Football fun in fantasy form

In mid-June the NBA and NHL crown their champions and start their off-seasons. Only once every two years are the major winter sports’ seasons followed by the viewership-record-setting phenomena that are the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup. This June and early July, Brazil hosted the Confederations Cup and emerged victorious. The finale, pitting the incumbent Spanish kings of soccer against the world’s second favorite team Brazil, was a dream match-up. It was a fun tournament to watch, yes. But the USA hadn’t qualified, and The Confederations Cup doesn’t have the same gravitas as the Euro Cup, which I enjoy regardless of American sides not being allowed to participate. Enter the biennial summer sports dead-zone: no Olympics, lukewarm international soccer, and baseball before the division and wildcard races start heating up—a barren athletic landscape.

During the summer, I lie on my mother’s couch and repeatedly watch SportsCenter until I fall asleep. Not this year. It wasn’t worth watching ESPN mid-June through August. I could only listen to Skip Bayless rehash his hate for LeBron James and Tiger Woods, or his love for Tim Tebow, so many times. So I filled the daily sports-void by barbecuing and the nights by watching movie trilogies—lonely times. Alas, fall is now here, and everything is as I like it. I get to start layering, wearing sweaters, cardigans, and jackets. The NFL has started, and my fantasy football league and I are back together again for our seventh consecutive season. “Reunited and it feels so good. Reunited ‘cause we understood. There’s one perfect fit, and sugar, this is it,” sing Peaches and Herb. I love fantasy football. I love the NFL.

A fantasy football league is like a marriage, and is the most committed I have been to a relationship since high school. Every year in late August five of my friends and I commit to holy football matrimony, renewing our vows to the league. Not until the end of the NFL season do we part. On our draft night honeymoon we conceive and give birth to our teams. Upon them we bestow carefully selected names and find suitable avatar photos to represent their good genetic make-up. Everyone who plays fantasy football knows what it is to be the beaming new parent of a team with limitless potential—before players are injured, before the defeats start to mount, before the league title is out of reach. Teams grow up, though. Some end up being terrible. Others stumble and fall out of the gate then make a late push. The league relationship sours. Petty jealousies arise, and by season’s end everyone is ready for a trial separation. We will hook back up next season as we always do, for absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Following professional and fantasy football is as close as I’ll ever get to being a practicing adherent of an organized religion. I don’t work on Sundays for they are for football and nothing else. During the season I attend NFL Sunday mass from sunup to sundown, from pre-game to post-game coverage; on Monday I’m back for a three-hour, Monday Night Football confessional. My personal football-watching rites rarely vary: put Bears hat on, cellphone on the bed near my left hand, open three windows in Chrome. I stream Redzone on the left half of my laptop screen, put Yahoo! Fantasy Football Stat-tracker on the right, and a Google Hangout behind those two, so I can talk with my fellow fantasy-leaguers. “The quarterback, the coach, and the two goal posts” is what I utter when I genuflect, asking the Football Gods to bless my teams.

Fall is here. Although I am completely alone in my room, I am watching my generation’s American pastime with my closest friends. Despite living in different states and countries—one guy regularly stays up all night in China to watch—we are making football, together, over the Internet, and around the world. Gone are the dull days of the sports dead-zone.

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