Thursday, August 30, 2012

Grantlandish

Recently, the website Grantland held a contest for the spot of its fantasy football writer. The rules were simple: write a short piece about your top-five fantasy players of the 2012 NFL season and one sleeper, with a max of 750 words.

I wrote a piece that I thought was funny, interesting and well, Grantland-ish. I even had some pop culture references. Ok, one pop culture reference. I would have had two, but I was only allowed 750 words.

End result, I was not one of the 10 finalists. And I'll admit, it stung a little.

Ok, a lot.

Ok, I cried.

Ok, I'm still cryi- my mental state is not the point of this piece. The point is for me to give my readers, all two of them, a chance to read my submission for the Grantland fantasy football writer fantasy football writing contest.

I knew that for me to have any kind of chance with the contest, my piece would have to stand out in some form or fashion. After mulling it over for a few days, I came up with my plan. Not only was I going to make my picks for the 2012 NFL season (requirement numero uno), I was also going to make my picks for the 1978 NFL season (the year I was born) and the 1999 NFL season (the year I turned 21 and had my first alcoholic beverage).

Using profootballreference.com, I looked into the statistical leaders for the 1977 and 1998 seasons to make my picks. I had to cut the paragraph with the 1999 picks because 750 words is just not what it used to be, and with the help of my lovely wife I cleaned up the submission and sent it in. What follows below is the fruit of my labors (although it turned out to be more bitter than sweet).

Grantland Fantasy Football Writer Fantasy Football Writing Contest Submission
When I was in college, my friends and I had a simple method for picking our basketball teams: Captain A gets first choice, Captain B picks next two. You either got the best player on the court, or two really good players.

Inevitably, it wouldn’t matter, as we were all terrible at basketball (there was a reason that we were not on the actual team). But that was my first impression when I read about the Grantland contest: I am drafting first and I can pick the best five players, all in a row. The person drafting after me will then take the next 10. Which plan will translate to the fantasy title – the five best players or 10 pretty good players? Is quantity better than quality? Not in fantasy-sports land.

Of course, in every other type of fantasy, quantity would be a huge favorite over quality.

So here we go with my 2012 draft. But first, let me provide some insight into my auspicious fantasy football start. (NOTE: it’s been all downhill from there.)

I was born in June of 1978, so I was just over two months old when I participated in my first fantasy football draft. My mom was, and is, not a big football fan, thereby putting me a little behind the eight ball for the draft. Yet I still managed to draft decently well. My first pick was a no-brainer: Walter Payton (Chicago) won three MVP awards in 1977, was Offensive Player of the Year and led the League in rushes, yards, rushing TDs, total TDs and yards from scrimmage. Not too shabby.

I also selected Tony Dorsett (Dallas), who started only four games in 1977 but still managed to break the 1,000-yard plateau while scoring 12 TDs. My quarterback was Roger Staubach (Dallas) and my receivers were Nat Moore (Miami) and Steve Largent (Seattle). Wesley Walker (NYJ) was a fairly easy sleeper: a speedster receiver who played well as a rookie in 1977.

Payton turned out to be my draft dud. He had a down season (for him) with 1,395 yards, 11 TDs and 1,875 yards from scrimmage. Yet my other players kept up their end of the bargain. Dorsett ran for 1,325 yards with seven TDs and 1,703 yards from scrimmage. While neither led the League in any category, Moore and Largent combined for 1,813 yards and 18 TDs. My sleeper turned out to be a stud – Walker led the League in yards (1,169) while catching eight TDs.

I gotta say, winning a fantasy football title is a nice way to kick off life. But fast forward 34 years to 2012, and I am still waiting for fantasy title No. 2.

Given my dearth of fantasy football victories over the last, I don’t know, three-plus decades, I think it is clear that my 2012 draft picks will definitely probably hopefully lead to a championship season. Lesson No. 1 learned during this oh-so-trying time: never draft a no-brainer, like Calvin Johnson.

Last season, Johnson led the League in receiving yards, was second in TDs and had the most “holy crap did you see that” moments. But what sets him apart from previous no-brainers is his nickname. Megatron > any-other-nickname. Michael Bay should have put him in Transformers One-Too-Many. So OF COURSE I will draft him. Who am I to listen to myself? My other receiver, Victor Cruz, will become the focal point of the Big Blue passing offense, especially with Hakeem Nicks coming back from injury.

My quarterback will be Aaron Rodgers, he of the monster 45 TD, six INT performance in 2011. I would have gone with Drew Brees, but his head coach this year was the assistant trainer last season. And Rodgers is just so darn cute! I mean good. He’s really good.

I’m going to go against the grain at running back and take Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy. My guess is that 97.2 percent of the Grantland fantasy writer applicants will take Rice and McCoy, give or take a .2 percent. For my sleeper, I don’t know if Darren McFadden qualifies, but as we’ve never seen a full season from him, he gets the Ambien.

Thanks to the lessons I learned in my 34 years of existence, I am confident that my team will win the Grantland fantasy-writer fantasy-football title. Along with half the League, I will continue to feel this way until the first Sunday of the NFL season. After that, well, there’s always next year.
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Here is the paragraph about the 1999 NFL season that I had to cut out to stay under the 750-word limit:

The draft started with a no-brainer in Terrell Davis (Denver), the 1998 League-leader in yards and TDs who played just four games in 1999. Both of my receivers, Antonio Freeman (Green Bay) and Randy Moss (Minnesota), went backwards, statistically-speaking, from their 1998 performances. My quarterback, Brett Fav-ruh (Green Bay), was solid with 4,091 yards and 22 TDs. Thanks to my other RB, Marshall Faulk (St. Louis), and my sleeper, rookie Edgerrin James (Indianapolis), who took over Faulk’s role with the Colts, the season was not a total loss. But Davis’ injury, combined with the sub-par seasons by my two receivers, was too much to overcome.
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We all face situations where we know the odds are never in our favor and we are 99.9 percent certain that things will not go our way, but somehow we believe that we have a pretty good chance of succeeding and that gives us irrational hope, which somehow is more powerful than regular hope, which makes the crushing blow of defeat all the more crushing. I guess, as I say after each and every fantasy season, there's always next year.