How fantasy football is ruining the way we watch the game
“Dude, how can you not play fantasy,” my friends ask of me with a tone of disbelief. “What do you not like the NFL or something? Are you not American?”
Uneducated shots at my patriotism aside, I've had this encounter more times than I care to count over the past several years. Without fail, every time I sit down to watch football on an NFL Sunday with a group of friends, I inevitably get berated with the same group of questions as to how I, a young American male with an unending love of all things sports, does not play fantasy football. Allow me to tell you why, because I whole-heartedly believe that fantasy football is ruining the sport as we know it.
First, I must admit that, in theory, I do not hate the concept of fantasy sports. As a stat nerd through and through, I can imagine the first fantasy players, long before the invention of the Internet, sitting in their mothers’ basements calculating by hand Dan Marino’s point total for the week on a Monday morning. These pioneering dorks did it solely for the love of the game and the love of math, and I’m assuming for a way to claim bragging rights after the debate over who had the best comic con costume had already been decided.
Now, after the rise of the Internet and sites like Yahoo and ESPN that will calculate point totals and manage rosters with ease, fantasy football requires none of the arithmetical skill and stalwart dedication that these nerds of old possessed. Now, any idiot with the ability to click a mouse can declare himself a fantasy genius without knowing how to add two and two.
With all reverence for my dweeb forefathers aside, the predominance of fantasy football has changed the way in which the average fan today watches a game. Not including a match up that involves their favorite team (a Jets fan will always obnoxiously root for the Jets no matter how badly Sanchez underperforms), the average football fan now watches a game not involving their favorite team through a lens skewed by everything that is wrong with fantasy sports.
Two weekends ago, a few friends and I gathered to watch the Patriots-Steelers game, a match up of two teams atop their respective divisions, with two of the leagues top quarterbacks and serious playoff implications.
As the game progressed, I began to notice that my friend Joe cheered at times no one else would. A five-yard pass over the middle, Joe would go nuts. An eight-yard slant route that put the Steelers two yards short of the first down, Joe would nearly leap out of his chair. Knowing that he had no vested interest in this game (he’s a Giants fan), I finally asked him just what the hell he was so excited about?
“Dude, I got Heath Miller on my fantasy team and I down ten points,” he replied.
Normally this is when I lose it, screaming about how fantasy is ruining the game and how it boggles my mind that you can pull for just one player in the most consummate of team games. Right before I was about to blow a gasket though, I looked around the room and realized that I was the only one without a laptop in front of me. As a matter of fact, when the Steelers had the ball, Joe and I were the only people in the group with our eyes on the TV. When the Patriots had the ball, Joe would go right back to this computer screen, while Ryan (who has Tom Brady on his team) would look up from his spreadsheet and begin praying for a touchdown pass.
“Am I the only one actually watching this game?” I asked the group with a sense of amazement. The five others in the group responded in unison that they had players in other games that weren’t broadcasting in the area.
It was at this point that I knew I had lost. A match-up of division leading teams on TV had lost out to a live stats stream of two sub .500 doormats.
Then, this past Saturday, I regained some of the hope that had been lost. LSU and Alabama, the two top teams in college football battled it out in Tuscaloosa in the most anticipated game of the century. No fantasy points at stake, no worrying about who to play in the flex position, just the two best defenses in the nation pounding each other into the ground.
The final score, 9-6 in favor of the Tigers, would have been a fantasy disaster, with no touchdowns, five field goals and neither team amassing 300 total yards of offense. While I expected to hear these criticisms from the peanut gallery as another reason why college football will never be as good as the NFL, I instead heard people talking about how that was some good old-fashioned, smash mouth football and how they can’t wait for a rematch in the National Championship game.
Maybe, just maybe, if people can remember that it’s elements like this, not a running back’s ability to get you 30 fantasy points per game that makes football great, then there’s still hope out there somewhere.