Fantasy football success can get you through some bad days.
Boss down on you? That clown doesn’t have Julio Jones. Can’t remember where you left your car Saturday night? At least you remembered to sub in Tyrod Taylor. Lose out on visitation in the divorce? Your virtual squad feels like family. You lack eighth grade reading skills? A dummy wouldn’t have grabbed Karlos Williams.
Maybe you lost your job. Maybe a cold case squad got a hit on your fingerprints. You can feel good anyway if you’re a winner on the virtual gridiron. If you had a good draft, you can feel better by looking over your moves, like Facebook pictures of women you "dated." You dog.
In 2008, you won the football title. Obama was elected. The Coen brothers won Best Picture for No Country for Old Men. The Celtics won the championship. You considered them all fellow winners. Watching actors accept Oscars, you nodded. You got how they felt. “Welcome,” you thought, charitably.
You had a year’s worth of bragging rights over friends that you knew cared as much about the league as they did their day jobs. You owned them. They knew it.
And why not use fantasy football for an ego boost? We should feel good about ourselves. Something worth doing is worth doing right. Right? We compete, so it matters. Right?
But here’s the problem. What do you do when your team is terrible? You used fantasy sports winning to boost your ego. How can losing not hurt it?
The fantasy page was a glowing online security blanket, a safe place for misogyny and elaborate Karate Kid analogies. The place you went secretly during a conference call, or after your girlfriend went to bed, or when you doubted you’d pass any cops for a few miles. It was a thing you did alone with yourself; a guilty pleasure. What happens when it starts to hurt?
You have two teams. They are 1-7. There are 24 other guys in those leagues. Co-workers. Friends. They’re all better than you. They are, per Pedro Martinez, your daddies.
How do you convince yourself it doesn’t matter? How do you not care?
You had your best fantasy days in your 20s. Then you got busier at work. Grown up issues kicked in. You found a wife, who judged you. Maybe you had children’s names to remember. A project due around draft day. So you declined. You didn’t prowl the waiver wire at 2 a.m. Tuesdays, staying ahead of the guys driving the Transaction Trends.
Gone are the days when you joined random Yahoo! leagues to mock draft, and played out the season, talking aggressive amounts of obscene trash to complete strangers, just to practice.
You’ve become an adult that the 22-year-old you would have mocked all week and blown out on Sunday. An employee who checks his email before his lineup.
You were a Viking, pillaging leagues. Now you’re the guy in the coastal town, watching your house burn and crying softly.
You’re a below average fantasy nobody, starting Jonathan Stewart, hoping you don’t forget about somebody’s bye week, playing out your shoddy season like a schnook.
So you tell yourself there are more important things in life. It’s silly to feel shame, actual shame, about a hobby, a little game.
You pretend you can meet your buddies’ eyes after you took LeSean McCoy in the first round and drafted Roddy White’s rotting corpse. You laugh when they tell you, again, to Costanza yourself: Do the reverse of your every instinct. But your confidence in your instincts, once boundless, is down. Maybe you really should. Maybe you should cut your top guys, to send a message.
But what does it matter? You’re in a league with a bunch of fattening fathers. Guys who replaced drunk Joe Namath avatars with baby pictures.
The message board is quiet, mostly safe for work. The spirit is gone. Blowouts occur without mockery. Dudes that used to threaten friends with expulsion or physical harm for starting someone on a bye week do it themselves without public shame. Only a few team names reference illegal acts or would deeply offend a feminist.
The draft used to be a tense in-person ceremony/sodden roast that left grudges and regrets. Now’s it’s a business-like electronic affair, like an eBay auction for industrial kitchen parts.
It isn’t what it was, you tell yourself. People judge you for real stuff. Your career. Parenting. Human decency. You try not to care. You want to reject the illusion that it matters.
But you know that’s crap. You care. And that’s the worst of it. You fail even at failing. You are Frank in Old School. You tried to join a gym.
You stink at fantasy football. You want to shrug it off. You try not to care. It doesn’t work. You lose.