There was a time when the typical fantasy of a red-blooded American male was Phoebe Cates dripping wet handling a carrot. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" being over a quarter century ago, those same men would now be quite content to have a durable top-flight running back, a swarming defense intent on stripping the ball, and a quarterback with a great interception-to-turnover ratio. These are the stuff of dreams.
Yes, those same testosterone-laden men (and some laden with extra testosterone, like Melky Cabrera) are all about the fantasy football now. You wait all year for this, study your charts, listen to the experts, alienate family, ignore friends, only to have your efforts derailed early on from a bad draft position or a freak injury. (My first pick last year was Jamaal Charles. Nuff said.)
So what's your strategy? It depends on what type of league you're in. Is it a keeper league? Do you make bids? Are you totally on board ... unless you can't pick Tom Brady? Does your league allow you to pay after you pick? Are you planning to not pay if you don't get your first choice?
Regardless, the draft is just the beginning. You're the general manager. You need to be up on the news. Rosters need to be in ten minutes from now! But your best player is "questionable" to start. What the heck does that mean?! You need to know!!! Will he start?! Dammit, that's the question!
This has become our national pastime. The fanatics are now even more fanatic. As players, it's not enough you have to help your team win, but now you have to do well individually. A win on the field could still be a loss for some random guy in Omaha (as opposed to the specific guy in Omaha). Talk about increased pressure!
At the recent Harold Pump Foundation dinner, raising money for the Northridge Hospital in California to support the fight against cancer, I caught up with a few former gridiron greats and asked what they thought of the fantasy phenomenon.
"It was amazing to me," says former Raiders receiver Tim Brown, "'cause I had some of my good golf buddies back in Dallas who were fantasy players and when I would come home in the offseason, they would be mad at me. I mean, literally, they'd say, ‘Dude, all you had to do was run out of bounds at the 1-yard line, and Tyrone Wheatley would've scored and I would've won the game.' And I didn't know what was going on till I found out they were playing fantasy football."
He doesn't play himself because he's a busy man in his "retirement."
"I would love to," says the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner. "Y'know, I started out about five or six years ago trying to do it and I just haven't had the time to do it."
The theme comes up again when talking to "Broadway Joe" himself who also complained of the time commitment. "I was involved a couple of seasons ago," says Namath. "I really wanted to make it work, studying, getting help and all that. And what I've learned is I have to admire the people who are involved because it takes passion to take that much time in to study the athletes and their games, and keeping up with the week to week, and making the deals and all."
But he had no problem memorizing the playbook week in and week out? "Well, yeah," the former Super Bowl III guarantor explains, "but that was when you were living it. So the fantasy game has just added a wonderful time for fans and participants of fantasy football."
Would he have picked himself in the first round? "I don't know. With a bad knee, it depends." Another questionable!
Then there's the flip side. Former three-sport star and Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield doesn't even concern himself with it. "I don't follow it at all. I know it's a big thing, but don't follow it at all. AT ALL," he says again for emphasis, flashing his broad smile.
Meanwhile, one of the players who was consistently a lock to be an early-round pick pondered not even being an option for the fantasy players. With the Olympics just ended, Marshall Faulk had his own fantasy.
"If I could've gone back and done it all over again," the recent inductee to Canton began, "I would've come back and probably played table tennis and badminton, or -- I don't know what the gymnast is called with the little string, but that looks fun too. It has a name. i don't know what that's called. We'll call it that."
I imagine he would've been a Hall of Famer at that, but he's not so confident. "I would've be graceful. If my knees would've been a little better, I would've been good."
So my fantasy is now this: I get a top-three player at all the skill positions, they don't get hurt, have career years, and I'm able to withstand all challenges to win my league.
But I know that at the end of the day, it'll be just that, a fantasy, and I'll be left with Darren Sproles as my top tailback and Mark Sanchez, who will most likely be benched for Tim Tebow in Week Two, with my arch nemesis having the foresight to pick him up before I can.
It's going to be a long season. Why isn't it called Nightmare Football instead?