Six women in their 50's crowded around a kitchen table, the glow of their laptops reflecting off their bifocals.
No, they weren't researching the original rules of mahjong or playing an online game of hearts together -- close, though -- they were finishing up last-minute investigations into bye weeks, passing yards and defensive rankings.
This was a fantasy football draft in suburban Indianapolis.
If the thought of middle-aged women taking part in an event that men half their age make an annual ritual is funny to you, then you're dead on.
For three hours on a Tuesday night in early September, Wendy, Diane, Lori M., Lori S. (we'll refer to her from now on by Mosaic Mama, her username), Debbie and Gigi -- and two daughters, Jenn and Leslie -- were as serious about drafting a team as they are about setting a weekly grocery list. And by time the evening news came on, the Mahjong Masters was a full-fledged fantasy football league.
This wasn't a draft overflowing with beer, wings and dip. Far from it. The only food on the table was a bowl of Hershey Kisses. They weren't here to mess around. Each woman came armed with stacks of research, magazines and even male coaches. Instead of beer, Diet Coke was the beverage of choice. For most of the draft, Gigi, as Lori M. pointed out, looked like she was betting the ponies, with her cheat sheets folded and her lists of players sprawled out in front of her.
They're all football fans, primarily of the hometown Colts and the New England Patriots. They watch games every week, and they even know the difference between Peyton Manning, and, well, everybody else.
But don't let the preparation fool you, these are still older women we're talking about.
"I didn’t pick anybody from the Colts. I feel guilty," Debbie says, fitting in perfectly in the world of fantasy football: Playing for the win instead of aligning with team loyalties.
That didn't mean, however, that they knew the difference between a wide receiver and a tight end. Or where the Eagles hailed from, as one owner inquired about. Another, her eyes glued to her laptop screen, didn't look up and asked if FA meant the Atlanta Falcons. Nope, another responded, it meant free agent, to laughs.
And early on, the tone was set by Mosaic Mama, who jokingly -- but with all seriousness -- said she didn't want to draft anyone who played on Thursdays. It's Millionaire Matchmaker night.
For a league that charged just a $25 entry fee, these things are important. In between deciding when a defense should be taken and who the third running back would be, the discussion turned to the Desperate Housewives and whether it was still airing Sunday nights.
"Just because your shows are on, your players will still play," says Michael, one of the coaches and son of the commissioner, which drew a howling laugh from the assembled team owners.
For a group of first-timers, they did their due diligence. Some downloaded apps to their iPads, some surfed the Internet for hours and some found TV shows dissecting who owners should draft, but one owner was focused on her draft almost around the clock.
The weekend before the draft, Gigi e-mailed Michael late one Saturday night, while he was at his sister’s rehearsal dinner. Gigi relented during the wedding the next day but was back e-mailing the league Monday morning.
"I am really putting in the hours," says one of Gigi’s messages to Wendy.
That wedding, however, belonged to one of the team owners, who had Michael, also her brother, draft for her while she honeymooned in Bali and Thailand. The other daughter in the league, Jen, sat in a San Francisco boardroom after work and picked her team with the help of her husband, who sat on the other end of a conference call.
The league was originally split into mothers vs. daughters, but too many daughters dropped out leaving the league with a 75-25 split, which the mothers didn’t mind having played mahjong together for the last 25 years.
As in most drafts, Adrian Peterson went first, followed then by a barrage of running backs with Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick thrown in fairly high. These women followed the guidelines they read about: When in doubt, follow the rankings.
But when they questioned whom to select, they each had a coach to lean on. Debbie often spent her two minutes on the phone with her 10-year-old nephew, and after he went to bed, another nephew who's a senior at Indiana University.
To which Gigi chided that her coach was busy that night. He was at religious study.
As the draft hit its midway point, Lori M. unveiled her Drafting for Dummies print out and regaled her friends with what not to do. Then she got into terminology not even the male coaches heard of.
"Do you know what a stud is?" Lori M. asked, to a catcall of responses. "Trade bait? A vulture back?"
They didn't need to know whether Green Bay was in North Carolina -- as one coach asked -- or what REYD meant (receiving yards).
Tuesday night in suburban Indianapolis was about six women trading in bams, cracks and dots for RBs, TEs and WRs.
If you don't know what that means, you're in the same boat they are.