It’s hard playing a game that you’re new at. Well, at first it seemed that way – but with some beginner’s luck, I managed to turn my first season of playing fantasy football into a championship run that fell at the last hurdle. It was a good experience, and this year I’ll be returning to the same league to play out the fourth season, alongside The League which will feature predominantly in this blog.
This particular league was created in the summer of 2011, and I found out about it on a little-known wrestling website called CAWs.ws. Now that may seem strange finding out about a fantasy football league on a wrestling forum, but this came at a point where I hadn’t watched wrestling in a little over a year, and I only really visited the website for the sports chat section. Plus, it’s a little different from the norm, and wouldn’t look out of place in Fantasy Life – the book written by ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry which I started reading a few weeks ago.
So a member called Leonardo LunchBoX created the league, and openly invited anyone to play; and it wasn’t long before all 12 spots were snapped up, with one of them going to me. So I created my team and waited for the draft to get here. At this point, I was a novice when it came to NFL knowledge. I’d been watching for a few years, but having mainly followed the Jets, I only really knew Jets players, and the league’s best, such as Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, and Adrian Peterson.
If anything, my whole draft was one huge flier pick because of my limited knowledge. The only saving grace was that ESPN rank each player based on projections, and if I was stuck I just used the best player available (BPA) drafting strategy. So with all signs pointing to ‘disaster’, and the pre-draft smack talk laid down, the draft took place. I was choosing eighth overall – here were my selections:
Round 1 – Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT
Round 2 – Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI
Round 3 – Tony Romo, QB, DAL
Round 4 – Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ
Round 5 – Brandon Marshall, WR, MIA
Round 6 – LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, NYJ
Round 7 – Falcons D/ST
Round 8 – Zach Miller, TE, SEA
Round 9 – Neil Rackers, K, HOU
Round 10 – Braylon Edwards, WR, NYJ
Round 11 – Mark Sanchez, QB, NYJ
Round 12 – Chargers D/ST
Round 13 – Mike Williams, WR, TB
Round 14 – Thomas Jones, RB, KC
Round 15 – Jay Feely, K, ARI
Round 16 – Ronnie Brown, RB, PHI
Round 17 – Aaron Hernandez, TE, NE
Wow. As I look back over who I drafted that year, you’re probably thinking the same thing as me: “How the hell did a guy who drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, and took two D/STs and a kicker before round 13 reach his fantasy championship game?” Well, your guess is as good as mine. Sort of.
As you’d expect, I started off the season 2-4. Things weren’t looking good for my fantasy football team, but I was determined not to let the season be a write-off, and sought to find out what I could do to fix it. In somewhat of an ironic twist, my poor form put me at the top of the waiver list, and I was able to claim both Percy Harvin and Victor Cruz who would become two members of my very own ‘Core Four’ – joining receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall as the men who I see as helping my team surge the rest of the way. Shout-out to Tony Romo too.
After the first six games went by the wayside, I recovered to win my final seven regular season games to clinch one of the four playoff spots, finishing with a regular season record on 9-4. As the winner of my division, I played the runner up in the first round of the playoffs in a two-legged game, where the scores were combined across two weeks to determine a winner.
The first playoff round went off without a hitch, and I took a first week lead into Week 15, where I sealed the deal and booked my place in the final. My opponent also won his division, and defeated the runner up in the ‘West Division’ (as opposed to the ‘East Division’ which I competed in). He was the first overall seed, and I was second – it was only fitting that the championship game was competed between the two of us.
So, it all came down to this. Here I was, enjoying a healthy winning streak when in the first leg of the final; my starting quarterback goes down with an injury and leaves the game after just two pass attempts. Nightmare. In Dallas’ Week 16 matchup against the Eagles, Tony Romo suffered a severely bruised hand after a collision with an opposing player’s helmet, was taken off the field, and then didn’t return. The Cowboys were able to bring in Stephen McGee to fill in for Romo and finish the game – but in fantasy football there is no such facility, unfortunately for me. Despite Romo’s injury, I somehow managed to scrape through with a very slim lead, and went into the second leg with a pinch of optimism.
The only dampener on said optimism was the talk of Tony Romo not being able to play in Dallas’ final game – the NFC East division decider against Eli Manning and the Giants. All week ESPN listed Tony Romo as ‘Doubtful’, and with that big, red ‘D’ next to Romo’s name, I decided against playing him and opted to start my backup quarterback – Mark Sanchez – in his place. Big mistake. As it turned out, Sanchez had a stinker as he oversaw the Jets go down like a sinking ship in Miami. Dallas managed to achieve the same feat as they fell to the Giants – but the difference was that in doing so, Tony Romo managed to not only play the game, but throw for 289 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Had I started Romo over Sanchez, I would be sitting here as a former fantasy football champion. Unfortunately in reality, that didn’t happen. That Sunday was twice as bad for me. The Jets, my team, missed out on the Playoffs, and my fantasy team let the championship slip.
Fantasy football is a cruel mistress, but what I learned over the course of the 2011 season set me in good stead to continue playing fantasy. Looking back, it’s easy to trash my draft strategy and mock just how horrific I was to begin with. But at the time my NFL knowledge was basic, and it took a fairly lucky end-of-season surge to take me as far as I went. I would welcome the same luck this year, but hopefully I can go that one step further and win my league.
But the main thing I achieved in 2011 was discovering a game I’ll probably never stop playing, and I had fun doing it.