Column: Dear Mr. Fantasy

LIVE-MIKEI’d like to think that my friends are–for the most part–a normal group of guys. And from an outside glance, they certainly seem to be. My buddies, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, are, to a man, gainfully employed, mature adults with a diverse array of interests from cooking and cigars to art and music.

But, from about mid-July to January, something takes root deep inside the group, seemingly pushing all other pursuits to the periphery, marginalizing jobs, dogs and even wives and girlfriends.
It’s fantasy football season.
I don’t for one second believe that my fantasy football league–or its denizens–is in any way unique. If anything, this win-at-all-costs pastime‑as dramatized by the FX program “The League”‑is a phenomenon, or disease, that affects, or afflicts, millions of Americans each year.
Our fantasy football season generally starts up in mid-July as our 12 franchise “owners” convene at a friendly Owl-themed bar and grill to officially present the previous year’s winner with our coveted trophy‑a cheap WWE title-belt replica‑and the last-place finisher with a child-sized Mark Sanchez jersey, which is to be worn at all league functions. After the lottery to determine each owner’s position in the draft, the all-consuming scouting process ramps up.

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Members of your intrepid sports editor’s fantasy football league carry out their fantasy draft in 2011. With laptops, draft sheets and adult beverages at the ready, this fun pastime is serious business for everyone involved. Contributed photo

Now, in all fairness, I don’t get crazy in the pre-season scouting reports. I don’t buy fantasy football aps or scour the Baltimore Ravens’ message boards to see what ArtModellStinks4902 has to say about how some third-string fullback on the Purple and Black’s roster might project as a starter  if half of the team is sidelined with food poisoning the day before the season opener. But I’m clearly the outlier here.

Of the 12 managers in our league, at least nine keep a watchful eye on each NFL team’s OTAs, voluntary workouts and preseason invites list. I’ve seen my friends argue–and nearly come to blows–about the potential of Bengals’ backup Giovani Bernard after back-to-back viewings of “Hard Knocks.”

Come draft day, someone will undoubtedly pick Dustin Keller in the fifth round, unaware that the Dolphins tight end is out for the season, and the ridicule will start.

“I think Kordell Stewart’s available in the next round,” one of the more informed fantasy owners will howl derisively.

Questions and accusations about the maligned drafter’s mental faculties will boil over, turning into running jokes that have–at times–gone on for years. In fact, my buddy Twan’s decision to draft Kurt Warner in 2010, the year after the two-time MVP retired, was mentioned at his wedding during the best man’s speech (The wedding, opined the toast-maker, was a rare display of competent decision making by the groom).

Ultimately, it’s not the football that holds our interest during the fantasy season. Sure I’d like to win the league, but it’s more fun watching my friends fail, giving me fodder to blast them on our online message boards. For guys who grew up together, busting each other’s chops since grade school, we don’t have many opportunities to revel in each other’s failures.

I wish my friends all the success in the world when it comes to their jobs, their relationships, and their overall happiness. But so help me God, if one of them takes Tebow in the draft this year, I’m not going to let him forget it, possibly ever.

After all, isn’t that what friends are for?

Follow Mike on Twitter,
@LiveMike_Sports

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.