Why I Love Fantasy Football

10 Reasons to Love Fantasy Football image

There are so many reasons to love Fantasy Football. I thought I’d create my own list. Before that, would you believe that Fantasy Football started in the 1960s?

In 1962, Wilfred “Bill the Gill” Winkenbach, an Oakland-based businessman and part owner of the Raiders developed an organization and rulebook with friends that established the roots of the game we play today. I bet you old Bill the Gill would be pretty shocked to see the ESPN Fantasy Football app in use on an iPhone nowadays. Times have changed; and Fantasy Football has become a big business.

To explain Fantasy Football to my young son, I might say it’s like the Pokémon card game he plays with his friends. In FF, we choose from real-life football players, sort them into a lineup, then face off against another friend’s team. We watch real-life football games to see how our players gained (or lost) points. Then, whoever’s team tallied the most points wins.

10 Reasons To Love Fantasy Football

According to the FSTA (Fantasy Sports Trade Association), there were 59.3 million people who played fantasy sports in the US and Canada in 2017. The majority of those people listed football as their favorite fantasy sport. Count me among this number. What follows is 10 Reasons to Love Fantasy Football.

1. The Thrill of Competition

Humans crave competition. For someone who grew up playing sports, and remains involved in sports through coaching, I crave it. Fantasy Football affords that competitive outlet, and one that (probably) won’t land me in the concussion protocol.

My passion for sports in general, and my joy of football in particular, led me to Fantasy Football more than ten years ago. Being part of yearly leagues feeds that competitive hunger because I’m trying to get the better of my opponents—I’m trying to win every week.

2.) Having Some Skin in the Game

Sure, you could play for free, but what’s the fun in that? Many fantasy leagues require some level of buy-in. That money is then pooled and doled out to the winner in some fashion at season’s end. Some leagues have weekly monetary awards, and some give a portion of the proceeds to the runner-up. Adding stakes to the game provides an additional layer of interest. You’re less likely to disregard your team once an injury happens if you have some money on the line.

That said, Fantasy Football isn’t gambling. It’s a game of skill. There is a myriad of factors an owner or manager must consider when drafting a team or setting a lineup. While Fantasy doesn’t have a direct influence on the games being played in reality, the choices an owner makes plays a meaningful role in whether or not their fantasy team is successful. Even the Federal Government doesn’t see fantasy sports as gambling, considering the provisions put in place by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

3.) Anyone Can Win

Yes, Fantasy Football is a game of skill, but no matter how many factors you consider, no matter how well-researched you may be on a player’s tendencies, no matter what the purported experts may say…your wife might still win the league. There is an unpredictable nature to sports that charges the fantasy-equivalent with tension. Fluke injuries, odd coaching decisions, and ill-timed lineup shuffling has been the end to many a favored fantasy team.

I regularly play in two leagues, one at work with friends and coworkers, and one with family. Two seasons ago, the family league was short by one owner. So my wife, who would rather watch paint dry than the Miami Dolphins (not really sure I blame her), joined for us. She knew nothing going in, and next to nothing from week to week. She used the projected points for the week and the players’ names to decide who would play. And she won. She won the entire league!

(This is not unlike the time when she won our NCAA March Madness pool after basing her picks on mascots and team colors.)

4.) The Social Experience

Fantasy Football brings people together. In the two years since my wife joined our family league, she’ll spend more time on the couch with me on Sundays than she may have in football seasons past. Sure, she’s scrolling through her phone most of the time, but she’s there. And she’s reacting to a touchdown every now and then.

Playing in fantasy leagues is a shared experience. There’s a glut of digital and print content to consume, podcasts to listen to, and TV programs to watch. There’s even stuff like FX’s “The League,” which is a sitcom about a group of friends trying to balance their obsession with fantasy football with their real lives.

These leagues can also open doors in otherwise awkward social situations, like the lunchroom at a new job, or at the birthday party for a daughter’s 10-year-old classmate. If you manage to find a fellow fantasy owner in one of these (and many other) settings, you’ll certainly be able to talk about how Odell Beckham Jr’s injury submarined your entire fantasy season.

5.) Draft Night

In what is ultimately the inverse of real football, Fantasy Football’s “super bowl” might very well be Draft Night. If you’re lucky enough to have a Draft Night party like one of the leagues I’m in, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is where the competition and chicanery really ramp up.

Some leagues go all out, catering the party and renting a conference room or something. Some leagues employ draft boards. And almost everyone walks in clutching their FF cheat-sheets, sorted by position, as well as potential sleepers and busts. The drama of Draft Night might start with the randomization of the draft order, or maybe the selection of the Keepers for that season. Intrigue abounds right from the get, and once the clock starts, that’s usually when the smack-talk begins. We compliment the savvy sleeper selections and bemoan when the player we’ve targeted gets chosen one pick prior to ours. You try to anticipate the runs on tight ends and defenses, and wonder who the first person to pick a kicker will be.

Draft Night is, for some leagues, the only time when all (or most) the players are in the same place at the same time, and it’s often the highlight of the season.

6.) Fun of Naming Your Team

One of the most unique ways to add a flare of creativity is in the naming of your Fantasy Football team. While some owners and managers choose to use some meaningless moniker, other wait until after Draft Night to generate a play-on-words name based on one or more of their players. (My team last season may or may not have been called The Zeke Squad.) Check out Sports Feel Good Stories list of fantasy football team names for 2018-2019.

Some of the more creative minds out there merge their football interests with popular culture, like “A Dingo ate my Brady,” which marries a Seinfeld reference to the New England Patriots. A Sir Mixalot and Dallas Cowboy fan might pick something like “Baby Got Dak,” while a Game of Thrones-head might go with something like “Game of Jones” for their team’s name.

7.) Being GM and Coach

Perhaps the most stressful time for real-life general managers is in the lead up to their league’s draft. The same is true in fantasy sports. One of the wonders of these games, and fantasy football in particular, is being an owner or manager simulates the role of a franchise’s GM. We research, make trade offers, pick-up free agents, weigh the benefits of placing a waiver claim, all from the relative safety behind a computer screen.

This is ultimately what makes Fantasy Football a game a skill more than a game of chance, unlike say, roulette. In gambling, the player will put $50 on Black, or maybe arrange a series of chips to cover the specific numbers on the layout to represent an anniversary or child’s birthday. The dealer spins the wheel, then spins the ball, and the outcome is what it is.

In FF, players make purposeful choices according to a defined strategy. Sure, we become spectators as the game plays out in much the same way as the gambler watches the roulette wheel, but really we’re more like the coach on the sideline. There’s a skill to arraying assets throughout a fantasy lineup that goes beyond mere chance.

8.) Makes Watching Real Games More Interesting

In compiling all the research, looking closely at the splits, football fans end up learning quite a bit about the game along the way. Diehard fantasy players learn the tendencies of different players and coaches, and make choices informed by those tendencies. Although I never played football at any meaningful level growing up, I can still point out the value of a good slot receiver, or a seam-busting tight end. I’ll cringe if my running back is facing the Los Angeles Rams this year, with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh waiting on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Fantasy Football makes a random Thursday Night Football game between Los Angeles and Arizona potentially meaningful for a Miami Dolphins fan. Fantasy Football exposes fans to games that they might not otherwise have had any interest in watching. You might have David Johnson as your running back, so now you want to watch the Cardinals despite your Miami fandom.

9.) Unique Way of Demonstrating Fandom

Fandom has a funny way of creeping into a Fantasy Football season. Of course, every league has it’s “homer,” the owner or manager who picks an overwhelming number of players from their favorite team. I may or may not have targeted my fair share of Miami Dolphins in the past. It goes beyond the professional ranks too, particularly for those owners with a beloved college football program. (Yes, I’ll draft a former Miami Hurricane a round or two too soon on a fairly regular basis.)

Beyond wanting to have players from our favorite teams on our roster, some fantasy players avoid players for those teams they hate. It’s hard to root for and against a player at the same time. It’s a moral conundrum. One thing you’ll never find on a team of mine? You may have already guessed. A New York Jet.

10.) Variety of Games, Leagues & Styles

Fantasy Football is a catch-all term, but under that umbrella is a wondrous variety of games, leagues and styles. You could play in a traditional “standard” league, a PPR (Points-Per-Reception), an IDP (Individual Defensive Player), or maybe even a two-quarterback league. You can play season-long, keeper, dynasty, or playoff-only. Daily Fantasy Sports has emerged as another viable entertainment option. Some leagues put money on the line, while others play it out just for fun and bragging rights. But the variety of games, leagues and styles affords the fantasy player to find the right fit for what they’re looking for.

In the end, Fantasy Football remains a game, a source of entertainment (and sometimes frustration). Fantasy sports have come a long way since Okrent’s Rotisserie league in 1980. Of the 59.3 million fantasy sports players in 2017, most noted Football as their preferred game. All in all, Fantasy Football is something I love because it can feed that competitive hunger, strengthen interpersonal relationships, open up the game for anyone who cares to play.

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There you have it — 10 reasons why I keep coming back to play the game.

— David Fernandez

David Fernandez is a freelance writer based in Miami, FL. A teacher with 15 years experience, David holds a Master’s Degree in English and Creative Writing, and has coached high school basketball for 10 years. When he’s not playing, watching or writing about sports, David enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.

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