Another Angle — The mystery of fantasy


I was walking around my apartment on deadline the other night thinking about this column—thinking about what the Hektor of Troy I was going to write about.

I knew it was going in our fantasy football issue, but I’m not a fantasy football guy. I’m just not. I want to be. I want to be like my colleague, Sports Yapp podcast host Bryce Johnson, who has a ring sitting on his desk with “Bryce” carved into the band for his 2010 Fantasy Football Championship. (Trust me, I know it’s there; he’s showed it to me seven times.) I want to be like Jimmy Fallon and his friends on Fever Pitch. I want to be that hardcore. Obsessive is cool and funny.

I usually end up playing fantasy football, but I always end up being the guy who doesn’t care. I adjust my fantasy lineup my first few weeks, telling myself that this will be the year I take it seriously. But by Week 4 I’m getting WUPHFed (if you’ve seen The Office) by the league commissioner—emailed, texted, facebooked, tweeted at—reminding me to bench the guys who are on their bye week.

By Week 7, the commissioner is taking the time to look up my lineup and tell me who to bench. By Week 10, he’s telling me who to bench, who to substitute in, and notifying me about the three active guys on my roster who have apparently been injured since Week 11. And by Week 13, he has my username and password wondering, “Why the Roy Helu (Washington Redskins running back, fantasy rank of 24) did I invite this bum?”

I don’t like fantasy football. And sometimes I wonder why people are so drawn to it—why companies have to firewall certain sites so employees don’t tamper with their fantasy lineups during work. What makes it so great? Seriously?

I wondered if it was because regular football wasn’t good enough. So I started thinking about all the things I’d change about the NFL. I started building my own fantasy.

I decided I’d lengthen the season by, eh, say eight weeks, starting the season in July, since I’m convinced July and August is a sports purgatory God ordained to purify us all of our addiction to sports, months where I replay the ESPYs in my mind and consider reading the entire Freeh Report. I usually fall asleep watching SportsCenter, but the other night I was so bored that I started reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. I haven’t even thought about Shakespeare since I SparkNoted Hamlet in 11th grade.

There are more things I’d change in my fantasy. I’d go back and have Chad Johnson change his last name to “Rach” instead of “Ochocinco,” trade him to the Broncos, and make sure he ran between two pillars of flames at the start of each game (see Daniel 3). I’d change Sean Payton’s last name to “Pay-a-ton.”

I love Faith Hill, I really do, but I think I’d replace her with Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift on Sunday Night Football. And I’d probably add a cowgirl hat.

I love Peyton Manning, but I’d plop him on a tractor and send him back to Indy. I love Tim Tebow, but I wish he didn’t do those Jockey commercials, mostly because the first three seconds make me feel inadequate and puny like Gumby. And I’m sure there are things I love about Terrell Owens, but gosh, I just can’t think of anything.

I decided my mind was wandering to far off places, like that underwater place where the Gungans live in Star Wars, so I returned to the premise of the column: Why are people so drawn to fantasy football?

Judging by the fact that I wandered all the way to the fictitious planet of Naboo, I decided that my original theory—that fantasy football exists because regular football isn’t good enough—was bogus. It didn’t make sense. If that was the case, then people wouldn’t have enjoyed the NFL before the Internet. And I’m pretty confident that, even if the NFL stripped away fantasy football, football would still be widely popular. It’s what we do in America—that, and eat fatty things.

So it had to be something else.

For some reason, I started thinking about Peyton Manning again (I’m a Colts fan, and I miss him). I’ve heard that, even on his off days, he’s studying his playbook and watching film. I started to feel a little sheepish.

I wished that I didn’t have off-minutes, off-hours, off-days, off-months with God. I wished I was like Peyton Manning, always studying my playbook, always focused on the task at-hand. I wished I was always close with God.

People play fantasy football, you see, because they like to feel close. They like to feel like they’re on the sidelines. It makes each and every game, each and every play, incredibly real and meaningful.

I want to be like Bryce in fantasy football—making trades and trash talking with my friends throughout the week—but, to be frank, I just don’t care. I want to be like Enoch, who walked so close with God that the Lord eventually took him—but, to be honest, I wonder if I care.

In my fantasies, I care.

And sometimes I wonder if this life is all about working our way down to the sidelines—until we’re so close that we see those little black rubber pellets flying up from the turf and hear the pounding of padding and helmets, noticing things we’ve never noticed.

All because we’re close and want to get closer.

By Stephen Copeland

This story was published in the July 2012 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Print and digital subscribers, log in and view the issue hereStephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at