When I looked at my phone and saw 11-8, my heart dropped. I clicked “My Team” and scrolled through my players, looked at Team Smith’s roster, and consulted ESPN. Then, being home for Thanksgiving break, I ran outside, where my dad was mowing the lawn. I made him stop and showed him my phone, pointing to where I was projected to lose 123-126.
“I wouldn’t worry about it until after the first quarter,” he said.
I joined the crazy world of fantasy football because Ted Kluck, the faculty advisor for our school newspaper, walked up to the table where my friend Lydia and I were eating in Cobo, pointed at me, and said, “Caleb [the sports editor] and I are making a fantasy football league. You need to join. There’s an email in your inbox.”
I grew up in Tampa. We have three major sports: hockey, baseball, and football. But we’re not known for our football. Or our baseball. (In a good way.) For me, though, the difference between football and baseball is that I enjoy baseball.
I have never watched a televised football game. I have watched a lot of high school football games…using the word “watched” loosely. I ran the concession stand, talked to my friends, and called quarters “innings”.
Even as I agreed to join fantasy football, I knew that my competitive nature would take over. I started running crosscountry in middle school. My first meet, I was in fourth place, mere feet from the finish line, when I stopped. I couldn’t see straight. I could barely walk. My flushed red face contrasted with my dead white lips. Following my dad’s voice, I kept lurching to the finish where I swooned and threw up. I still finished seventh in a race with more than a hundred runners, but it the fact that I could have been fourth or possibly even third bugged me well into high school.
My first two weeks playing fantasy were not great. I lost both. My first week, I played the team that led the league for nine week on his best game of the season. My second game I only lost by seven points. Then I buckled down.
I started reading about football. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS…anything that could give me an insight into this world of tackles and touchdowns. I started consulting with my dad. I checked my line-up and stats over and over and over.
And the Alley Cats started winning. After those first two games, I went on an eight-game winning streak. By week 11, I led the league in points. I led the western league. Only Ted, whose team was 9-1, was ahead of me.
Week 11, my team played Team Smith. It was three weeks to the play-offs and I if I won, I would only need one more win to clinch a spot in the play-offs. Plus, I like to win. Sunday, I checked my phone constantly. My defense had played Thursday and almost gave me 15 points, but they allowed 17 points in the 4th quarter, leaving me with eight.
I was projected to lose, then win by 12 points, then we were projected to tie, then she was projected to win, then me. Then tie.
If art and creativity do come from pain, the next few weeks may result in the best writing of my life.
I took my laptop down to the living room. To watch a football game. On TV. For the first time. Ever.
The Bucs were playing the Kansas City Chiefs. (Until maybe an hour before, I didn’t know that Kansas City had a team other than the Royals). According to an article by Tom Jones, the Bucs reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, the Chiefs are arguably the best team in the AFC. (I also didn’t know what the AFC was.) They were at an NFL-best 17-2, an 11-game winning steak, and 16-4 at home since the 2014 season. Sports Illustrated ranked them No. 3 in their power rankings. The Bucs were No. 21.
Jones wrote, “If you’re an NFL team, there are three types of games: Games that you are supposed to win. Games that you are supposed to lose. And games that could go either way. Today is a game the Bucs are supposed to lose…But sooner or later, if you’re going to take the next step as a franchise, you have to win games you’re not supposed to. You need to pull off an upset that makes everyone go, ‘Whoa!’”
When I joined fantasy football, I knew that I would probably lose. How could a girl who never had any interest in football possibly compete with a bunch of guys who have been watching the sport their whole lives?
But if ever the baseball gods were smiling on their downtrodden worshippers, they were this year. The year that the teams with the two worst records in the MLB faced each other in the World Series. The year that people yell-sang “Go, Cubs, Go” all the way down Lake Shore Drive and threw blue streamers in the air. Maybe – just maybe – this was the year that a baseball-loving football novice from Tampa could win a fantasy football league.
11:30 p.m. Team Smith was finished with 134 points. I bit my nails, watching my last three men, none of them earning me points. Washington kept trying to run for extra points (I forget what that’s called) instead of using my kicker. Then, when my fantasy score was 133-134, they used my kicker. And instead of tying the game for me, his kick sent the football into the side of the goalpost.
I screamed again, less than two minutes later, when Adams caught a pass and earned me five points.
The Bucs won that week, too. Sometimes you do win games you shouldn’t.
(And, hopefully, the baseball gods will at least wink at Tampa next season.)