I try to avoid talking about my fantasy football antics here as much as possible. One reason for my normal reluctance to share is that none of you really care unless you're playing in the same league and my success or failure affects your success or failure. That makes one of you. Still, my audience's level of interest in my subject matter has never stopped me before. Another (and probably the real) reason is that I'm vaguely aware how incredibly geeky it makes me look to express delirious joy at a careful compilation of stats on a computer screen.
Like you didn't already know I was a total dork.
Unfortunately for you, I had an awesome fantasy football weekend and I can't hold back today. Let's start off with college football pick 'em. I played in a 16-player league and we pick games against the spread. In other words, if USC was a 33-point favorite over UCLA (they were), and you picked UCLA, it doesn't necessarily mean that you thought UCLA would win. It just meant that you thought UCLA would at least lose by less than 33 points. If UCLA won or if they lost by 32 points, you won that pick. This is a much more difficult task than picking the straight winner, at least in college football. Picking USC to beat anyone in the Pac-10 isn't much of a stretch. You would have lost one game all year picking them to win every time. Picking USC to win by 30 points is entirely another matter.
Anyway, I finished my prognosticating dominance this year with a first-place finish, three correct picks ahead of second place. This is the second time in three years that I've finished the college season in first place out of a group of more than 15 players. Seriously, this season proved that you shouldn't eff with me when it comes to college football. I even watch the Tuesday night MAC games, beotch. You can't touch this sweetness, and you know this!
But the real excitement this week came in the fantasy football playoffs. I'm in three leagues this year and only missed the playoffs in the league I started. I pretty much sucked in that league, but in my other two leagues I made the playoffs. In one league, I made it easily (I finished the regular fantasy season in second) and in the other I squeaked into the playoffs via a late-season seven-game winning streak. In one of the leagues (the one with beer on the line), I'd sealed my victory before time ran out on the Sunday Night Football game. It was the other league, where nothing but pride is on the line, that made for the most excitement of the weekend. At the end of the Sunday games I was losing 37-66. I went to bed knowing I had a 29-point deficit and only two players left to pull off the upset win. Both players were Carolina Panthers and the fact that they were Steve Smith and Deangelo Williams gave me home. Smith is one of the best fantasy receivers in the NFL (despite a season point total lowered by an early season suspension for his being a dipshit) and Williams ran for four touchdowns in one game last week and has seemed to improve greatly as the season progressed. The only problem is that I needed both players to over-perform (it's a stingy league when it comes to points) and the last time Tampa Bay and Carolina met, Carolina totalled 40 yards rushing. The Buccaneers are normally known for their stout defense. This wasn't going to be an easy come-from-behind win.
As the game played, the first half left me concerned. Neither Smith nor Williams were putting up excessive numbers. They'd gotten decent touches and yardage, but no scores, and that's where the most points come from. Something was going to have to change in the second half for me to taste the sweet nectar of vicarious victory.
Smith and Williams (along with the rest of the Panthers) much have heard my psychic pleas during the halftime break. By the end of the third quarter, my hope had been renewed with a Smith TD reception and ample yardage from Williams. I was closing in on my opponent's point total, but all of the touchdown runs were going to Carolina's other running back, Jonathan Stewart. All I needed for the win were another couple of touchdowns and a respectable chunk of yardage in the fourth quarter from either Smith or Williams. Things were looking good in the first half of the first quarter as Williams broke a big TD run about the middle of the quarter and put me within one point of my opponent.
Then came nothing. For the next few minutes of the game, neither Williams nor Smith did much. The next time Carolina touched the ball, Carolina was just worried about running the clock out and I'm not even sure Williams or Smith were on the field. In fact, I know Smith wasn't because they showed him on the sidelines with his helmet off during that drive. Williams didn't touch the ball if he even made it to the huddle. In their victory rushes up the middle, I saw my epic comeback sputtering in the final minutes only one point away from glory. All I needed was one stinking point because I had the automatic tie breaker and my two guys were already chilling on the bench.
I suddenly saw myself cheering against Carolina for the first time during that game. I have nothing for Carolina or against Tampa Bay outside of fantasy football. Both teams are division rivals of Atlanta's. Whichever team won ended the game two games ahead of the Falcons in the standings. As Tampa stuffed Carolina on third down and the Panthers punter came out, my heartbeat began to climb again. Maybe, just maybe, Jeff Garcia could jitterbug his team down the field and post a quick score that would force Carolina out of complacency. That was my only hope of getting Williams and Smith back on the field. Tampa Bay did score quickly and Smith and Williams trotted back on the field after the kickoff. Once again the players on the field sensed my desperation and came through just for me. I needed just nine rushing yards from Williams to get my tying/winning point. I knew hoping for a Smith reception when the Panthers were still up with only a couple of minutes to go was a lost cause. My hopes depended on Williams getting nine yards up the middle in a clock killing drive.
First play: Williams up the middle for three yards.
I need six yards for the win.
Second play: Williams up the middle for three yards.
I need three yards for the win. 2:17 remains in the game. If Williams doesn't get at least three yards on the next play, Carolina will punt and unless Tampa Bay scores again, and in ridiculously fast fashion, the Panthers won't even try another offensive play after what comes next.
Third play: Williams breaks free off the right end of the line and heads 36 yards for the touchdown. I'm up off the couch jumping and screaming silently (K and E are asleep down the hall, after all). I've won my playoff game. Not only did Williams and Smith both over-perform (Smith: 9 catches for 117 yards and a TD, Williams 19 carries for 186 yards (franchise record) and 2 TDs), but they ended up giving me a 8-point victory, putting up almost 40 points between them.
This is the second time this has happened this year on a Monday night. Earlier in the year when wins were hard to come by I watched Arizona win their game in the last minute with a huge TD reception by Anquan Boldin. I had Boldin on a team that needed a big game from him to win much in the same way I needed big games from both Smith and Williams this week. As the seconds ticked down I watched him haul in the game-winning catch and post just enough posts to win the week for me as well. I felt the same sense of exhilaration then that I did last night.
That's one of the reasons I keep playing fantasy football. The game adds a whole extra level to watching the NFL. I can't watch every NFL game that comes on TV like I can with college ball. It's just not as interesting to me if I don't have an emotional investment in the team. The game between Carolina and Tampa Bay was incredible. It was close until the end of the fourth quarter, it faced off two of the best teams in the league, and it was between two teams tied for their division lead. Still, if I hadn't been pulling for Williams and Smith to put up big numbers, I may have headed to bed at midnight. Instead, I watched the entire game and ended up going to bed jittery with excitement. Without fantasy football, I'd only get that feeling from big Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Tech wins.
There's nothing wrong with finding a way to get that feeling more often, at least not in a such a nonchemical manner as this.