He follows an owner-based approach to Fantasy management.  On the flip side, having missed the playoffs for football in the BAM League’s first year, Matt V knew he needed players to augment and improve his roster.  He set his eyes on Jones-Drew and gave up what it took to get him.  Jones-Drew has been a dependable running back for several years and continued that trend into the 2011 NFL season: heading into Week 16, he led the league in rushing yards.  Paired with the similarly spectacular Ray Rice (who Matt V picked up early in the original BAM League draft), Matt V had two of the top five running backs in the NFL.  Very few rosters could keep up with that formidable duo.

            Matt V and Josh both found success by focusing on relative value.  They assembled players that would accumulate points playing positions that other owners struggled with.  It helped that both had rosters that stayed healthy and the rest of their rosters outperformed what was expected of them, but those things were beyond the control of either Matt V or Josh.  They focused their attention on one particular area and gave themselves a reasonable chance to be successful (Josh tight-ends, Matt V running backs).  In the end, they were successful.

And to think that they had no hand in their Fantasy fortune is ignoring the concentrated effort and reasoning that allowed for it.  The other owners seem to miss the point in a way that Matt V and Josh don’t, in that the other owners aren’t as concerned with the process of making a winning roster; they are only concerned with winning.  This separation of focus creates the large chasm between the premier owners, like Matt V and Josh, and the rest of the BAM League.  With carefully calculated strategy, Matt V and Josh lay the groundwork that results in wins, while the other owners work backwards, treating wins or a lack of wins as a force all their own, as if somehow disconnected from the processes that preceded them.

            It is one of the great myths of life that we don’t control our lot.  People complain away circumstance with excuses and denials of culpability on a regular basis.  There is talk of “bad timing” and things “not meant to be.”  Inside this helplessness is a pathetic submission to the invisible plucks of fate.  People pack it in.  They sell out.  They give up.  It’s sad.  But mostly, it’s bullshit.

            Spoiler Alert: there is no such thing as destiny.  There are only the inroads of life hard-carved by our participation in it.  The consequences that we attribute to karmic forces are nothing but biological reactions.  Randomness is devoid of meaning or causality.  Things happen not “as they will,” but as we make them happen.  By believing it to be so, we have unlimited control over our fate.  Our steps lead forward and there is no one directing them but us.

            One must look at life alongside the infinite timeline it exists within.  Bad luck can seem like great fortune in the long run.  Temporary dissatisfaction can transmute to euphoric happiness when viewed through the lens of the greater scheme.  Life is a giant kaleidoscope of conscious thought; it’s impossible to understand without the trillions of timeless reflections that constitute a single atom.  Fate doesn’t control us because we could never understand what fate is.  Cosmic punishment depicts a singular view of the universe: that we don’t own our own lives.  Those who reject this concept, those who take ownership of their lives, populate the far side of the line that separates the successful from the deterministic.  They own their own lives.  And it’s true that you can lose a lot waiting for life to come to you.  Go get your life and make it a time for wins.

            Matt V beat Josh in Week 16, securing a championship for the Fantasy football portion.  But, the hockey Fantasy portion is already well underway and the lockout-shortened NBA season is just weeks away.  The BAM League will continue to plow on through the winter months, until winter becomes summer and summer falls back into winter, leaving behind Matt V’s accomplishment, forgotten as quickly as it came.  The BAM League cycles forward.  The competition shifts to another sport.  Another league.  There are more seasons to come.  Years to come.  How long will the BAM League last?

            “Once you’re in it, you’re in it…for the most part.”  Says Luke.

            “Until someone makes me stop, I guess.”  Says Matt K.

            “Depends how long I live.”  Says Scott.

            “When’s the sun supposed to blow up?”  Says Drish.

            “Forever…probably.”  Says Matt V.

            Though the idea of Fantasy sports is silly on paper – a boy’s club of imaginary stat-keepers – I have to hand it to the owners for their ability to create their own brand of meaning.  No one told them to care about Fantasy, as it is a product entirely born of the new generation.  They made the decision to care.  And maybe, after all, that is what makes them care all the more: they chose Fantasy.  It didn’t choose them.  Fantasy sports won’t ever amount to much, but it’s a significant lesson for those who choose to believe.  Like life, you take it and make whatever you want out of it.  What could you conjure up if you really tried?









            The game has been fiercely contested.  Nine players have already been plucked off the field on the magnetically-operated cushions that float through the air, securing the injured players into place before disappearing into the hollow slots of space underneath the stands.  The spectators squeal with delight each time they see the flying cushions, as it means another of the prisoner/players has been knocked unconscious.

Two men have been confirmed dead.  Close-ups of their mangled skulls appear in the sky, cast there from the invisible projectors, and the crowd erupts into a frenzy.  Trillions of dollars linger in the balance, wagered on not just the outcome of the game, but on which of the prisoners will live and which will die.  Because the fans in the stands have so much money riding on the details of the game, they think nothing of buying the million-dollar beef packets from the passing robotic vendors, who accept payment by retinal scan.  Once the transaction is completed, the robots call up the food from the kitchens below the stadium, which arrives soon after, journeying upon a long network of conveyor belts.

The center-kickers from the Las Vegas Dragon-Riders move the silver ball into place on the shiny, marble field.  The defensive-stoppers, growling and unashamed of their nakedness, crouch into position just across the ball.  One growling lunatic jumps offside and is instantly taken down by a red bolt of fire.  A floating cushion comes to take his charred remains away.  The crowd squeals.  Another prisoner enters the field to even the sides.

A horn sounds.  The silver ball is hurled towards the defense.  Each player it touches falls to the ground twitching uncontrollably, electrocuted by its force.  The offense goes in hot pursuit of the ball; though some fall into random black holes that open up from below the marble surface.  The crowd cheers at their howls as they descend into the bottomless dark.  When the offense finally tracks down the ball, only three of the defenders are vertical, the rest having been laid to waste by the power of the ball, but they waste no time in procuring their weapons from where they are stashed near the sideline.  Brandishing a large golden sword, one defender slices off the head of the ball carrier.  He grabs for the silver ball, but is deemed unworthy, and his limbs fall off.  A cushion comes to take his torso away.

The offense regains possession and moves into the Salvation Zone at the far end of the stadium.  They cheer and celebrate their accomplishment.  A hovercraft appears, lowering its ladder to let the prisoners aboard.  Soon, they will be returned to their homeland, many shores away from here.  The crowd boos, but they are soon placated by the new batch of prisoners that emerge onto the field.  Now, these new players will fight for their freedom.  They will fight for their lives.  Super Bowl CCCLXXVII continues.

In his government-appointed living space, Frank watches the game with his son.  Pointing to the virtual screens that surround them on all sides, Frank attempts to explain things to his boy, to help him better understand.

Frank says, “You see there, that was a Salvation Score.  That’s worth 300 points.  It’ll go a long way towards helping Daddy beat Larry from down at the Factory.”  The small boy smiles, not really understanding.

Once he is sure his son is distracted with the screens once again, Frank taps a few keys on his digital assistant and transmits a cyber-message to Larry.  Larry receives the message instantaneously in his home across the Valley, though he knows what it will say before it even arrives.

Larry grimaces at the thought of finishing second to Frank yet again, but it’s starting to look more and more like a real possibility.  Though he wants nothing to do with Frank’s message, some part of him imagines that if he reads it, and deals with whatever taunt lies within, it will lend his team the karmic leverage it needs to stage a miraculous comeback.  Through gritted teeth, he commands his digital assistant to read Frank’s message.  The robot voice is clear, but lacking emotion.  To Larry, the robot’s detachment feels worse than if Frank were to have shouted in his face.

           “Suck it, Douchebag,”
the robot voice whispers.