of football geekiness. I’ve been to it.
Many people know that I’m a huge pro football fan and an unabashed fantasy football geekazoid supreme. I’ve been playing fantasy football for thirteen years, and rotisserie baseball before that, and strat-o-matic baseball before that, and before that I spent hours reading the MLB league leaders in the daily paper and the yearly tome Who’s Who in Baseball. I’ve been studying stats since I was in diapers. I love stats. I love football stats. I love that there is a game that revolves around football stats. I love playing that game.
The week before the NFL season starts is always a busy one in my world. I spend at least five full days frantically sifting through material (written and numerical), making decisions about the upcoming season: which teams I like and dislike; which players I like and dislike. I look for trends; I look for anomolies. I look for teams and players on the rise; I look for teams and players whose relevance is on the wane. And then (after making more than a few wagers based on this information), I compile cheatsheets for my fantasy leagues. These sheets are real works of art to me and are painstakingly prepared. When I walk into one of my drafts, two pieces of paper contain every significant piece of information about the player pool. I am prepared for everything and anything that might happen because of those two pieces of paper. Although I have their preparation down to a science, these sheets require a ton of number crunching and take a ton of time to create.
The fact that I treat my “prepare for the football season” week like a full time job doesn’t sit well with Janeen. Although I sport a significant positive lifetime figure gambling on football and playing fantasy football, Janeen refuses to warm to the idea that football season is just part of this professional gambler’s job. This might be because I look pretty ridiculous surrounded by piles of paper, poring over eight websites simultaneously, and literally losing sleep for days at a time, all for football. It might be because I enjoy football season so immensely that calling this joyous obsession my job is laughable. It might be because the number of people in the world who are actually +EV in football gambling is miniscule, and Janeen believes my luck is about to run out. It might be because the amount I make during football season is nowhere near enough for two people to live on. Or it might be because I owe my success in football gambling to the fact that I insist on watching nearly every NFL game over the course of the season, which puts an obvious crimp in the amount of leisure time my non-football fan fiancee and I spend together.
In short, Janeen is pretty dismissive of what I like to call War Room Week. For his part, my father–the only other person who ever openly passes judgment on how I spend my time to my face–is also a non-believer. He seems mildly perplexed by War Room Week. Regardless, I firmly believe I am entitled to War Room Week based on one of two theories. The first is that football season is a +EV event for which I am merely preparing myself. That’s my job–putting myself in position to gamble and win. The other theory is that even if football is viewed as recreation, this is one of the perks of my career. A professional gambler makes his own schedule and answers to no one, and I happen to spend a week out of every year studying football statistics. I’m perfectly within my right to allow myself this luxury.
This year’s War Room Week was my most ambitious to date. That’s because I intend to step up my gambling this season. But it’s also because I have topped out at three fantasy football leagues in the past. The first is the venerable State of Yo, which I have participated in and commissioneered for twelve years. The SoY Draft has an auction format. The league is a partial keeper league and the particpants are all bright guys who have been drafting together for a long time. These factors make the SoY Draft difficult. The second league is a keeper league with a regular draft format, and the third league is a cheap redraft. These last two drafts are not difficult. When it comes to drafting in fantasy football, auctions are like chess and regular (“snake”) drafts are like checkers. I have a lot of experience preparing for the SoY Draft and whatever other leagues I play.
But this year I decided to add a fourth league to the mix. Sometime in early August, Kevin convinced me to participate in a World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF) $1,000 auction league this season. WCOFF leagues are a little different than your normal fantasy football league. The stakes are high–$1,000 is a lot in the world of fantasy football. Also, you’re playing with strangers. Normally, fantasy football leagues are contests between people who know each other socially. For instance, SoY’s core is a group of my best friends from school, and my other two leagues eminate from my old law firm and a NYC internet community, respectively. WCOFF participants, on the other hand, have no connection to one another beyond their football geekitude. The only thing WCOFF participants have in common is that they all think they’re so good at fantasy football that they can beat a bunch of like-minded individuals who are also spending 1k apiece. WCOFF is to fantasy football what the WSOP or WPT is to poker: an entity that runs high stakes tournaments and charges a fee for it. WCOFF leagues have two-tiered playoff systems: beat your sub-group of 12 and you face off with other league winners for the big bucks. The 1k auctions actually aren’t for the biggest of the big bucks. WCOFF runs a “Main Event” which is a snake draft that costs over 2k to enter and draws many more participants. But like I said, drafts are checkers and auctions are chess. And I’m a chess master. This was the final frontier, against other masters.
The WCOFF draft took place in an Atlantic City hotel ballroom last Friday. Kevin and I drove down on Friday afternoon, arriving about an hour early. After we received our intoductory packages, we proceeded to the ballroom. Milling around us were our competition. Many of them seemed to know each other from past WCOFF leagues. Around the massive room there were stationed about ten large semicircular setups comprised of long desks with chairs. Each semicircle was large enough to comfortably fit twenty people. At the open end of each semicircle stood a large piece of cardboard that I immedately recognized as a draft board. We learned that all of these semicircles would be packed the following day for the Main Event, but tonight only two would be in action for the 1k auctions. We also discovered that Kevin had been placed in League 5, which had twelve live participants. I, however, had been placed in League 6, for which there were only six participants, including me. Huh? That couldn’t be right. As the group of six gathered in their semicircle, I noticed a speakerphone sitting in the middle. Huh? After inquiring, I was told that my auction would be taking place in three locations: six teams in Atlantic City, four teams in Dallas, and two teams in Las Vegas. The auctioneer was located in Dallas. We had a human conduit who would sit next to the machine and convey our Atlantic City bids into it. Fair enough.
Looking around the room at the opposition in both leagues, I discovered firsthand what an elite fantasy football nerd looks like. No surprises here. He’s exactly what you’d expect: a schlubby middle aged man in a football jersey. But not just any football jersey! I made a startling discovery: It seems that fantasy football prowess is directly proportional to the obscurity of your favorite football jersey. In this ballroom there were no Favres, no Mannings, no Bradys, not even a random Lawrence Taylor. No sir, here we had some goodies. A Vincent Jackson throwback jersey. Lofa Tatupu. A number on the Panthers that I didn’t recognize. A football Giants jersey with an Italian last name (presumably the owner’s surname) on the back. The only football jersey that doubles as a politcal statement–Pat Tillman. And then the best jersey of all: A Lawrence Phillips old-style Rams jersey. Yikes. This was a group of schlubs not to be trifled with.
As draft kickoff time approached, I started to feel strange. I was fidgety. I was sweating a little more than was normal in an air conditioned environment. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I went to take a leak. Not once, but twice. As a settled into my seat near the front of the semi-circle, I shuffled through my papers over and over without actually reading them. What was my problem? The answer was that I was really nervous. More nervous than I ever got at my yearly review. More neverous than I used to get in court. More nervous than I get at the start of $10,000 poker tournaments. And certainly more nervous than I’ve ever been at any other fantasy football event. I was in the big leagues now. Gulp.
Before I knew it, the draft had started and it was my turn to nominate first. I announced “Andre Johnson, wide receiver, Houston Texans” in strange squawky voice, directed at the speakerphone in the center of the semicircle. He went for the exact price I had pegged him at on my cheatsheet. The next couple of players were sold for prices exactly in tune with my sheet, or slightly over. At that time, it dawned on me that the cheatsheet I had worked so hard to create was close to perfect and that it could be trusted completely. My nervousness dissipated, and free from the shackles of the tasks of my usual SoY auction (where I have to not only put together a team but also help run things), I became the table captain, loudly and confidently barking bids out on every player nominated. Typically I would run the price up on these players, then abruptly stop once I felt I had enforced a fair price. Other times I would actually win the bidding, rostering good players at good prices while still maintaining my auction bankroll. I was in complete charge. A typical player auction went like this:
Somone in dallas: Brian Westbrook for twenty-five dollars.
Auctioneer: Brian Westbrook, running back, Eagles. Twenty-five dollars.
Me: SIXTY IN A.C!
Someone in Vegas: Sixty-one.
Auctioneer: Sixty-one in Vegas.
Someone in AC: Sixty-two.
ME: SIXTY THREE IN A.C!
ME: SIXTY EIGHT!!
Dallas: Sixty nine.
ME: SEVENTY DOLLARS HERE IN A.C.!!!
Dallas: Seventy two!!
Auctioneer: Westbrook for Seventy two is going once, going twice… sold for seventy two to Team Four in Dallas.
I was having a great time. I figured out within the first twenty minutes that the SoY opponents I had been dealing with for twelve years were a lot sharper than most of the WCOFF opponents I now faced. I had participated in much tougher auctions than this, including the 2008 SoY Auction two days earlier. Nothing could stop me from doing what I desired, which was to craft a deep balanced team while keeping enough money in my bankroll to dominate the end of the draft. I ended up putting together a terrific team, finished my roster first, wished everyone good luck, and left.
The final frontier was not so rough after all. The truth is that I was a bigger football geek than anyone else in the room. Minus the jersey.
Of course, my WCOFF team did nothing in Week 1 and I got buried. Then I lost one of my star players to injury for at least six weeks. At least I won in the other three leagues. That’s fantasy football.
Enjoy the 2008 football season everyone!