Book Excerpt: Why Fantasy Football Matters

Updated: August 15, 2006, 11:07 AM ET
Special to ESPN Fantasy Games

From the book, "Why Fantasy Football Matters (And Our Lives Don't)." Text (c) 2006 by Erik Barmack and Max Handelman. Reprinted by permission of Simon Spotlight Entertainment, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.

In "Why Fantasy Football Matters (And Our Lives Do Not)," two grizzled veterans revel in the addiction that is fantasy football. From pre-draft hijinx to post-draft trash talk, from tumultuous trades to the perils of free agency, it celebrates the eccentric personalities, absurd rituals, and hilarious superstitions of one of the most fanatical fantasy leagues on earth.

Chapter Five

If fantasy football is a bit like having a relationship, then your draft is the first date. It can set the tone for a wonderful journey full of deep spiritual commitment. But if things go poorly, you're out $150 and some idle chitchat.

Perceptions matter. Your first evening with your new team says a lot about your self-confidence. So how did you do? Is your running back stable full? Are your receivers explosive? And who's your kicker?

Thomas Paine once said, "I love men who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection." So, were you Guy Smiley (who may or may not have been the same Muppet as "Don Music", but that's immaterial) confidently explaining multiplication tables, or Beaker after another Dr. Bunsen Honeydew experiment gone awry?

These questions - Muppet-based or otherwise - matter. Who you are and how you drafted says a lot about you. And in turn, your fellow managers' reactions to the draft reveal what men think of themselves.

Underrated Muppets
1 Snufalufagus - solid, up-the-middle rapport with Big Bird.
2 Zoot -- calming influence on Animal.
3 Salacious Crumb -- Jabba the Hut's pet.
4 Rizzo and the rest of the Rat Pack.
5. Camilla the Chicken - Gonzo's lover.

The "Spin Stops Here" Reaction
Fantasy football is a zero sum game. Instill doubt in an opponent, and you feel emboldened. Find weaknesses in other teams, and you'll feel stronger. Any guy worth his salt knows how to methodically scan another manager's lineup for faults. This includes offering vapor analysis of team structure, misleading player projections, and, in almost every instance, outright false information on a given player's backups. All points must be couched in faux-objective terms. The trick is to seem calm and measured while asserting unsubstantiated opinion.

You must spin without seeming like you're spinng.

"I hear Priest Holmes has a hitch in his hip," one manager in our league told another last year just after the draft.

"I don't have time for your nonsense."

"I swear to God - I heard a doctor discussing it last night. He has a lower ligament hip hitch." He whistled. "Hitchitis is the medical term, I believe." "Name the show, and name the doctor."

He abandoned that thread and went to Plan B. "Well, Larry Johnson is looking tight - I was also going to mention that. He'll probably steal a hundred touches. Easy."

"Leave me alone."

Once a conversation like this starts, other managers pile on. They're like ants swarming over a leftover donut. Another manager added, "Something else you might want to think about is the deep ball. Sal Palontonio says that Trent Green will be chucking the rock all year - you heard that bit, right?"

"Get serious. It's Priest. I'm all set."

"All indications are that Eddie Kennison will be flying."

"Yup," replied the original instigator, "heard that, too."

The owner of Priest wasn't paying attention to them, but the damage had been done. This sort of verbal warfare has strategic value. And also, it's just fun to spin. Consider Bill O'Reilly.

While he rants and raves, and hoots and hollers about a so-called "No Spin Zone," his genius is that he does just that: he spins. Each night, The O'Reilly Factor wheels in a guest prepared to debate the host. A nice law professor in an elbow-patched jacket is set to discuss an obscenity law. This is a mistake, as O'Reilly quickly constructs a flimsy strawman argument: "Do you really enjoy seeing pictures of Jesus Christ immersed in urine, professor?" Then O'Reilly unleashes some verbal judo flips, leaving our scrappy academic flummoxed. It's pure magic. It's silliness. But it's magic nonetheless.

O'Reilly-isms

1. "Bill Moyers on PBS, he hides behind the label of objectivity. He's about as objective as Mao Zedong, all right. I mean he's a Far-Left bomb-thrower who actually runs a foundation that funds left-wing organizations. I mean the guy's a joke. Get out of the news business, Bill."

2. "So who turns out for the screening of this movie Fahrenheit 9/11 last night? You ready? Now, here are the celebrities that turn out. Here are the people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland invaded the Third Reich. It's the same thing, by the way. Propaganda is propaganda."

3. "You want to have two guys making out in front of your four-year-old? It's OK with them. A guy smoking a joint, blowing the smoke into your little kid's face? OK with them. And I'm not exaggerating here. This is exactly what the secular movement stands for."

We cannot say for sure whether O'Reilly plays fantasy football, but we're certain that he'd be a fearsome foe. Loofah or not, no one could instill doubt more quickly than O'Reilly. And if he were in our league, he'd undoubtedly pot-shot players with question marks. Which is exactly what managers in our league do every year.

"We don't like Priest this year - stick a fork in him, he's done." And just like that, another manager entered the No Spin Zone.

To purchase "Why Fantasy Football Matters," check out the book's web site.