By Ray Lucas
If you ask people about their favorite holiday, you will hear a lot about Christmas and Thanksgiving. My dad is partial to Halloween, and I have a few Irish relatives who point to St. Patrick’s Day as their favorite.
As for me, my favorite holiday each year is Fantasy Football Draft Day. It is the official kickoff to a holiday that spans the next 16 Sundays. Just as I prepared for Christmas as a kid by researching the toy section of the Sears catalogue for months, these days I pour over dozens of fantasy football websites looking for just the right players. With Santa and draft day, you don’t want to leave too many things to chance.
In case you’ve never played fantasy football, it is a game made up of imaginary football teams that each manager (my friends and I) have put together during a football draft. We pick from a pool of real players and score points based on how our players do on the field. The better your NFL players perform on Sundays the better you do in your fantasy football league.
In many ways, fantasy football takes me back to playing football as a kid at recess. You pick your teams, play hard until the bell rings and the winners have bragging rights until the next recess.
In fact, many of the lessons I learned on the playground translate well to the fantasy football draft and season. Here are a few that have served me well:
Picking teams the old-school way: The key to winning the kickball game starts before the first roll. The same is true of your fantasy draft. Captains in kickball and fantasy football pick their players based on who brings the most to the team. So, while I am a Dallas Cowboy fan in real life, I know better than to pick too many players from my team as they have won only three playoff game in the past 22 years. It’s no fun being picked last but finishing last in your league is no fun either.
Be Ready: When you’re finally on top of the slide and it’s your turn to go, you had better not dillydally around. Be ready to slide and make room for the next on the ladder. In your fantasy draft, when your turn comes around, you had better be prepared to pick. If you respond too many times with, “It’s my turn?” or “Does anyone know if that QB is hurt?” you’ll find yourself getting pushed out of the slide line for good.
Pay attention to your place in line: We all knew that kid who lost their spot in line while paying kickball and never got their turn to kick because they weren’t paying attention. In fantasy football, we all know the friend who takes five minutes to pick their player only to discover that their pick was taken two rounds ago. Don’t wander out of line if you want to kick, and keep track of players already drafted.
Use your time well: Recess only last 15 minutes, so don’t spend all your time wandering around deciding what game to join. You have to make your decision quickly and jump in a game or you won’t get to play. In fantasy football, there is always the one team manager who waits until it’s too late to change their roster and loses games they shouldn’t because they started the wrong players. If you’re checking your starting line up Sunday evening, it may be too late.
Everyone skins their knee eventually: At some point in our recess career, we all remember the day when we fell to the ground, skinned our knee and went crying to the recess monitor for an all-soothing Band-Aid. It happens to the best of us and knocks us out of the fun and games for a day or more. In fantasy football, even the best of managers will lose a key player to injury. Your entire season goes down the drain with one turned knee by your star quarterback – but such is life. (Note: In my experience, Band-Aids don’t help in fantasy games as much as they did on the playground.)
No name calling: The quickest way to find yourself losing recess time, friends and writing sentences over and over on the blackboard was to call your classmates mean and creative names. Name-calling is a definite no-no at 6 years old. Fantasy football turns this rule on it ear as team managers regularly look for the most creative variations of players’ names to create their teams’ names. Many are not suitable for a family publication but a few creative team names I’ve seen include Baby Got Dak (Dak Prescott), Touchdown Breesus (Drew Brees), Saved by Le’Bell (Leveon Bell) Good(win) Will Hunting (Marquise Goodwin, Will Fuller and Kareem Hunt) and Guns and Rosens (Josh Rosen).
It’s all just for fun: At the end of recess it doesn’t matter whether you won or lost. It makes no difference if you are the best tag player or the worse at double Dutch. After recess, we all go back to math class. I have had many fantasy football Tuesday mornings when I was bummed out about losing by a hundredth of a point to Troy, my friend who will rub in my loss for months, even to the point of being in a bad mood. But at the end of the day, it’s just a game.
I have been playing fantasy football for over 20 years, far longer than my grade school recess career. I recently read that each year over 60 million Americans participate in fantasy sports like football, NASCAR, baseball and even cricket. That’s 1 in 5 Americans playing fantasy sports!
I play because I enjoy watching football and competing in a friendly game with friends. I laugh out loud at the texts exchanged between buddies on Sundays, teasing each other over a poor performance. I have savored a free beer purchased by another team manager based on a side bet I won. Over the years, I’ve even won the prized trophy we exchange for winning our league on a few occasions.
At the end of the day, I play fantasy football for the same reasons I loved recess as a child. You pick your teams, play hard until the bell rings and the winners have bragging rights until the next recess.
Deep down, we are all still kids looking for a good game on the playground.
Ray Lucas lives, works and plays in Southern Indiana and is a columnist for Extol. He had a distinguished recess kickball career at St. Paul School in the late 1970s. He is also the reigning champion in his fantasy football league, ManCo, and has the trophy to prove it.