It’s November, and while the temperature is cooling down, the football season is heating up. I know this not because I’m an avid sports fan or even a casual game watcher. Instead, I experience football season through the degrees of removal—digitally and vicariously—otherwise known as fantasy football.
Now, I have enough familiarity with football to be able to talk about it semi-informedly. I understand the game’s gist and even a few of the nuances. This less-than-stellar ability to “talk sports” derives primarily from Sunday (“Game Day”) conversations among my dad’s family. Well, to be honest, the brunt of my football knowledge comes from Madden NFL PS2 games or, worse yet, ye olde “Backyard Football” computer game series.
As I acclimate to the ins and outs of fantasy football, I’ve gleaned from our resident football expert (a Wisconsinite, naturally) the inherent drama of the game itself. He likens players to modern-day gladiators, a comparison I find a little unsettling but not wholly untrue, as he raves about the strategy, devotion, and genius of football. A modified drama extends to fantasy leagues as well: Exhibit A—The Draft. As each league member is assigned a picking order, we line up our dream teams with the hopes that no one scoops up our intended players. We look on with schadenfreude as the friend tied up by a previous commitment has to miss the draft and resorts to the—*shudder*—auto-select option. We groan when someone picks up a star player like Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson. And we can expect those who’ve done their pre-draft homework to rebuke us if we don’t quickly select one of the few reliable running backs this year. Gradually filling up the roster, we piece together our season strategy according to a strong passing game of a QB and wide receiver or a potential running game with RBs.
After the draft, we settle in to our seasons, making appropriate roster changes on a team’s bye week, trading covertly between one another to beat the top-rated league member, and browsing the players who somehow hadn’t yet been selected for a team. We even lament the injury report that takes a key player out of commission for the season, crossing our fingers that the status as a “probable” player for this week doesn’t get downgraded when the player is benched. Interacting with the sport in this way, behind the scenes but no less emotionally invested in a game’s outcome, is a curious kind of involvement. I, for instance, will rarely if ever watch a game on TV; instead, I flip through my phone’s app for the fantasy league to check my team’s progress, scored or projected points, and statistics. It turns the game into numbers and data equipped with a life of their own as I cheer those little stats on.
Given all of the intricacies of this brave new world, it’s somewhat surprising that I’m involved in (i.e., was even invited in the first place) a fantasy football league at all. In fact, my involvement indicates the character of our league: less a collective of die-hard enthusiasts, our league is simply an extension of our Grand Rapids/Calvin friend group. Upon graduation, we found ourselves separated by geography and situation. A few remained in Michigan with their grown-up jobs, some planned engagements and weddings, another started med school, and my family and I went to Buffalo for my grad school. So goes a familiar tale of the proverbial college buddy group.
Not wanting to fall out of touch, however, we devised a way to stay in contact through fantasy football. Our fantasy sport adventure began in the search for continued community when one friend started getting into (a little too into, perhaps) the FX show “The League.” He proposed the crew start one up ourselves, so that’s what we did—not because we value the game as much as we value each other. Currently in its second year, our league has proven a viable and entertaining method to touch base with one another. Our weekly matchups allow us to razz our respective opponents and check in with life in general, from job deadlines to wedding preparations to weekend plans. Of course, this mushy BFF side of fantasy football is generally downplayed in favor of the competitive edge of the league, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. The spirit of friendship is alive and well in this fantastical realm, at least as sappy as is permitted among a group of dudes.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.