I went to the trophy shop today to pick up the championship hardware for my 12-Pack League, a respectable, upwardly-mobile crowd by day but as vile and politically incorrect as a Canal Street Burger King bathroom stall (I speak from experience) when they cross over the fantasy football threshold. My 12-Pack is old school, still coming together once a year to sit in a beer-and-wings filled room and shout too-close-to-home insults at each other while we go about drafting our teams.
Our draft is held on Labor Day for perpetuity. As league commissioner, I used to struggle every year trying to nail down a date that would work with everyone's hectic summer schedule. But what we ultimately discovered was that Labor Day is perfect. Its proximity to the beginning of the football season was ideal from a drafting perspective --no fun seeing your players get wiped out in the preseason ( RIP, Mikel LeShoure). And, while Labor Day weekend is always busy, most families are at home in front of the BBQ on Monday, winding down from a hectic Saturday/Sunday. So Labor Day is set in stone, no more scheduling hassle, and the wives have come to accept, if not embrace, the situation.
After a six-year dry spell, I finally claimed the league title in 2010, receiving the hallowed "Last Can Standing" trophy -- yes, beer has a rather strong influence in our league -- for my efforts. Those efforts included starting rookie quarterback Tim Tebow, Joe Webb, the Minnesota quarterback with wide receiver eligibility (thank you, Yahoo! loophole) and Jets third-string running back Joe McKnight in the championship game in the always silly and convoluted Week 17 -- and, that’s right, we play Week 17 because, well, we’re not the kind of crowd that likes to leave meat on the bone. The "Last Can" trophy now displays my team name, Hood Canal Jugadors, as the 2010 champion, and I will, no doubt, make sure that all my league mates get a chance to take a good look at it this Labor Day, and any time they decide to stop by my house for a visit over the next few months.
Some might think that an individual getting paid to dispense fantasy advice would regularly mop the floor with a collection of "average Joes," but there’s a great equalizer at work here -- everyone else in the room knows all my man-crushes, sleepers, busts, etc. It's all laid out for them on the pages of Yahoo!, unfortunately. I can't count the number of mocking high-five offers and smug looks I've had to endure as my pet players through the years -- from Barry Sanders to Maurice Jones-Drew -- wound up in the arms of another, who was able to nab the player before I even had a chance. It's one of the few downsides to working in the arena of fantasy sports analysis. But I used to dig holes (among other unsavory tasks) for my uncle’s landscaping business during the summers of my youth, and I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to stand in a trench with water up to my ankles at 6 a.m. in the morning. So, needless to say, I can live with my current professional drawbacks, no worries.
The 12-Pack is my "alpha" league, the one that trumps all others in terms of importance and amount of space it rents in my brain. We have a 20-year history, with more than half of those years kicked off with a live, in-person draft event. For those that eschew such tribal gatherings for the sterile efficiency of an online draft event, I suggest that, if your league has the geographical dynamic to make it happen, you give the up-close and personal experience a try. It's amazing what 3-4 hours of abusive behavior will do to strengthen the bond between a band of fantasy football brothers.
My 12-Pack opens every year with the draft and closes at a bar on Sunday in Week 17 as our league championship game plays out, the two owners vying for the title made to endure hours of torment as the rest of the league, in various stages of inebriated belligerence, needles them at every scoreboard lead change.
In 2007, one of our owners, who goes by the nickname "Rock-out," had one of the league's greatest juggernaut squads of all-time, having drafted Tom Brady (50 TD passes) and Randy Moss (23 TD catches) in their record-setting campaigns. But the Week 17 pressure cooker became too much for “Rock-Out” to handle and he made a now infamous offer of combining the first-and-second place compensation and splitting it fifty/fifty with his competition -- a buddy with the last name Wagner, but who goes by “Wigger” because of his predilection for flying off the handle and “wigging” out. The offer was accepted and, of course, "Rock-Out: went on to win the week, losing out on a bigger pay day. He earned a new nickname in the process, "Puss-Out," and the lone asterisk on the "Last Can Standing" trophy.
While we'll never let "Rock-Out" forget his cowardice, his actions only add to the rich history of our league. And it’s the kind of history that is not possible without the personal touch that human interaction affords. Our 12-Pack is a cast of characters. We have the guy that spends the entire draft trying to acquire extra picks by
trading down. We have the guy who spends the entire draft on the phone with his managing partner in California, drawing a hail storm of derision from the crowd for how long they deliberate with each pick -- we believe peer pressure works better than a time clock. We have the guy that loves the Oakland Raiders way too much and always overextends for Silver-and-Black entities. We have an AllState agent and a State Farm agent -- their matchup dubbed Good Hands vs. Good Neighbors.
We also have rituals. For instance, the last place team is required to bring a 12-pack of beer of the championship team’s choosing to the following year's draft -- I'm mulling either Newcastle Brown Ale or Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Decisions, decisions ...
But most importantly, we’ve become an extended family, a bi-product of sitting across the table from this cast of clowns for years, arguing, scheming and, most of all, laughing our asses off.
For me, Labor Day will always be a labor of love.