You’re watching the Sunday night NFL game in the comfort of your home with family or friends. There is a great spread of food laid out in front of you. The game is a terrific, competitive game between two highly-regarded teams. While you are a big fan of the NFL in general, neither team is a team you personally root for, so you can simply enjoy the game without the classic fan angst of wanting a particular outcome. All in all, it sounds like the perfect scenario for a football nut to relax and enjoy a game for the simple pleasure of it.
And yet, you sit in front of the game with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, unable to completely enjoy the experience. What could possibly explain this paradoxical state of mind? For the modern sports fan, the source of this anxiety is more than likely one thing.
Let’s delve into the scenario already mentioned a little deeper to (hopefully) understand how fantasy, which is supposed to be recreation, can inflict such torment on a sports junkie. If you are the poor soul watching with angst, you likely have your attention focused on one particular offensive player who plays on the fantasy team matched up against you for the current week. All of your fantasy players have already played, and neither of you has a player playing in the Monday night game, so your point total is locked, but your opponent can still add on to his total with the performance of this specific player. You are nursing a slim lead in your weekly match-up. If your opponent’s player gains enough yardage and/or scores at least one touchdown, your opponent will overtake you, and you lose the weekly match-up. Each time that player touches the ball, you calculate about how many points he likely accrued (you’ve become way too skilled at this exercise, by the way), desperately hoping your lead will hold up. You need this fantasy win to stay tied for the lead in your division, which would translate into a possible playoff berth. On paper, your opponent’s team appeared to be much weaker than yours, so you were hopeful of a victory. A loss now would be all the more deflating and disappointing.
All of that “melodrama”, which any hardcore fantasy veteran can attest to, is typical of what goes on in the dark recesses of many a fantasy participant’s head each and every week during a season. It hardly seems worth it in a way, but the allure of fantasy is just too strong.
Welcome to the absurd life of a fantasy junkie.
This life of fantasy absurdity is actually marked by a whole variety of forms of “fantasy madness”, none of which have ever been officially or clinically documented, but nonetheless exist, and are exhibited on an all-too-regular basis by fantasy participants who have long since lost their grasp on what is actually meaningful in this transitory earthly existence. It might be useful to take a quick look at a few of the more prominent forms of fantasy madness in the hopes of gaining insight into a phenomenon that reduces otherwise well-adjusted human beings to something several steps down on the lifeform evolutionary scale.
1. Fantasy “Paranoia”: Among the most powerful of the forms of fantasy madness, this condition is marked by thought patterns such as, “If I waive this loser, he’ll immediately go on a tear just to spite me!” or “If I even bench this bum for just one game, he’ll have his best game of the season!” Apparently, fantasy owners are the true force behind what happens on the playing field in pro sports, or so they think.
2. Fantasy “Self-Pity”: Perhaps the most annoying of fantasy madness manifestations, especially to the family and friends of the beleaguered fantasy owner. This madness is marked by doleful howls such as “Everybody’s best players go off when they’re matched against me!” or “I never get any breaks!” or “Of course he got injured, he’s on my team!”. If your fantasy-obsessed loved one is inclined toward this particular madness, be sure to keep plenty of duct tape (for your loved one) and Valium (for you) handy.
3. Fantasy “Self-Glorification”: Actually, this one can be pretty aggravating as well, but at least your beloved fantasy nut leaves himself (it’s almost always men who exhibit this one) open to potential mockery in this case. This variety of madness is identified by physical gesticulations of triumph that resemble primitive tribal dancing occurring when your fantasy addict discovers that his newest acquisition or darkhorse draft pick is having a huge day. Accompanying the gesticulations are usually screams resembling “I’m such a (insert appropriate phrase) genius!” or “Please, please, no applause necessary”. (Trust me, there wasn’t going to be any!) Actually, you needn’t even try to mock your dear fantasy nut, as chances are that changing game circumstances will quickly shove a large piece of “humble pie” into his big mouth to quiet him down quickly enough (or worse yet, send him into a fit of fantasy self-pity!)
4. Fantasy “Rooting Dilemmas”: This situation is a sign that things are truly really getting twisted, as fantasy owners don’t even know how to feel about what is happening in the game they are watching (supposedly as a means of recreation and relaxation!). For instance, one or more of your fantasy players is playing against the team you passionately root for. Do you root for your players to selectively fail just at this particular time? Or consider this one: One of your favorite players (real-life, of course) is matched up against you in fantasy. Do you hope your idol falls on his face in this situation?
This madness (or perhaps something milder like “confusion” is more accurate) also comes into play on Fantasy Draft Day in particular. If you are a huge Yankee fan, and need to draft a DH in your baseball draft, do you even consider Big Papi if he’s available? If you are a true fantasy maniac, you will swallow hard and pick the man who has terrorized the Yanks for over a decade. You’ll hate yourself in the morning, but a man has his priorities!
There are countless other forms of fantasy madness, but to do them justice would require nothing short of a special documentary series on The Learning Channel, for instance. Suffice it to say, though, that this phenomenon known as fantasy sports has caused at times changes in adult human behavior that make Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde look a minor mood swing. Yet, the sheer obsessive joy that fantasy creates for its participants surely seems to make all of the dramatics worth it. Perhaps it’s because our fantasy teams are very personal creations, extensions of ourselves, so to speak. Or maybe it’s due to the fact that getting a huge point output from your fantasy team is like vicariously winning the lottery. Or possibly it’s that fantasy adds meaning to sporting contests that you would otherwise never give a hoot about.
Whatever the root cause of fantasy’s hold on us may be, it certainly appears that it is here to stay. And along with it, of course, remain the vast forms of fantasy madness that remind us how fragile we all are in our own unique ways.
As a famous television alien might have said, “Live long and prosper in your absurd fantasy life!”