Dear Talented Mr. Roto,
My first “fantasy sports” experience was in seventh grade, when our obviously-bored PE teacher created a makeshift fantasy football league as something for us to do on days when he didn’t feel like, you know, teaching. I don’t remember most of the league rules, but I remember that we each had to pick a team for the season and got points for wins. My classmates laughed when I went with my heart and picked the recently-woeful Dallas Cowboys. The year was 1992.
I didn’t know much about football stats. I grew up a baseball fan, so my interest in pro football was limited to watching bits and pieces of games with my dad. But that year, I started caring about the NFL because fantasy sports gave me a reason to do so, and while my seventh-grade understanding of fantasy was laughably simple, I enjoyed the game in a new way. (And I actually cared about the Super Bowl itself and not just the commercials.)
Ten to fifteen years later, after I had started working at my current job, one of the newer team members suggested doing a fantasy league among the handful of people in our working group (along with a few other people in the office deemed “cool” enough to join us). I had fond memories of middle-school fantasy football so I thought “Sure, what the heck.”
And it began. Our yearly office fantasy football league spawned a yearly March Madness pool, Oscars pick ’em, and random invites to jump in and out of a few other fantasy leagues with coworkers. We started looking forward to the email every August from the league commish asking when we should set up our draft. On Draft Day, my boss would schedule a “very important meeting” in the late afternoon that usually took place at Buffalo Wild Wings and involved several people staring at laptops and randomly yelling at each other for TAKING MY GUY, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT, YOU KNOW I WANTED THAT GUY, YOU JERK. And I firmly believe that one of the reasons our team is the tightest-knit in the entire department (if not the entire institution) is because we play fantasy together.
Yes, that sounds like an overblown statement out of some weekly ESPN writer’s column connecting fantasy sports and life lessons. But I stand by it, because conversations about which team went off for crazy points and upset the league-leader or whose trade offer was so laughable they should be publicly shamed in the coffee room then become conversations about real life things and shared experiences. We’re not just a bunch of people occupying nearby cubicles and vying for the last cup of lukewarm, burnt coffee. We’re friends. We’re a strange kind of family. And fantasy football has helped with that bond.
In addition to all that heartwarming junk, fantasy has helped me personally to enjoy the pro game all the more. Unlike most folks in my home state, I don’t care about college football. But when Sunday rolls around and my family gets in the car to head home after church, I’m not just turning on the radio to listen to my Texans; I’m checking my phone (before leaving the parking lot, of course) to find out about all the other games that have started, because I care about players like Patrick Mahomes and James White and your little Cooper Kupp, even if they’re not facing my team. And during those weeks when the 2018 Texans play like the 2002 Texans, I can focus on how my work-league team is faring (for the record, “Elementary, Dear Watson” is currently 7-2; thank you, Patrick Mahomes!).
So the reason why I’m writing is to say thank you, TMR. Your “Love/Hate” columns are often as touching as they are informative, and the Fantasy Focus Football podcast is a daily listen. Most of the success I’ve had in fantasy sports has been due to the good ol’ 06010 and your work in particular. Whether it was with the old school crew of Nate and Pod Vader, or the “new hotness” with Field, Stephania, and Secret Squirrel, your sports knowledge and fantasy instincts have (mostly) been a boon to my admittedly-average skills. When it comes down to a last-minute decision, and all the company men and women are offering conflicting advice, I lean (probably too much) on your gutsy calls. The crowd can keep their Karabells and Clays: I’m a Berry man, through and through. (Take that, Kenyan Drake fans.)
So thank you, Matthew. Fantasy sports may be fickle and ephemeral, but they’re also a whole lot of fun. And your work helped me see that.