My Relationship With Football: A Brief History
I recently became aware of the existence of something called FSTA , or, as it’s fondly known by its proponents, “FaSTA.” My New England roots initially led me to assume this to be simply something Bostonians yell at a track meet. But today I came across an interesting online post, and learned that FaSTA is the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. I’m not sure which surprised me more: that there was such a thing, or that it is now “celebrating 15 years representing and advancing the fantasy sports industry.”
The reason that I keep bumping into FaSTA of late is that there is some legislative stirring in Washington on the subject of online gambling—something that FaSTA (and its well-heeled lobbying firm, Dentons) resolutely insists is a completely different animal than fantasy football. And they should know! As their website proudly displays, they have the backing of, among other subject matter experts, CBS Sports, ESPN, and the NFL.
Which brings to mind another recent phenomenon: in spite of strict operational instructions given to foxes guarding henhouses all over the country, chickens are still mysteriously ending up dead.
Normally I would give the whole matter the chuckle that it’s due and move on. But within the context of recent musings about sports watching vs. sports playing, my mind took to wandering. And before I knew it, I was reflecting on the topic from multiple perspectives. Which led to compiling the following timeline of my relationship with football…
Birth through teen years: I played several seasons of organized football, from Midget League through high school, as well as countless games of recess and after-school pick-up football. Except for coaches’ annoying insistence on conducting practices, it was fun.
Sometime in the late ‘60s: I fell in love with the New York (football) Giants, despite their status as NFL doormats. I spent three hours every autumn Sunday glued to the TV, familiarizing myself with the term “masochism.” Then I went outside and recreated each game with my friends. It was fun.
1981: Somehow, inexplicably, the Giants became good. I didn’t know how to process this. But I started watching games involving teams that were competing with the Giants for playoff berths. My pro football consumption basically doubled. In a related development, I stopped playing football of any kind. It was all still fun…in an agonizing sort of way.
1986: The Giants won the Super Bowl, initiating paroxysms of joy. In the succeeding years, I doubled down on my fandom. It was fun…ish.
1992: I was invited to play in my first fantasy football league. It was a blast…although I did find myself distracted from focusing single-mindedly on my Giants.
1994: The fantasy football quarterback I drafted was a member of the Dallas Cowboys—the mortal enemy of all Giants fans. I repeatedly found myself in compromising rooting scenarios. It was perplexing.
The remainder of the ‘90s and into the late -‘00s: I gave up on going outside during football season, lest I miss a scoring play involving one of “my” players. I’d joined a second league, and typically had at least one player on my aggregate fantasy roster involved in every game being played. And sometime in there, the “Ten-Minute Ticker” was introduced to NFL telecasts, followed soon thereafter by a continuous screen crawl of statistics from other games. Radio shows providing fantasy football advice began popping up. Thursday Night Football was introduced. I stopped caring about the Giants…or any specific team, for that matter. They were all just delivery devices housing players that could accumulate points for me. I finished out of the money in my leagues more often than not, but I won just enough to motivate annual reenlistment. It was generally aggravating, interrupted with scattered bursts of euphoria.
2008: My job at the time required me to work Sundays that entire fall. I took a leave of absence from fantasy football. And, given my lack of a rooting interest in any specific team, my football watching decreased. Dramatically. It was…well…actually not that bad.
2009: I returned to fantasy football and picked up where I’d left off. And since I’d found that I rarely took my eyes off of the continuous statistics crawl at the bottom of the screen, I considered switching from cable to DirecTV, in order to get not only the NFL Sunday Ticket package, but also the new Red Zone Channel. That way I could separate the wheat from the chaff and watch only potential scoring plays instead of actual games. I was test-driving this concept at the home of a DirecTV-subscribing friend when it hit me. I was no longer watching football; I was merely watching statistics accumulate. It was eye-opening.
2010: I declined the annual invitations to join fantasy football leagues, settling instead for simply watching full, unadulterated football games while paying no mind to the stats crawl. It was boring. I eventually turned off the TV and went outside.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not crusading, and I’m certainly not one of “those people”—the former cigarette smoker, for example, who self-righteously goes berserk if someone lights up anywhere within eyesight. I don’t have anything against fantasy football. And I completely understand the benefits, having experienced the camaraderie, the thrill of competition, and the occasional joys of claiming bragging rights (not to mention the money!).
But there’s no denying it. For me, fantasy football ruined real pro football. The silver lining in that cloud, however, is a mile wide. I haven’t watched a regular-season NFL game in years, and my sole visit to an NFL stadium during that time was a disaster. What I’ve discovered though, is that the camaraderie and the competition—and even the occasional bragging rights—are out there for the taking in any number of recreational pursuits.
I’ve walked the walk on both sides, so I figure I’m well-qualified to make the statement: playing a sport beats statistical spectating any way you slice it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.