Lynn Cox once drafted a football player who was retired. Clint Wight needed bail money to get his player out of jail. Kelly Forster’s draft pick never took the field …he was suspended for three games.
These are the nightmare scenarios that are fodder for water cooler conversations surrounding the phenomenon that is known as Fantasy Football. Fantasy Football has swept the country, brought interest in pro football to the “everyman” level and sparked enthusiasm for the sport that reaches beyond franchise loyalties.
For the truly untutored, the nuts and bolts of Fantasy Football are this: A group of individuals, usually at least eight, gets together and drafts players to make up their teams from the lineup of players in the NFL. These team “owners” then submit their team entries for the season to a website, such as Yahoo, ESPN, NFL or Fox. Before each game, team owners submit starting lineups from the players they drafted at the beginning of the year. After each game, those websites instantly tabulate scores for each team owner in each league, based on the individual team member’s performance.
And the competition begins.
Shaun Brophy plays on the Aubrey’s Maryville Fantasy Football league. He said that Fantasy Football has grown exponentially because of the Internet.
“Any website, from CBS to Fox Sports to ESPN, is free. You get thousands of guys on websites all day, and they’re updated minute by minute as (the real NFL players) score,” said Brophy. “The popularity of it has just blown up because the Internet has made it accessible and because you can do it in real time. It’s like you’re an NFL general manager. When you look at the number of people who play Fantasy Football, it’s unbelievable.”
Aubrey’s Maryville manager Jody Slimp said he has heard the axiom that the best thing that happened to pro football was gambling.
“Well,” said Slimp, “the second best thing was Fantasy Football. The interest it has created in teams across the board in the NFL is unbelievable.”
While some leagues have owners put a nominal fee of $20 or so into the pot, with the winner taking the money at the end of the season, Fantasy Football is more about bragging rights and trash talking. It also takes skill, playing the numbers, scouting the players and teams -- and a lot of luck.
The Maryville Football League
The Maryville Football League has been together in some form for almost 10 years. The original members included Todd Davis, Stephen Daves, John Elder and Kevin Painter. They started in early 2000, and these “old timer” owners have seen the game change dramatically.
“The group obviously has gotten larger, but I think the draft takes a shorter amount of time, and it’s more organized,” said Davis. “It’s very much a business now with the websites and magazines and expert’s picks. Before we did it with legal pads and made trades on the phone and submitted them via telephone. If I was going to put my lineup in, four or five bench players and a starting line, I would put it on an answering machine. It had to be in by midnight. It’s changed quite a bit.”
Lynn Cox of Maryville said he enjoys how everyone gives each other a hard time. “It gets interesting. The smack talk is unrelenting. It gets heated because you have email posts after games,” he said.
Just then, Davis reminded Cox of his “bad” pick years ago. “Lynn picked Jerome Bettis, “The Bus,” in the first round. Problem was, he was retired,” Davis said. Cox had the last laugh. “Laugh about it all you want,” he said, “but he came back and was scoring touchdowns by the end of the season.”
“Clint Wight drafted Chris Henry,” Cox shot back. “He was in prison.”
Wight said the most challenging part of Fantasy Football is the pace in picking during the draft. “I can’t keep up, but it’s worth it to get together with these jokers here,” he said.
Will Carver said the challenging part of Fantasy Football for him is that he plays in four different leagues!
“It’s trying to balance the four different Fantasy Football leagues I have and prioritizing them and then trying to convince my wife I’m working,” said Carver.
Daves said that the challenging part of their Fantasy Football group is dealing with the commissioner Todd Davis. Commissioner Davis retorted, “Only because you don’t like to follow the rules.”
Elder said he could see how Fantasy Football has increased interest in the NFL games on Sunday, making them more interesting. “You end up watching teams you don’t care about because you want to beat someone in this room, usually Todd.”
Painter said their group is extremely competitive, probably fueled by the fact that they have been friends for so long. The most enjoyable part for him, he said, is the camaraderie and being with friends. “I’ve known most of these people for many, many years,” he said.
Bill Eanes said draft night is difficult because it is hard to get information. “The most challenging part is hearing. There’s a lot of chatter.”
Carver’s four leagues notwithstanding, just how much time do these owners put into managing their teams?
Davis said that throughout the week, the Internet allows members of the league to get updates on players. “When you have a lineup submitted, it gives you a designation if a player is injured, probable or doubtful. The Internet is the key to getting information throughout the week,” he said.
Davis said the NFL sometimes has games on Thursday nights. “That really pushes your week to see if you have any players playing Thursday, but you’re looking at core games on Sundays and maybe Monday,” he said. “I’ll make lineup changes on Saturday night but you look at it all week.”
Cox has a more emotional approach. “It’s feelings,” he said. “I go on a gut. I see how they’re playing, who’s hot, and if I’ve got them on my team, I play them. I don’t do trading.”
Eanes said strategy isn’t really much of a factor. “It’s all luck. Just try to pick a guy who doesn’t have a bye that week,” he deadpanned.
Aubrey’s Maryville Fantasy Football League
Matt Myers at Aubrey’s Maryville is the commissioner of the restaurant’s Fantasy Football league, which is made up of several servers, managers and a few friends. They are in their second year as a league.
Myers’ brother-in-law Shaun Brophy said that even though the regular season goes 17 weeks, they stop at 12 weeks and have the playoffs in weeks 13 and 14. The really good players are rested by their “real” coaches in the final weeks of the playoffs, so the Aubrey’s group ends their season early.
Aubrey’s assistant manager Mark Liggett said they use the ESPN website to create their league. “Ours is 6 points per touchdown, but leagues can establish any points system they want,” he said.
The Aubrey’s employees said having friendly competition among employees makes work days more fun. “There’s lots of trash talking because everybody works here,” Liggett said.
“It’s fun,” Maryville Aubrey’s manager Jody Slimp said. “It’s something we all enjoy doing, and we do talk about it. It gives us something in common since not all of us hang out on regular basis. At work it gives you something to make a friendly jab back and forth.”
Slimp said playing Fantasy Football can tend to dominate your attention during the season.
“You can’t wait to get home to check your fantasy team. One Sunday last year my wife and I were shopping for a refrigerator, and it was taking all day,” he said. “I was wondering what my fantasy team was doing when we hit Home Depot. The guy who was helping us had his Fantasy team updates going on his computer, and he picked up all my scores for me.”
Slimp said the Aubrey’s league keeps scoring simple. “A lot of leagues are more complicated,” he said. “It can get complicated, but we keep it simple. Each offensive player gets a certain number of points for touchdowns, first downs, completed passes, yards rushed. The defense as a whole also earns points.
Slimp said he thinks long and hard about who he starts on his team each week. “If I’ve got three running backs, and I can only play two of them, I’ve got to see who they’re playing. If they’re playing a good defensive team, I’ll make one choice. There is a lot to it if you really want to get to the nitty-gritty. It can come down to timing and strategy.”
At Aubrey’s, owners chip in $25 a person at the beginning of the season. “It’s pretty inexpensive. You put in $25 a person, and the winner gets $150. The person in last place buys the name plate for the trophy and we pay the runner up and the person with the highest total,” Slimp said.
Shaun Brophy said he is in two leagues where participants don’t pay. “We just do it to make fun of each other,” he said.
Every participant has their own nightmare draft story and Slimp shared his.
Slimp said before this particular draft he did his homework, researched what all the experts had to say and made a “sleeper” pick of Garrett Harley, a kicker with the New Orleans Saints that he expected to do great things in the season.
“He was a sleeper, and I was excited. I boldly announced, ‘For my last pick, I’m taking Garrett Harley.’ That’s when someone said, ‘He’s been suspended for six games for substance abuse.’ I was so embarrassed I just said, ‘That’s my kind of player.’ I dropped him as soon as I got home.”
Matt Myers said there are 10 people in the Aubrey’s league. With 18 rounds at one minute per selection, it makes draft day last about three hours.
Some go high tech to do research during the draft, others use their gut. “Some guys bring laptops or phones,” said Slimp. “I think it’s faster the old fashioned way.”
Shaun Brophy said that during the draft, team owners are basing a lot of their decisions on each player’s year-before performance. “You watch the players throughout the year. You constantly have to keep up with it if you want to do well. You want to be successful,” he said.
The Parks Rec Fantasy Football League
Over at the Maryville Alcoa Blount County Parks & Rec Fantasy Football league, the rookies were the winners last year and say they will be a force again this year. The fact that they are the league’s only females made the victory sweet, said Kelly Forster.
In 2008, Kelly Forster and Jennifer Russell, two Fantasy Football rookies, beat their male counterparts, taking first and second places.
Forster said it was a big challenge for her. “I really did not pay much attention to professional football before last year when I started Fantasy Football, so I had to start watching football to learn. It took a lot of work so I’m hoping this year it will be easier because I know more what I’m doing,” she said. “It is a challenge because I’m not one to watch ESPN all night. It is fun because we have a fun group that likes to have fun and cut up and give each a hard time so it’s very entertaining.”
Huff, who is commissioner of the Parks and Rec Fantasy Football league, said Forster and Russell took right to the competition. “It’s fun. The two girls came in first and second and neither were well-versed in pro football. So many tools were available in the draft,” he said. “They told me they were watching football games they never thought they would watch. It’s fun and a way we can cut up and harass each other. That’s what makes it fun.”
Forster said the league is very competitive. “Oh yeah, but I’m a competitive person so I get in on that. I think it was quoted here at the office that I would be competitive if I were playing Tiddlywinks. I can hang with them,” she said.
Huff agreed that the competition does get heated. “Everybody wants to win. It gets very competitive. We found out the two girls were more competitive than anybody,” he said. “You can tell there’s a lot of research going into setting up their lineups each week. We had a get together at the end of the year and gave out a trophy. It’s more pride than anything.”
Huff said there is some strategy is involved. “You pick a starting lineup every week, and sometime the starting lineup depends on who your players are going against. One player may be going against a Baltimore defense and another may be going against a Kansas City defense. If you have running backs who are fairly even, you have to weigh a lot of factors in who to play, and you have to keep up with injuries,” he said.
Some decisions on whether an individual plays aren’t made until Sunday morning. “You have to have your teams plugged in by 12 noon. If you’re going to church and miss the announcement on a player’s status, you might start a guy who was injured and not playing,” he said.
Huff said this is just Parks and Rec’s second year of playing Fantasy Football. “The camaraderie of the group makes it even more fun,” he said.
Huff said scoring is pretty standard compared to other leagues. All touchdowns get six points, quarterbacks get one point for every 25 yards passing; running backs get one point for every 10 rushing yards and 6 points for each touchdown, he said.
“There are tons of points. If you fumble or cause and interception, it’s minus one. Defense get points for every sack and a couple for recovering a fumble,” he said.
Huff said in Parks and Rec’s Fantasy Football league, team owners play two running backs, three wide receivers, a quarterback, a tight end, a kicker and a whole defense. “It’s all as a group - you don’t draft specific players on defense. There are some leagues that are more individualized on defense than in our league,” he said.
Steve Stout has been playing Fantasy Football with Marty Millsaps, Todd Roberts and Todd Cook for 18 years. Charlie Vesser came aboard about 15 years ago, and Keith Renfro has been with the league two years. They’ve never had a name, so just came up with the FFL.
The FFL does a rotisserie league, where members get points for scoring only, not for yardage or anything else. “It’s just straight field goals, touchdowns and safeties, that’s the only way they score,” said Stout “We’ve done it that way the entire time. It’s a lot of fun. You’re playing each other, and you have a 15-game schedule.”
Stout said the competition between members in the league gets heated and each one plays each other three times. A tie breaker is based on head-to-head competition. Over the 18 years, all the team owners have spent time at the top of the league.
“It has been real even,” said Stout. “If you look at the records between me, Marty and Todd, there’s probably a five game difference between all of us after 18 years.”
Stout said team owners have to pay attention and do some research before submitting weekly picks from their team roster for a starting lineup.
“You try to put a team on the field that’s going to score points that week. The schedule has lot to do with it. Your strategy is when put your lineup in, you can’t play people who are hurt or not playing so you have to put time into studying injury reports and know matchups,” he said.
Stout said Renfro had Drew Breeze as quarterback on his team, and he played against the Detroit Lions and performed well. “Breeze was worth 51 points, so the schedule has a lot to do with it, but you have to have people in spots where they have a good chance to score,” he said.
Stout said he has Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson on his Fantasy Football team but he didn’t put him into the starting lineup when the Titans took on the Pittsburg Steelers for the opening game because of the Steelers tough defense. “I didn’t play him that week, and they didn’t use him,” Stout said.
Stout said that in Fantasy Football, it is always possible to pick up undrafted free agent players who weren’t drafted by an NFL team. Sometimes those individuals get signed to an NFL team and start playing well. “You have to be the first to make the call to pick up a player, so you have to keep up with stats of everybody. It’s not anything that’s too difficult, but you’ve got to pay attention.”
The beginnings of Fantasy Football stretch back almost 50 years to when one of the owners of the Oakland Raiders helped create the first league…The Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticator’s League.
According to Wikipedia Internet encyclopedia, the game originated in 1962 from an idea of Bill Winkenbach, then a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders, with assistance from Bill Tunnell, the Raiders’ public relations man, Scotty Stirling, the beat writer from the Oakland Tribune, and George Ross, the Tribune’s sports editor, as well as Philip Carmona, Winkenbach’s friend.
“The idea emerged during a three-week road trip the Raiders took to the East Coast. Winkenbach and the others fleshed out the idea during the trip, and upon their return, formed the first Fantasy Football league, the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League).
“With the rise of personal computers and the Internet in the late 1990s, the participation in and popularity of Fantasy Football increased to the level of prominence it holds today. Most leagues are now hosted online through providers such as CBS, ESPN, NFL.com, and Yahoo!, typically at no charge, making the game extremely accessible.”