Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: There’s Reality Behind the Fantasy

For many men, the word “fantasy” conjures images of occupying the skin of the fictional Vincent Chase and rolling on Highway One in a Maserati with a flawless woman, or eight, as seen in just about any episode of HBO’s “Entourage.”

For others, it brings to mind a scene of roughly 10 men huddled around a table glaring at obscure statistical analyses and shouting the names of middle-aged, uniformed men. No, the second scenario is not the wild, collective dream of the Village People. It is the world of fantasy football.

Granted, it is not a world that many truly understand. For instance, my girlfriend regularly calls it “imaginary football.” That is incorrect nomenclature. Those who engage in fantasy football do not “imagine” anything. They do not play in an “imaginary” stadium, catching an “imaginary” ball from an “imaginary” quarterback before doing a very real touchdown dance in their front yard before stopping, dead embarrassed, when their mother comes to call them in for dinner. Just a hypothetical situation there.

No, fantasy football is much more substantive than that. Fantasy football is about real breathing, flesh-and-blood men and women with real dreams and ambitions … who temporarily set them aside to live vicariously through the statistical achievements of men we will never meet in person.

And the best possible outcome for fantasy players? Collect a pot of money at the end of the season, maybe snag a tiny plastic trophy and garner an opportunity to label your friend a tool when his brittle stud player predictably goes down for the year with an injury.

We’re simple creatures.

Needless to say, trying to explain your fantasy football devotion to your significant other using the rationale of “pursuing fantasy glory” usually falls a little short … unless there’s a promise to purchase footwear with any prize money.

So, allow me to take a stab at why we, and yes, that’s the royal “we,” enjoy playing fantasy football so much.

Fantasy sports, obviously, aren’t like traditional sports. There’s no physical exertion. There’s no team-building drive towards a similar goal. In fact, there’s usually a lot of name-calling, derision and, during particularly heated arguments, there’s a strong likelihood that the virtue of your mother will be called into question. And yet there is a kinship among fantasy gamers.

There’s a level of discussion about football that transcends the usual dialogue of wins and losses. It delves into the minutiae of individual performances and individual plays. On any given Monday or Tuesday you could hear a co-worker talking about one play by one backup player that had absolutely no consequence on the outcome of the actual game. And yet, that play served as the pivotal moment in that co-worker’s fantasy football match-up, causing him (or her) to lose their game and thereby ruining their week. Like I said, we’re simple creatures.

There’s an insiderism that is built as well. For instance, when a true fantasy gamer reads the aforementioned “brittle stud player” label, their mind will immediately flash upon the images of Fred Taylor, Brian Westbrook and Andre Johnson. And they’ll smile and slowly nod and wistfully remember all the hours they spent debating whether or not the injury-prone stars were worth the gamble, drafted them anyway and later spent the rest of the season cursing three-letter abbreviations that end in “CL.” Yeah fantasy players, you know what I’m talkin’ about. The rest of you … well, you probably think I am completely insane. But, hey, that’s okay. My fantasy-football-playing brethren understand.

You see, when it gets right down to it, playing fantasy sports actually is a lot like “Entourage,” it’s just that our Maseratis happen to go by the name of Cadillac Williams.

Fantasy football, the draft, the water cooler recaps, the commiseration with co-workers, it’s all about enjoying yourself among friends. It’s about kicking back with your boys, putting all meaningful activity on the back burner and just having some fun.

So no, friends, family and significant others of fantasy football players, you don’t have to understand why we so value running backs who get a lot of touches in the red zone. All you have to know is: 1.) That is not as dirty as it sounds. And 2.) If you’re not playing fantasy football, you’re missing out on a lot of fun.