In one of the earliest harbingers of fall, the Fear and Loathing Athletic Club Fantasy Football League held its 22nd annual fantasy football draft in late August.
It’s hard not to contrast the current process with the way it all began back in 1995. Back then, we were all parents of grade school kids (almost all boys, for some reason). Approaching middle-age, our athletic skills were racing downhill. We had recently suffered the disgrace of being no-hit in a slow-pitch softball game. In a church league. So we needed some kind of low-cost competitive outlet that required a minimal time investment.
Our early seasons were completely paper-dependent. We bought pre-season magazines and wrote draft choices by hand on a grid. Owners listened to radio broadcasts while driving to the draft, hoping to hear of news of any freak injuries in exhibition games. (Yeah, I said it….exhibition games.) We exchanged lineups via landline and waited for the morning newspaper to get game statistics. As league commissioner, I wrote up the results, added my pithy comments, and delivered copies around the south side of Indianapolis.
But just like stock trading, shopping, and video of kittens and squirrels, the internet changed all that forever. For the last several years, everybody wants power and wifi access on draft night, keeping an eye on late-breaking injury reports and training camp battles.
The draft and pre-draft meeting represent two of the few times each year that we all still get together. (Editor’s note: the “pre-draft meeting” consists of a couple beers at a microbrewery and a minor-league baseball game. Actual discussions of fantasy football are generally frowned upon.)
We still cling to our annual jokes and stories, though. One year in the pre-internet days, Don (owner of the Marian Cyclotrons) actually drafted a dead guy, and that always gets mentioned at least twice.
“OK, your pick, Don.”
“Um. OK. I’ll take…..Fred Lane, running back.”
Stunned silence. Don writes the name down as the rest of us try to avoid eye contact with each other. Somebody starts whistling “Taps”. Should we say anything? We’re Catholics, for crying out loud. Our kids go to the same school, and our wives are out to dinner together right now. Shouldn’t somebody say something? Throat clearing and coughing, a scrape on the tile floor as somebody scoots a chair back. Then…..
“OK. Jack, your pick.”
Player misbehavior provides a lot of joke fodder. One incident happened fifteen years ago, and it still gets a comment every season, usually when we start drafting kickers in the last two rounds. Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski collapsed at a San Francisco bar in 2001, reportedly after overdosing on GHB (the “date-rape” drug). You can head in a lot of different directions with that one, which probably accounts for its longevity. You can go with a) “stupid football player”, b) “fat kicker”, c) Oakland Raiders player personnel decisions, or any combination thereof.
Like Caddyshack quotes on a golf course, the jokes are dated and predictable, and not even funny anymore. But we all laugh and tilt a beer. It would seem odd not to hear them at the draft. Just like it’d be odd not to hear Charlie mutter “Dammit” every time somebody drafts a player he thought would slip to him in the middle rounds.
In addition to the nominal cash prize, we award a trophy and championship jacket to the league winner. The Pillar of Champions is a two-by-four that is now warped, but contains a plaque for each champion, along with some ornamentation I added using my son’s woodburning kit.
Much like the green jacket awarded at the Masters, our title-holder also receives a blue, orange and white plaid sports coat. To my knowledge, it’s never been worn, and probably never cleaned since I brought it home from Goodwill in 1995. It has hung proudly in many hallway closets since then. As long as our wives don’t notice it and demand removal to the garage.
As reigning champion, I had the last pick in the first two rounds this year, taking Julio Jones with the first (retaining him as a franchise pick from last season) and Chargers receiver Keenan Allen in the second. We’ll see how this receiver-laden strategy works out. Just for old time’s sake, I drafted Janikowski in the last round. Keeps the joke alive.