For years, as family, friends and colleagues discussed waiver wire transactions, boasted about sleeper picks or complained about league commissioners, I dismissed their chatter with stubborn pride. I would not tarnish my pure football fandom with silly games of mock drafts and custom scoring leagues. Terms like PPR and ADP sounded like invasive medical procedures or surreptitious government organizations. I would rather click on solicitations for money from Nigerian princes than invitations to join fantasy leagues from best friends.
I couldn't fathom the rationale for participating in an event that made you sacrifice team loyalty for fantasy points. As a Jets fan, the thought of starting Tom Brady because he's on my fantasy roster was like praying for the well-being of King Joffrey as a member of the House of Stark. You don't choose between NFL loyalty and fantasy loyalty. The latter shouldn't exist.
I've worked in sports media my entire professional life and have worked with fantasyphiles who've spent their every waking hour obsessively adjusting their rosters and tinkering with lineups. I couldn't understand devoting that type of dedication to something that to me was simply what the moniker says. Fantasy. My wife would disown me. I wouldn't become one of these guys.
I must preface I'm not a contrarian, though I do own a Mark Sanchez jersey and will wear it out in public with pride. I understand fantasy is big business, generates billions of dollars in revenue, has tens of millions of fans of each gender that range from celebrities to rock stars to politicians and even spun a hit tv show. I've even dabbled with fantasy baseball, a sojourn that lasted as long as Brian Hoyer's tenure as Cardinals starter. Fantasy sports took effort, time and devotion that I didn't have in me. Or maybe I hadn't given it a real chance.
Well, sometimes circumstances have a tendency to change that. When I became an editor at NFL.com last year, no one knew about my lack of fantasy experience. I hid my secret like Steve Carrell's character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Keeping this cloaked was a difficult endeavor as the Fantasy team works in the same area as I do. So, whenever discussions came to the subject, which they obviously did every few minutes, I would have to nod my head in agreement and smile idiotically or else feign knowledge of bargains and busts. But it was easy to spot a dilettante. The truth was out. I was Zach Snyder as a director. A fraud. An informal poll around the newsroom confirmed I was the only person who had never played fantasy football. That would soon change.
Fellow co-workers were surprised, but instead of ribbing me, they challenged me to play this year. I was hesitant. When you hit your 30s you cherish the monotony of your daily routines. Could I fit fantasy football into my work/life balance? Yes, of course I could. The other question was if I could maintain my Jets allegiance. Well, it's the Jets. But the bigger question was approval from my wife. While we were on the couch at home a fantasy football commercial aired on television. I took the occasion to ask her about fantasy football. "Isn't it like the World of Warcraft for football nerds?" she asked. I responded that it was similar. Then I paused and asked if I could play this year. She didn't hesitate in her answer. "Well, you love football. And you are a nerd. I don't see why not." Excellent. I would become a fantasy football first-timer. I then asked her if she'd play too. No way. Hey, at least I tried.
Over the past few weeks, I've hit the books, researched my player rankings, imbibed the analysis of my fellow fantasy experts, participated in a few mock drafts and annoyed the entire NFL.com fantasy team. I've joined my first league. Definitely nervous. The draft is a few weeks away. Pretty sure I'll make dumb decisions. I need to remember to take a running back in the first round. I also need to remember not to select any New York Jets. Not because of loyalty, but because I want to win my league. And. Here. We. Go.
Amar Shah is the Digital Features Editor at NFL.com. He'll be writing about his first time fantasy adventures throughout the season. You can reach him at @amarshahism. He still needs a name for his fantasy team.