Sunday, October 30, 2005


That's me, before the apple accident.

I got some splainin' to do to my boss crow. See, I was supposed to write my weekly Sunday article for LOCKERROOM on time. Well, on Saturday night, my girlfriend made me dress like Harriet Miers for a Halloween party on the Upper East Side which we ended up not attending, and on Sunday she really (and I mean REALLY) convinced me to skip watching perhaps the most important Washington Redskins game in the last 6 years to go apple-picking with her in upstate New York. I love my girlfriend, but hell, I wasn't gonna miss the game for anything, especially if it's against the hated New York Giants for first place in the NFC East. Between my girlfriend and the Redskins, the choice was easy -- I taped the game on my VCR for later viewing.

So, Boss, I hope you understand, especially now that I've been hit in the head by an apple that fell from a tree in a Catskills apple orchard, and staggered home only to find out that my Redskins were mashed up like rotten apples. Lord knows, I've gotten enough punishment already.

As I munch on a ripe Empire apple (one of 35 I plucked from the trees today), I am thinking about the current state of fantasy football. It's really come a long way since it was conceived back in the early 1990's by a cadre of stat-crazy phootball phanatics who scoured the football box scores and calculated their own standings on the backs of envelopes. Obviously, the Internet has played a large role in the increasing popularity of the fantasy football phenomenon, as the ease with which football websites calculate statistics and scores for fantasy teams have enabled casual gamers to jump onto the bandwagon. Indeed, in the last couple years, awareness of fantasy football has exploded to the point where advertisers and TV networks are fighting to garner a piece of the action, with ESPN running fantasy reports, and all kinds of sport industry companies appending their names to anything remotely related to fantasy football.

Unfortunately, anything that explodes in popularity, without the concomitant increase in quality, cheapens the value of the game. Just as unheralded Quentin Griffin's 4-TD performance in the first game of the 2004 season elevated him to near-mythic status among fantasy football gamers, and his ensuing poor performance and, ultimately, a devastating injury against tougher defenses sent him crashing back to earth, I'm afraid that fantasy football is facing that same fate. This isn't to say that fantasy football will go extinct the way of the Toronto Raptors -- far from it. It's just that it's now reached critical mass, with almost everyone, their friend, and uncle playing against each other in about 12 fantasy football leagues. Websites that used to offer free fantasy advice now force you to pay through your nose to read just the very same advice -- which turns out to be just as useless as the advice your grandmother gave you on whether or not to pick up middle-finger-wagging Kyle Orton. People who know next to nothing about fantasy football are literally spending hundreds of dollars to be part of a fantasy football league, and pulling their hairs out trying to figure out whether to start Shaun Alexander against Baltimore or Kevan Barlow against Houston. (As anybody with an ounce of fantasy football brain knows, you never bench a stud vs. a tough defense for some has-been vs. a lousy defense.)

This reminds me of poker. The reason poker books have been selling like hotcakes is because of ESPN's "The World Series of Poker." Once something hits TV or the Internet, interest in that type of game or sport skyrockets, with people clamoring to try their hand at something they've never really tried before, as if they feel that winning at that game will solve everything that is wrong with their lives. I love poker, and many men do (and yes, my girlfriend -- she knows how to play a mean 7-card stud), but I just find all that publicity over poker to be insane. I mean, at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore, they now sell glorified poker chip sets. At a Barnes & Noble?? In a few years, the general public just isn't going to care about poker, and that's fine with me -- poker can safely return to its own little respectable corner in the gambling universe. But, in the process, poker has changed permanently. Las Vegas is only too happy to see the explosion of interest in poker (read: more $ for casino coffers), and online poker is here to stay. Poker strategies that have stood the test of time among professionals have been upended by the masses of amateurs entering poker tournaments, and literally winning in the process.

Fantasy football is here to stay, and I'm only too happy to see more and more people get involved in this fascinating game, as fantasy football reaches cool Madison Avenue status. However, just like poker, fantasy football is a game of both luck and strategy. You can make all the right picks and make the right lineup decisions, but that's not going to prevent your rookie opponent from winning the fantasy football championship if he just happens to be dumb-lucky enough to field both a stud and the two top-scoring sleepers in the same lineup. Unfortunately for us old salts in the fantasy football world, we're going to see more and more fantasy football players who love the real sport of football but have little or no knowledge or even the tactfulness of fielding the right fantasy football lineup.

And, guess what, some of them will win their league championships, no matter whether we like it or not.

Fantasy football is here to stay, and so will those masses of newbies. The best we can do is to keep doing what we have been good at doing, and that is making the right choices and fielding the right lineups -- because those decisions minimize our reliance on luck to win games. That works more often than not.

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