Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear roars of jubilation, celebrations, singing and cheering?! Do you hear the frustration, the heartbreak, the disappointment and the angry outbursts?! Have you heard it lately? Well if you have, you are not alone; ‘Tis the season for the fantasy football playoffs! The time of the year that is filled with the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!”
Depending on the rules of the fantasy football league, the playoffs either started last Sunday or they kick off this weekend. It is the point in the season when an entire year of research, preparation and super fandom come down to one week, one match up and ultimately, one do or die situation. Win the game and continue towards a championship! Lose the game and end another year of one’s life dedicated to building the perfect fantasy football franchise.
I have been a New York Giants fan all of my life. I joined my first fantasy football league in 1987 and from that first season, I have been hooked on this extremely addictive game. But it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that fantasy football really started to grab the enthusiasm of the American public. And when ESPN created an entire gaming division around fantasy sports, fantasy football exploded onto the scene as the premier attraction for men, women and children of all ages!
And over time, that little fantasy football league that I started in the late 1980s has grown into an annual rite of passage for me and eleven of my friends. Our passion for the game is a year long ritual that ends with one person claiming the ultimate prize; the NERFL Trophy! We debate new rules in January in order to make our league better. We examine the statistics of the NFL combine just looking for the next LaDanian Tomlinson, Reggie Wayne or Tom Brady. We are glued to the NFL draft in April and the spring practice sessions of each NFL team in order to learn any bit of information we can that will help us come out of our fantasy football draft with the best team in the league. We submit our annual keeper in July and then we mock draft over and over again until we think we have the best draft strategy possible.
And finally, draft weekend arrives. We participate in a golf tournament amongst ourselves, a live draft to create our fantasy football rosters, merriment, camaraderie and a weekend spent in the company of good friends as we prepare for the upcoming NFL and fantasy football season. Fantasy football has become an integral part of our year because it helps us to renew, create and strengthen friendships as we celebrate the great game of football!
But more importantly, fantasy football gives me another reason to bond with my children. I always think of that scene in City Slickers when Billy Crystal describes his best day ever. It was the day that the father of his character took him to Yankee Stadium for very the first time. Fathers and sons have bonded over sports for generations. Sometimes when all else has failed, communication gaps have been erased by a simple conversation about a sporting event or by the effortless task of throwing a football to one another in the backyard.
I am a sports fan. I am raising my children as sports fans. And when my children look back over their lives, hopefully one of their favorite memories will be of the first time I took them to see an NFL game between the Patriots and Giants at Gillette Stadium. I hope they vividly remember everything about that first game; from the tailgating in the parking lot, to the ticket takers at the turnstiles, the fans filling the stands, the lights that towered high above the field, the football field in front of them and the experience of spending time as a family at a professional football game. I know I will never forget the looks on their faces when they walked into the stadium for the first time. It will forever be etched into my memory.
And I will also never forget the passion my children have for the game of football. They love the New York Giants. And they love the game of fantasy football as well. My daughter, Chloe, is known for crossing her fingers and rooting for specific players on our fantasy football roster to score touchdowns. And thankfully, she has the luck of the Irish because when she decides to root for a player, the usually score. And what father doesn’t beam with pride when his four-year-old daughter can recite the names of the players from his fantasy football roster? She truly is an NFL fan in the making!
My son, Josh, relishes in our fantasy football league that he can’t wait to be old enough to have his own team. He follows the ESPN scoreboard each and every Sunday. He discusses strategy with me. He asks about specific players and discusses ways to make our fantasy football team better. He celebrates the wins and he agonizes over the losses. And as each week passes, he asks more questions about the NFL and the game of football.
So as my children and I look forward to this weekend and the start of our own fantasy football playoffs, it ‘tis the season for heartbreak or jubilation. But whether we win or lose this Sunday, fantasy football has given me another opportunity to spend my Sunday afternoons with my children as we root for the New York Giants and our favorite fantasy football players! But most importantly, we are spending time as a family involved in an activity where we learn about each other, we laugh, we celebrate and we just enjoy being together.