Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy Football’

“Sports fandom is a fantastic gift with almost immeasurable value… it’s a proxy for real life but better, it renews itself, it’s constantly happening in real time, there are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t, it’s war where nobody dies, it’s a proxy for all our emotions and desires and hopes. I mean, heck, what’s not to like about sports?”

– Steven Dubner, author of Freakonomics , on the 8-23-11 “Games” episode of NPR’s Radiolab

Sports run in my blood.

Both my parents were collegiate scholarship athletes and long advocated that if I was to afford a postsecondary education at a University that it would have to be on the back of my own athletic full-ride. In the first grade I was bribed to start playing Tee-Ball with a box of unopened baseball cards to begin tapping into my athletic potential. As a third grader in flannel shorts, I started playing in the Boys and Girls Club basketball league. I played sports, both organized and recreationally, throughout childhood, into high school and beyond with some success. But looking back, as much fun as it was to play, I think I was always equal parts athlete and sports fan at heart.

As a kid I played out entire Major League baseball seasons in my front yard using a wiffle ball bat, baseball glove, tennis ball and a box score inspired imagination. I loved going with family and friends to Jack Murphy Stadium hearing “Line Drives and Stolen Bases, Diving Catches, We’re Goin’ Places, C’Mon!” before the announcement of the Padres’ starting lineup. I would constantly beat out the Pistons and Celtics in my driveway for the Larry O’Brien Trophy as I became Magic, Kareem and Worthy. I recall repeatedly chanting “Go, Chargers, Go! 6 and 0!” before climbing into bed as the Bolts got started on their only Super Bowl season in ’94-‘95.

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Sports were more than a pastime for me; they were part of my identity.

It’s been a while since those days. Making the decision to get rid of cable years ago certainly drastically reduced time spent watching sports, but for a good portion of the last decade I still found solace in the box scores. At the end of a long day or when avoiding important tasks, ESPN.com or CBS Sportsline provided a window into another world. A world where “pitchers and catchers report” is synonymous with hope and the Opening Day bunting whispers anything is possible.

I found this to be especially true every time I moved farther away from home. As awful as the Friars have been, without a No-Hitter, a batter hitting for the cycle or a World Series trophy since their inaugural season in 1969, as heartbreaking as the Bolts have been over the past decade with McCree season ending fumbles and Kaeding missed field goals in the playoffs, these were my teams. Checking the scores, reading the game recaps, watching the highlights were all measures of solidarity with friends and family in America’s Finest City.

When Jaime and I were first married I would frequently sit in our Montana apartment literally watching a pitch-by-pitch Gamecast of Padres games on the internet. For non-sports aficionados, this basically entails sitting by yourself waiting for small dots and sentence fragments to appear on the screen and relay what is happening in a game you are not actually watching. Thrilling, no?

In the years to come we would move four times and add four children to our growing family. I slowly came to admit that in my life circumstance, spending significant amounts of solitary time watching other people playing sports was irresponsible when I have a family of my own that needs my limited energy and attention.

Thus, my 2014 New Year’s Resolution was to stop watching sports.

I was not going to stop watching sports because they were evil. I was going to give up watching sports because I had become dependent on them and my addiction had become an evil. If sports were in my blood, then perhaps it was time for a transfusion.

I had also become concerned at the role sports have come to play in our American culture and society. Is it possible that our major sporting leagues and events such as the NFL and Super Bowl are the magician’s wiggling fingers on one hand to draw our attention away from the other covertly covering the severity of our nationalistic xenophobia and military industrial complex?

But as happens with addicts, my inner voice of rationalization was at the ready once treatment had been seriously proposed.

Aren’t sports a great source of recreation and bonding? Sports are a form of social currency – if I give them up, I will lose opportunities for relationship building and a basis for camaraderie. What if my team finally wins after three decades of disappointment? What about the moments that transcend sport such as a reconstructed Drew Brees and the Saints providing a welcome distraction and Super Bowl ring to rebuilding New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina?

I found confirmation of my resolution though when I cracked open theologian Walter Brueggeman’s most recent book and read, “Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’”

I resolved that I was ready for an alternative rest.

I set out some ground rules in hope of getting into balance and having a realistic shot of fulfilling the goal:

#1 I would not watch/follow any professional sports or participate in any corresponding fantasy leagues (including game highlights or reading recaps, box scores or standings)

Note: College athletics would not apply. Not being a college football guy, I spend zero percent of my Autumn Saturdays watching football. However, the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tourney, aka March Madness, is one of my favorite things ever (in large part to my kids bracket picks each year). I agreed I would not watch any regular season NCAA games, but for March and March only, all bets would be off (or should I say on).

Likewise, from the outset I granted myself permission to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as I am not normally a huge Fútbol fan, and the World Cup is both a global and time-limited event.

#2 I could however talk about sports with others, and if others were to inform me of an outcome of a particular game or play, then I would be able to engage in that conversation (Similarly, if someone made a comment on social media about a game that would be fair game – though following teams on Facebook etc. would not be allowed).

# 3 Should there be a good opportunity to hang out with a friend revolving around a sporting event or attend a sporting event live, consideration would be given to allowance of a limited exception to Rule #1.

#4 Playing sports would be allowable under all circumstances

That’s it.

The goals weren’t meant to eliminate sports from my life, just to eliminate my dependence on them.

Test number one came early with the Chargers improbably making the playoffs and scheduled for a first round game at Cincinnati in the first week of January. I got some grief about my decision not to watch, follow or read anything about the game. I did happen to call my brother Eric late in the day just to “see how he was” and found out we had won, but received little additional detail. I was saved any further temptation when San Diego lost the following weekend.

March Madness came and went with my 3 year old daughter Lucy besting the entire family with her bracket picks on the back of a UCONN National Championship. The family winner gets to pick the location and lunch menu of their choice. Lucy went with Peanut Butter and Jellies at the local children’s museum KidCity. Yes, I lost to a toddler and it was awesome.

I didn’t miss much in the Spring with Lakers eliminated from playoff contention by March. Though San Diego State alum Kahwi Leonard apparently reportedly played out of his mind as part of a beautiful Spurs team performance in the NBA Finals that thwarted the Heat attempt at a 3-peat. Maybe I’ll catch it on ESPN Classic someday.

My heart stung a bit not watching on baseball’s aforementioned Opening Day, which should easily outdistance Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday. No qualms not paying attention to the mediocre Padres though. Early in the season Matt Souto came over and started talking baseball. I informed him I wasn’t watching this year, but that after a quarter-century of supporting for the Padres I could probably guess their record. Matt informed me San Diego’s season was 19 games in, I figured that likely meant we would be about 9-10. Nailed it.

My first real Major League Baseball news of the year came as a result of the unfortunate passing of Mr. Padre himself. Tony Gwynn lost his battle to cancer this past June and an entire city and sport fell silent.

The following month it seemed no one was silent as LeBron James announced he would be leaving Miami to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll confess this seemed bigger than sport, a narrative that transcended the NBA into meta-Prodigal Son territory. Four years after making himself a spectacle and a fool with The Decision, the best basketball player in the world was this time quietly making the tough decision, the right decision, to go home to Ohio in an effort to bring a title home to one of the few U.S. cities with a more pathetic pro sports history than San Diego. I followed the story, but there were no games being played so I considered myself in the clear.

Football season rolled around and I backed out of all Fantasy leagues. Since I started playing Fantasy Football back in 2001, I have learned that most often the real Fantasy isn’t the make believe stat-based point system as much as the idea any time invested after the draft is actually yielding deeper relationships with any of the folks your playing with. Competitive juices end up far more likely to bring bad blood than a sense of deeper friendship and thus I signed myself up for a season-long bye from even the family league. I bequeathed my team “Christopher Walken” to my little sister Miranda and did not miss playing. In fact, without Fantasy Football as a distraction I went entire stretches of the season actually present enough with my family and church family that I didn’t even know who the Chargers were playing, let alone if they won. It was liberating. In the meantime, my sister brought more cowbell and won the league title in her first attempt.

In the end, it turned out to be the Kansas City Royals that made me officially relapse.

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League!

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League upholding the legend of Christopher Walken!

 

My good friend Nathan Miller’s favorite team, the Royals told a story too good not to follow as summed up in an article entitled, “These Royals Make You Believe in God” by Angela Denker. Ms. Denker wrote “It’s been said that sports are America’s religion and that this idolatry is our downfall. Maybe that’s true when the Yankees win the pennant or the Patriots take the Super Bowl. But when the Royals win the Wild Card and play in October for the first time in 29 years, Jesus smiles back at George Brett and James Shields. Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from.”

Making their first postseason appearance in nearly three decades, I read the KC playoff box scores, watched the highlights, changed my Facebook profile picture, and basically broke all my rules. I did everything short of contacting Nathan directly because you don’t jinx a no-hitter in progress by talking about it and up until the World Series, the Royals went a perfect 8-0 in the Postseason. Their magical run finally ended with a runner on third in a one-run loss in Game 7. Despite not taking the crown, the Royals were my sports story of the year. Nathan summed up the journey nicely, “If you would have told me in March the Royals lost game 7 of the ‪#‎WorldSeries, I would have kissed you on the mouth. ‪#‎CelebrateNoMatter Thank you ‪#‎Royals

If new General Manager A.J. Preller’s aggressive offseason moves pay off in similar fashion for the Padres in 2015, I’ll be in a kissing mood myself.

In the end, I almost made it a year.

Seems I can’t get sports out of my blood entirely after all. But I do feel more in balance and that the progress made in addressing my dependency on sports was a step in the right direction for our family.

On deck?

A big league challenge to outsmart a growing dependence on my smart phone.

Michael Vick is an episode of ‘This American Life’ waiting to be produced. It seems everyone has a take on Vick, from the vehement critics he earned with his despicable off-the-field killing and torturing of dogs for which he served prison time to the adoring fans who have forgiven Vick as he has resurrected his professional football career in a way that has the phoenix considering retirement. Amidst persistent controversy and criticism, the remarkable comeback of Mike Vick unveiled its latest chapter on Sunday December 10, 2010 in a contest that appeared to be more a microcosm of his life’s journey than simply another game.

I was following the Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants game this past Sunday while running at the gym, paying particularly close attention to the performance of the Eagles’ Quarterback, who doubles as the quarterback on my little brother Eric’s fantasy football team. Eric and I were competing in cyberspace to determine which of our fantasy teams would be in competition of the “Daddy Pants” league finals this Sunday, with the first points of our annual brotherly competition at stake. I won’t go into details, but the competition is a big deal, so I was pleased to see that Vick, who has been playing out of his mind this season, was performing at a very pedestrian rate throwing for only one touchdown and accumulating less than one hundred yards passing as the fourth quarter got underway. With Philadelphia down 31-10 with less than eight minutes to play, I headed home from the gym, confident that if Eric’s team should out-fantasize my own, it would certainly not be due to the exploits of Number 7.

Of course, upon checking the update of our fantasy football battle, Vick had somehow accumulated an insane 99 points during my drive home resulting in a 38-31 Eagles’ Vick-tory and the demise of my fantasy team. The Eagles scored a mind-boggling four touchdowns in the final eight minutes to overtake the Giants and sole possession of first place in the NFC East with two games to play, while making a strong case that the first two letters in MVP stand for Michael Vick. I should have been shocked, but it seems extraordinary occurrences are commonplace for Mr. Vick these days.

Just over a month ago on November 15, 2010, Vick set an NFL record by accounting for five first half touchdowns against the Washington Redskins in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football en route to six touchdowns in three quarters and a 59-28 demolition of Washington. The performance was so dominant that it inspired 11 time national sportswriter of the year Rick Reilly to dedicate his weekly ESPN column to the headline that is Michael Vick.

In his article entitled “Time to Forgive Vick Is Here”, Reilly argued Vick paid a reasonable the price for his crimes against animals by serving 18 months in the notorious Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary which could easily have cost him his entire career. Reilly didn’t make the case that Vick’s delinquency should be forgotten, but did ask what more could justifiably be asked of him:

“The man is contrite. He is humbled. He is chastened. He has already given 24 speeches for the Humane Society. He has dismissed his old friends, has even run from them when they show up. What else is he supposed to do? Move into a dog kennel himself?”

The article piqued my interest when Reilly mentioned Vick would be using his off-day the following week to travel to Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut to talk about the evils of dog fighting. As a social worker in New Haven, I am often in the city’s schools dealing with emergent crises, but over the past year I have walked the halls of Hillhouse so often I feel like an honorary staffer.

From fellow El Capitan alum Kevin McAdam playing with Vick first at Virginia Tech and then with the Atlanta Falcons and then our Chargers nearly selecting Vick with the first pick in the 2001 NFL draft (which they traded to Atlanta for receiver Tim Dwight and draft picks that became LaDainian Tomlinson, Tay Cody and Reche Caldwell), I often felt Vick’s story was just a step away from intersecting with my own, even if only insignificantly. So I found significance in his plans to be present at Hillhouse and found my way into the school’s auditorium on November 23, 2010 in hopes of discerning whether the talented performer’s repentance act was genuine or just an attempt at a career makeover.

New Haven advertises itself with the slogan, “It all happens here,” but for a day it didn’t seem like such an exaggeration as both Vick and Bill Cosby were in town to speak to students. The Hillhouse kids didn’t seem to mind much that they were missing out on Cosby as they were brimming with energy and weren’t paying much attention to either Assistant Principal Ms. G or Principal Carolina’s appeals to quiet down. I made my way through the packed crowd and found a seat among the soon-to-be state champion Hillhouse High School varsity football team, less than a 40 yard dash from the stage prepared for Vick.

Principal Carolina announced he would bring Vick out and the excitement reached a fever pitch. With no Vick in sight, students began to give themselves whiplash with every preemptive shrill of excitement, believing the quarterback was capable of entering the room like a ninja, stealthily from any direction (ironically the Giants looked as if they shared this belief on Sunday in their attempts to tackle Vick in the 4th quarter). Screams started to accompany any athletic black male who entered the auditorium looking for one of the last seats as we appeared well on our way toward a fire code violation.

Vick entered stage right and the crowd erupted, but not as loud as I expected as it appeared some kids had already lost their voices and others had stoically convinced themselves that after five minutes of false alarms, they would no longer be punked, even when Vick actually showed up. The applause was generous and without any hint of dog lovers voicing their disapproval. I wondered if Vick’s reception would have been colder had he shown up in the suburbs or if he hadn’t recently ascended back to the level of NFL star quarterback.

Vick’s earrings glistened in the spotlight and he flashed his celebrity smile. He was dressed in a solid gray pullover, dark jeans and black tennis shoes worn in the style of 2015 Marty McFly.

Accompanying Vick was Wayne Pacelle, a Hillhouse graduate, current President/CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and second fiddle in the eyes of the kids. Pacelle began by noting the Humane Society’s goal of stopping animal cruelty in all its forms and noted he and Vick were present to bring awareness to the Society’s End Dog Fighting Campaign which has already made stops in Chicago, Charlotte, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. Pacelle presented as thoughtful and well educated, but realized people had not flocked to see him and sat down after commending Vick for getting up at 6:00 am on his day off to take a train from Philadelphia to New Haven, and stating that the star athlete is not mandated by the conditions of his Probation to perform any community service in the form of public speaking.

In contrast to Pacelle, Vick did not project himself as a polished public speaker nor an intellectual, but he did appear genuine as he began his story. Introduced to dog fighting at the age of eight, Vick claimed he he never considered dog fighting to be inhumane and admitted both that he was unwilling to listen to the advice of those who told him it was wrong and that he had not cared about potential consequences of his involvement. Vick then confirmed the adage that ‘no criminal expects to be caught’ when he acknowledged that the gravity of his orchestration of dog fighting rings didn’t register with him until he was arrested and convicted.

Vick appeared to be at his most vulnerable when he admitted to repeatedly lying to his mother when she questioned him about whether he was involved in dog fighting. Vick’s mother did not find out the truth about her son until he was arrested, breaking her heart. Vick, who had signed the richest contract in NFL history in 2001, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 while serving his prison sentence and told the students, “When I was sitting in a prison cell, I wanted to give up, I really did.”

Vick made known that his nation-wide school campaign against dog fighting is part of his attempt to help more dogs than he has harmed and sternly warned that as a result of his conviction “all the laws have changed” and “if you fight dogs, you’ll serve a prison sentence.”

It turns out it actually was Vick who approached the Humane Society with the idea making amends through speaking to kids in an attempt to eradicate dog fighting, perhaps lending some credence to his answer to a student question that he feels he can best demonstrate his rehabilitation by owning and caring for a dog after his probation expires. Vick said his daughter sees people on a daily basis with dogs in their condo complex and asks him if she can get a dog too. Vick looked pained when he recounted that he can’t currently get a dog for his kids due to his “ill-advised actions.”

Vick reported, “I think I’m being used by God” and advised those gathered to “always believe that you got to keep God first.” He continued, “(God is) the only reason, the only reason, that I’m standing here today.” He almost appeared to laugh and professed, “Some of the things I’m doing now, playing at the level I’m playing, I don’t know how I’m doing them.” I’m not sure any of us know how Michael Vick is doing the things he is doing, but it wouldn’t be far-fetched to view his story in light of Biblical redemption narratives or its metaphors about rising on wings of Eagles.

Vick has overcome giant obstacles in his Joseph-like rise from prison to stardom. To put things in perspective, the man who was incarcerated just 18 months ago is currently the NFL’s leading vote getter for the 2011 Pro Bowl (well ahead of the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning), guaranteeing that even if it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia this season, Vick will be able to bask in the Hawaii sun come late January. After Sunday’s victory over the Giants of New York, Vick gave credit to his teammates and again thanked God for the opportunity to participate in one of the “greatest comebacks of my career.” At this rate, Vick’s return to prominence may well someday be considered one of the greatest comebacks of any career. And while many remain unconvinced, I’ll count myself among the believers in Michael Vick.