Monday night, I was sitting in the living room of my parents’ house, watching the Eagles-Raiders game go into the 4th quarter, when I got a text from Mike, congratulating me on winning the Fantasy League. I texted back to remind him the game wasn’t over. He responded with, “Dude, you’re up by 30 points. I don’t think Lynch is going to get 5 TDs in one quarter.” But I refused to accept his congratulations until the game was done.
And that pretty much sums up my team. Of the now-three championships I have won, this was, by far, the most…puzzling. Oh sure, it was a solid-enough team. There were no areas that were incredibly weak (well, maybe defense. That promise of many Tyreek Hill punt returns for TDs never really materialized.) But nothing stood out about the team, either. Melvin Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald and Doug Baldwin are very solid players, but nobody’s going to sing paeans to their 2017 campaigns. Robert Woods was a nice late addition, but didn’t exactly carry the team. Hell, the best player, Aaron Rodgers, sat out half the season with an injury. So you’ll understand why I always had the feeling there was another shoe about to drop and wasn’t willing to celebrate until the last second ticked off the clock. Even then, I just sat down with a beer, befuddled, and tried to figure out how the hell it happened.
For his part, Stoner was a gracious Fantasy Bowl loser. He called me the next day and congratulated me, saying he was looking forward to me buying the first pitcher at next year’s fantasy draft. Which, of course, led to this exchange:
ME: What do you mean I’m going to buy the first pitcher?
STONER: It’s tradition. The winner of the league buys the first pitcher at the next fantasy draft.
ME: When did this tradition start?
STONER: Next year. I was meeting with the league’s executive board and we decided it was a good idea.
ME: Executive board? The league doesn’t have an executive board. It just has a commissioner.
STONER: (chuckling) Joe, if you’re the only one in charge, that’s not a “commissioner”. That’s a dictator. You don’t want to be a dictator, do you?
ME: Well, no, but…
STONER: See you next fall. By the way, I like Oktoberfest. Should be out by then.
My buddy, Stoner, ladies and gentlemen. Turning your victories into defeats for the last decade-and-a-half.
Okay, let’s wrap this mother up, shall we?
AWARDS FROM THE COMMISH
FANTASY OWNER OF THE YEAR: T.J.
If the Fantasy Gods hadn’t dropped the ugliest of loads on T.J. last week, he would likely be sitting here as the league champion today. He certainly deserved it. He had the best top-to-bottom lineup out there, highlighted by the absolute Fantasy Beast of 2017: Mr. Antonio Brown. If there had been any justice, our perennial fantasy doormat would be rubbing his victory in our faces (or any other disgusting metaphor you can think of). But, hey, this is fantasy football. In the words of William Muny in Unforgiven, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.”
FANTASY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Antonio Brown
The three B’s in Pittsburgh, Brown, Bell and Roethlisberger (I refuse to call him “Ben” because I do not buddy up to rapists) paced a hell of a Steelers’ offense this year. Brown was the one, though, who had fantasy owners across the country losing bowel control every time they had to play him. And he had a killer ESPN commercial with Karl Ravitch (given what will likely happen with ESPN and sexual harassment, they may need AB to actually man the phones next year.)
DUMBASS OWNER OF THE YEAR: Mike
Mike really should have won this award last year when he spent a large majority of his mythical draft money on two guys who played the same position (Drew Brees and Cam Newton). This year, Mike kind of learned his lesson. Yes, he spent a large majority of his mythical draft money on two guys who played the same position, but at least it was two guys who could play at the same time (Jay Ajayi and LeSean McCoy). Sadly, this didn’t leave Mike with the mythical money to bid on Drew Brees and, for the first time since the early days of the Obama administration, he didn’t have Brees at QB. A bit of an irony, too, since Brees had a better season than either Ajayi or McCoy (or the two of them combined, really.) I don’t know if Mike’s bound to improve, either, since the draft contains two of his three biggest distractions (booze and money). And I wouldn’t be surprised if Stoner brought a woman to next year’s draft, just to hit Mike with his third biggest distraction. Stay tuned…
ASSCLOWN OF THE YEAR: Jerry Jones
The Cowboys’ owner spent much of the season in his favorite location: the center of attention. In September, Jones raised some eyebrows when he locked arms and knelt with Cowboys’ players before the national anthem, protesting divisive (as if he utters any other kind) remarks by Donald Trump. When there was a public backlash against this, Jones was quick to turn on the players and announce that they would be suspended if they attempted to kneel during the anthem. He then tried to pressure commissioner Roger Goodell into enforcing a ban on kneeling during the anthem. Goodell, who could clearly see the league-wide insurrection this would inspire, refused to do it. But that was really the tip of the iceberg in matters between Goodell and Jones.
In August, the league announced a six-game ban against Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, for domestic violence charges that the authorities had chosen not to pursue and that the NFL’s lead investigator doubted ever happened. Jones responded by vowing to come after Goodell. He certainly made the effort, threatening to sue the league’s compensation committee if they ratified Goodell’s new contract (something Jones SIGNED OFF ON as recently as last spring) and casting aspersions on the members of the committee. It wound up being, in the words of William Shakespeare, “a perilous shot out of a pop gun” as Jones couldn’t get more than a few owners on board and Goodell signed his new contract (though I’m guessing he would have loved to have signed it in Jerry’s blood.)
(Yes, I just used Jerry Jones and William Shakespeare in the same paragraph. It’s that kind of s**t that keeps you coming back, isn’t it?)
As I’ve written at length, Jones is not wrong in having his qualms about Goodell. The league’s disciplinary process is a joke and the commissioner’s credibility with the public is just slightly higher than the president’s (meaning it’s the next best thing to non-existent.) But the fact that Jones could only be roused to express these qualms due to naked self-interest and that he acted like a spoiled child when his fellow owners didn’t follow him makes you wish he wasn’t on your side in the first place.
KICK IN THE NUTS AWARD: Jack
Every year, it seems, there’s a team that should, on paper (which is really where all of these teams exist) be a playoff team and among the best in the league…and just isn’t. Coming into this season, Jack was the defending champion and had a solid draft, landing the likes of Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley, Julio Jones, Stephon Diggs, Michael Crabtree and the Vikes’ D. That should have AT LEAST inspired a return trip to the playoffs, if not a second straight Fantasy Title. Instead, every time Jack zigged, the Fantasy Gods zagged and he somehow, almost always, wound up on the losing end of things. By the end of the season, he had the league’s worst record and could be found passed out on the floor, an empty bottle of Stoli’s at his side. (It’s all right, though. The vodka distracted him from the recurring pain in his nuts.)
NFL MAN OF THE YEAR: Al Riveron
While there’s always been a little controversy around the NFL’s instant replay system, the criticism seems to have gone down in recent years. I like to think it’s because most people like the system and those that don’t, accept that it’s part of the game and isn’t going away. However, Al Riveron, the NFL’s executive in charge of the replay system, seems determined to throw a monkey wrench in the works. This past week was a prime example, when Bills’ WR Kelvin Benjamin had a TD catch overturned because…well, it MIGHT not have been a catch. You can’t be sure. And therein lies the problem.
The idea behind the league’s replay system is that the call on the field stands unless there is incontrovertible proof that the call was wrong. Former Packers’ and Seahawks’ coach Mike Holmgren termed it the “50 guys in a bar” rule; if 50 guys in a bar could all agree that the call was wrong, then clearly it needed to be overturned. If not, the replay officials should defer to the call on the field. It’s the kind of policy that makes the replay system what it should be: a safety net JUST IN CASE the officials missed something.
Riveron, though, appears to think that the replay system is a mandate to get the call absolutely, completely correct. It’s why he chose to overturn Benjamin’s TD without a lot of proof (proof, of course, being something the NFL can generally take or leave.) This is the kind of policy that undermines the officials on the field and makes fans, players and coaches alike lose faith in the replay system. Suddenly, those few remaining fans who hate replay can take heart: the guy in charge of the system is proving your argument.
HORSESHOE UP ASS AWARD: Me
Years ago, there a heavyweight boxer named John Ruiz, who held a portion of the world title longer than anyone would have wished. Ruiz’ style (if that’s the word I’m looking for) involved a copious amount of clutching, grabbing and mauling; so much so that many of his former opponents could be eligible to join the #MeToo movement. It was one step up from Homer Simpson winning by pushing over exhausted hobos. Mike referred to Ruiz as the Vortex of Suck. Everyone who fought him looked worse than they did in virtually ANY other fight.
Much as I hate to admit it, my playoff run this year felt like it’s own Vortex of Suck. Yes, I scored between 50 and 60 points every game (which with my scoring system at least puts you in the conversation for victory) but I benefited mightily from the misfortune of others. Lars got beaucoups points from Le’Veon Bell, but Alex Smith and Lamar Miller apparently missed their cab to the game and decided to hit a brothel instead. The Fantasy Gods’ runny dump on T.J. has been well-documented. And you would have expected more than Stoner got out of a lineup that included Drew Brees, Ezekiel Elliot, Marshawn Lynch and Keenan Allen. In fact, those four guys COMBINED got just three more points than Stoner’s kicker, Will Lutz. I’m glad for the win, but it feels like I should not be putting the League Trophy on my mantel. It should be replaced by the Vortex of Suck. (BTW, I might have found the name to replace “The Rat Pack” next year…but probably not.)
And finally, in honor of Jon Stewart, (we still need you, brother) I give you…
YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN: Lessons I’ve Learned
As always, the final Moment of Zen covers lessons I’ve learned over the course of the season. To whit:
The Vikings’ special teams coach, Mike Preifer once said about gays: “They should put on an island and nuked until it glows.” That’s the sort of thing my friends who are Vikings’ fans either conveniently forget or find ridiculous reasons to excuse. But every time you crow about a win and shout, “Skol!” That’s what you’re supporting.
The first year of the clown in the White House was everything I thought it would be. In no way do I mean that as a compliment.
Lions’ coach Jim Caldwell’s NFL-Head-Coaching-Jobs-To-Facial-Expressions Ratio is two to one.
Somewhere in the back of his oversized cranium, Roger Goodell is still considering an 18 game season. This despite losing two of the leagues most promising young QBs (DeShaun Watson and Carson Wentz) to injury.
I’m looking forward to the out-of-town media’s reaction when they find out the skyway system doesn’t connect to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Despite no one remembering they still play football, the Ravens and the Titans are in position to make the playoffs.
I’ve learned to really, truly enjoy the use of gifs in my column.
Finally, despite my success this year, I’ve learned that, for others, Fantasy Football is a vicious game that systematically rips your heart from your chest, tosses it on a dirty floor and pees all over it. Only a fool would put himself through that year after year.
And yes, we’ll all be playing it again next fall.
YOUR FANTASY BOWL CHAMPION:
The Rat Pack (Me)