"Does it just mean we pick the hottest guy? Is that how you play?"
That's what Jenny asked me five years ago when I signed up for an all-female fantasy football league with 11 of my girlfriends. "Not exactly," I answered.
Jenny is for sure smarter than me, but I had a competitive advantage. I shifted gears, trying to convince her the magazine photos of wide receiver Terrell Owens' abs were enhanced, making him unworthy of her early draft picks. "Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy." I thought. I giggled, knowing I was going to steamroll these chicks and when it was all said and done, I would buy myself a new purse as a reward for crushing them all.
No one knew much about football except for me and the Commissioner of the Hail Marys, Stefanie. She thought that was tragic. An Indiana native, Stefanie placed a premium on anything associated with the Colts and felt sorry for women who hadn't experienced the joys and heartaches of passionately following a football team. A mother of three boys, it became Stefanie's mission to show us girls what we were missing. She deserves a lot of credit for giving us an outlet where you can be bitchy and competitive without hurting anyone's feelings.
"Might I remind you it's a football party and you should dress accordingly," Stefanie sarcastically wrote in an email inviting us to her house for our kick-off party in 2008. "Face paint and jerseys are welcome."
She knew this wasn't a group of beer-drinking girls who would opt for eye black over false eye lashes on their own. This is my stylish, successful group of friends who appreciate a good bottle wine and each summer send me into sheer panic at the thought of having to stand next to one of them in a bikini at the beach. To be honest, I wasn't sure how it was going to work. If you had turned on a football game back then, most of the girls couldn't differentiate between where the quarterback and running back lined up. Any talk about tight ends and it would lead to some sort of off-color conversation.
I'm pretty sure most of my friends signed up because it was a way to get a break from the kids or their job. It was less work than book club and it gave us a sense of equality leaving our husbands home with the kids, so we could go to our fantasy draft party.
Since only a few of us had actually ever watched a football game and I was the only person that followed it for a living, I assumed -- as it would turn out, incorrectly -- that I had an unfair advantage. So I offered to help, on the condition that no one would tell Stefanie, who was determined to win the inaugural season and buy a purse of her own.
"Jenny, put your defense into your starting lineup or else you won't get credit for it. Dump Ben Obomanu. He is on injured reserve, which means he is out for the season," I wrote in an email to the same girl who had admired T.O.'s physique.
As it turns out, you don't need to know much about football to play in a fantasy league. Some of the girls with the lowest football I.Q beat me week-in and week-out, and they made sure I wouldn't forget it by posting smart aleck comments on our good-natured smack board every Sunday.
One league member Colleen recalls that upon seeing me interview someone on television, she would start yelling, "I'm kicking your ass!" at the screen.
After missing the playoffs my first two years, I learned to shut my mouth. So when Kierstin, who works as a pharmaceutical sales rep, drafted LaDainian Tomlinson first in 2011, everyone was forced to put on their best poker face. I tried my best, too. She looked so proud of herself, it was downright precious. We heard about it the next day in a classic email we all still laugh about.
"A big sarcastic thank you to all you gals who allowed me to draft LaDainian Tomlinson. He is the NFL equivalent of a 70-year-old with bilateral hip joint replacements. There is no way he makes it through the season. No one was nice enough to point out to me that I was going off the fantasy football point list from the 2009 season! Alex Flantastic, I am talking to you...."
I don't expect she will make another mistake like that this season. We certainly have evolved in five years. Now everyone shows up on draft night with the latest fantasy football magazine in hand. Some even pre-rank their players a few days before.
But then again, when the wine gets flowing and the smack talking gets started, I'm sure I can convince a few of the girls why Eric Decker should be the first player they take off the board. Because, after drafting Adrian Peterson last season, I now need a matching wallet to go along with that purse.