Many of us are gearing up for the 2011 NFL season by checking statistics, match-ups and fantasy rankings for our selections in our Fantasy Football drafts. We check to see how AFC East players do against AFC West teams, try and calculate how many touchdowns that Andre Johnson will catch, and argue endlessly weather it is better to go with Nate Kaeding’s accuracy over Sebastian Janikowski’s booming left leg.
However, I can’t help but think that I’ve gotten this all wrong.
I never once have had a good fantasy football team. Never. I think only one year have I ever put a competitive fantasy baseball team together, and that was in the days before I did draft leagues and relied solely upon Salary Cap games. For a while, it used to irritate me. I take pride in the fact that I know a lot about sports. I can see match-up problems for team games before they begin. I like knowing that a defensive scheme can cause havoc on the opposing team. But why the hell does my back up wide receiver always end up on IR or drop more passes than he catches (I’m looking at you, Roy Williams)?
Then it all becomes obvious. This is “fantasy” sports. Not the real sport. And the real sport bears no similarity at all to its fantasy counterpart. From a young age, we are all taught that games are not won and lost on paper. Yet every week, that it what fantasy team owners try to do. There is only numbers. A touchdown scored to make a game 42-3 is as valuable as a game-winning touchdown. There is no way to measure the importance of scoring in the clutch, which is why players that do are said to have all the intangible qualities. But intangibles, being, well, intangible, do not mean a whole lot in a game where everything is assigned a point value.
Fantasy sports takes the soul out of the sport. It becomes a number crunching festival that sabrmatricians dream about. In real sports, no way does the skill of the players on the team relate to success. The Washington Redskins, perennial winners of the big free agent signings in the off-season, and perennial cellar dwellers in the NFC East, is the prime example. And let’s not forget the gigantic bagel that the Yankees had in their World Championship column with payrolls over 200 million for the greater part of the last decade. Numbers say a lot, but they never tell the whole story. Just ask Congress. Numbers can not tell you how far a player is willing to go to make a catch, to give a block, or settle his nerves before kicking a decisive field goal. Numbers can’t put into words how fearful wide receivers are of catching a ball in the middle of the field with Ray Lewis inches away from hitting the receiver into oblivion. Numbers can’t put into words how important that the one throw that Mark Sanchez did make, a back-shoulder throw to Braylon Edwards down the sideline to set up a game-winning field goal, was a thousand times more important than the larger amount of throws that fell to the turf.
And then there’s team chemisty. A team with Tom Brady, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Chad Ochocinco is doomed to fail over the course of a 17+ week NFL Schedule. Unless the team has a mega-high level of karma around them, the chemistry among players would be a joke, and the head coach responsible for stroking each ego would have grey hair in the blink of an eye. After the team’s first loss, beat writers and national reporters would be asking the same question over and over again: How could a team with this much talent lose a game?
I thought that everyone would have learned after this past NBA Finals that style never beats substance. In fantasy sports, style always wins out. It is style points that fans wanted to see in November of 2009, when Maurice Jones-Drew, on his way to scoring a sure touchdown in the finals minute of a game against the Jets, instead went to one knee at the one-yard line. Anyone who had MJD on their fantasy team probably threw a brick through their TV, and some may have even thought about murdering the person nearest to them. But MJD took the knee and let the clock wind all the way down before Josh Scobee kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. There was no chance for the Jets to put one last Hail Mary pass in the air. Never give a dying team a chance to survive. But in fantasy land, this is the deadly sin of the sport; fantasy football’s counterpart to baseball’s betting laws.
So when I pick Ben Roethlisberger over Phillip Rivers as my starting quarterback, like I know I will do, I will resign myself to the fact that defeat is inevitable. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I can go 7-7 and win the first round of my playoffs. I am not so quick as to betray my beliefs that sports should be just a numbers game. There are somethings that numbers can not show.