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How Fantasy Football Revived My Interest in the NFL

As a very long-suffering Detroit Lions fan, my passion for the NFL had steadily eroded over the years to where I could no longer watch my hometown team find a new way to lose another game. The Lions’ constant mediocrity had also caused my overall interest in the NFL to get to the point where I didn’t even want to watch any more professional football. Then, a friend of mine asked me to join a fantasy football league in 2007 and an amazing transformation began to occur.   I’d like to share with you how fantasy football helped restore my interest in the NFL.


Initial doubts about playing

When I first got the invitation to play fantasy football, my immediate reaction was to just say “no thanks.” I had a wide assortment of ready-made reasons to decline the offer including: 1) already had too many commitments; 2) was not interested in the NFL anymore; 3) didn’t know how to play and didn’t want to learn; and 4) this sounded more like a lot of work rather than a lot of fun.  Nevertheless, I said “yes” and figured I would be a “one-year-and-out” player.

Being a fan of the Lions for more than 40 years, I knew that the long stretch of losing seasons was directly attributable to four key problem areas: 1) poor ownership; 2) incompetent management; 3) overmatched coaches; and 4) putrid
drafting. When I decided to play fantasy football, I never expected that it would indirectly help me to address these four problem areas by shifting my focus from the Lions to my own team. So, how exactly did this happen? Let’s look into my personal four-step recovery process.


Step 1: Solving the problem with Poor Ownership

This was my first unanticipated revelation – the Lions’ owner, William Clay Ford Sr., did not own my fantasy football team. I did. So, I was no longer stuck with a billionaire owner who ran a successful business but put out a poor team year after year. No – this was my team and I was in control. And I didn’t need a billion dollars to own it. I could pick the name of my team (Cornbread & Kool-Aid), cut and sign players without worrying about agents and salary caps, make trades, and even talk some trash with the other owners if I chose to do so. Fantasy football freed me from the reign of the Ford’s ownership of the Lions. This was very liberating and empowering.  


Note:

You may be wondering why I called my team “Cornbread & Kool-Aid.” Well, it was mainly done in self-mockery – for all of the years where I consumed the cornbread and drank the Kool-Aid that the Lions served regarding how this was finally the season that the “roar would be restored.”   


Step 2: Solving the problem with Incompetent Management

Back in 2007, Lions’ management (or more accurately, “mismanagement”) was characterized by two words – Matt Millen. Millen presided as the general manager of the Lions for the worst eight-year record in the history of the modern NFL (31-97 record). Okay, so maybe I wasn’t going to be a great fantasy football manager for Cornbread & Kool-Aid but compared to Millen, I felt I would do just fine. Fantasy football did what the Millen Man March could not – it released me from the shackles of incompetent Lions’ management and let me be in control of all of the key management decisions for my own team. Wow – what a great feeling of relief!


Step 3: Solving the problem with Overmatched Coaches

Here are some of the depressing records from the alumni of overmatched Lions’ head coaches: 1) Harry Gilmer at 10-16-2 (that’s actually pretty good by Lions’ standards); 2) Darryl Rogers at 18-40; 3) Rod Marinelli at 10-38, and 4) Marty Mornhinweg at 5-27. Compared to these ex-Lions’ coaches, I didn’t believe I could do any worse in fantasy football. More importantly, as the coach of my own team, I got to make all of the lineup decisions each week.

Unlike the Lions, where a No. 1 draft pick like Mike Williams must play in 2005 due to management politics as well as the amount of money being paid to him, I could start whomever I wanted. So, if a player is not performing well then I can decide to sit him or cut him from my team. If one of my players turns out to be a complete knucklehead or criminal (or both like Travis Henry in 2007) then I can cut and replace him with someone from the waiver wire. I didn’t have to worry about long-term contracts, issues with fans, salary cap problems (in my league), player agents to negotiate with – it’s totally my call. How cool is that? It’s especially rewarding when you go out on the waiver wire and start someone like Miles Austin in 2009 in the week that he explodes for 47 points against Kansas City! It’s definitely good to be the coach.


Step 4: Solving the problem with Putrid Drafting

When I say “putrid drafting,” here are just a few examples with the Lions:

With the seventh overall pick of the 1990 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select Andre Ware (QB).  

With the third overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select Joey Harrington (QB).  

With the second overall pick of the 2003 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select Charles Rodgers (WR).  

Unlike the Lions where I had no say in their draft selections, fantasy football allowed me to be in control of the players I wanted on my team. I conducted the research, completed my analysis and made the final draft selections. I found the draft experience to be totally empowering, a little scary and a lot of fun. So, it didn’t hurt as much when the Lions made poor drafting decisions because I had responsibility and accountability for my own team as evidenced by the following:    

With the fifth overall pick in the 2008 fantasy football draft, Cornbread & Kool-Aid selects Steven Jackson (RB).

With the fifth overall pick in the 2009 fantasy football draft, Cornbread & Kool-Aid selects Matt Forte (RB).

With the 10th overall pick in the 2010 fantasy football draft, Cornbread & Kool-Aid selects Aaron Rodgers (QB).

When I reflect back on my fantasy football draft picks, one point was very clear – these were all my decisions. This included the good selections (Darren McFadden in Round 10 of 2010) and the not-so-good (Rudi Johnson in Round 1 of 2007). Fortunately, if I made a bad choice (and I definitely did), I could always cut my loss and grab someone else off the waiver wire (which I definitely did). More importantly, I wasn’t limited to just rooting for the Lions and their poor draft picks. Instead, fantasy football allowed me to root for any NFL player on any NFL team – just as long as they were on my Cornbread & Kool-Aid team. This meant I could still watch and root for my Lions, but in addition I could follow and root for players across the entire NFL. This helped make NFL games fun and exciting to watch again.


Moral of the Story: No longer stuck rooting for just my mediocre hometown team

Okay, so I’m still a Detroit Lions fan in long-term recovery and I will continue to root for my mediocre hometown team (maybe this will be the year that the roar is restored). However, the big difference is that my Lions’ frustrations have largely been replaced with the excitement and fun of managing and rooting for my own fantasy football team! I never expected this to happen when I started playing in 2007, but fantasy football has made it very enjoyable to watch the NFL again. Let’s hope the NFL owners and players get this Collective Bargaining Agreement solved soon so we can officially start the 2011 fantasy football season.

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