A Fantasy Metamorphosis
By: Diana Francis and Doug Husen
Consider this a fantasy football version of “Encino Man.” Two friends—one of us the commissioner of one of the oldest continually running fantasy football leagues in the nation (this coming year marks the fortieth year), the other has never played in a fantasy league. We invite you to eavesdrop on a recent conversation where we both find ourselves encountering in one another a strange creature, a frozen caveman of sorts. We attempt to figure out why one of us eats, sleeps, and breathes fantasy football for six months a year and the other has never played any fantasy sport. Oh yeah—lest you assume this article focuses on women complaining about playing second fiddle to fantasy sports—Doug has never played fantasy sports and Diana serves as the commissioner of the forty year-old league. We will leave it you to decide which one of us deserves the troglodyte moniker.
Doug: I know you play fantasy football. How long have you played?
Diana: Forty years this coming season, we started our league in 1981.
Doug: Wow, Forty years! How did you guys get started? How many teams in your league?
Diana: We started out as a group of friends who heard about a new kind of “football pool” and decided to give it a try. Ten couples gathered together to create the framework for our league that we called the BFL (Bush Football League.) Except for me, the other wives only stayed involved for the first year. Remember, no home computers or cell phones existed back then. We phoned in our rosters to the answering machine of the commissioner before the first game each week. We scored every rostered player by hand using the Los Angeles Times box scores from printed newspapers and used an old-school twenty column accounting pad to record the results. Then the commissioner typed up the weekly newsletter and results—on a typewriter. He mailed them out in an envelope with a stamp on Tuesdays. Back then no head to head play existed. We based the scoring on point differential. Teams would pay ten cents per point for every point they trailed to the players above them and would receive the same from any players below them. Bruce, our first commissioner created a “trophy” out of his old frat paddle. I think it got lost when he moved from one house to another a few years later.
Doug: How have you guys kept this together for forty years? Do you still have the same ten teams?
Diana: Let me take those one at a time. I have always contended that the reason that our league continues to remain strong for all these years boils down to one thing—we began as friends first and foremost. We don’t focus on the money, although we will happily take it. What we really want is to divest you of your dignity. Sarcasm is our love language. We have the perfect recipe—enduring friendships with just the right amount of carefully crafted opportunistic insults. We take no prisoners—picture “The League” (before they jumped the shark.) These insults reach maximum effectiveness and entertainment value when we can gang shame someone who makes a bonehead choice. Like when someone drafts a player who just announced his retirement the day before or one owner who literally benched the wrong quarterback every single week last year. This heckling now includes disparaging gifs and memes. Nonetheless, our members have stood with one another over the years through weddings, births, sicknesses, and deaths. Which brings me to your second question. With the exception of a couple of guys who moved or had work issues, the nucleus remained basically the same for the first eighteen years. Then one of our members suffered a sudden massive heart attack and stroke and passed away on Christmas Eve in 1999. Steve sat in first place at the time, so we froze the season and declared him the winner that year. My husband Rick, the commissioner at that time, purchased a large trophy with a nine inch solid bronze figure that resembled the Heisman mounted on a marble block with a beautiful walnut base. It weighs over twenty-five pounds. Since the original trophy had been lost, Rick placed name plaques for the past winners on the new trophy from memory and named it the “Steve Coleman Memorial Trophy” in honor of our friend. This trophy passed from winner to winner each year. When Rick died in 2013, the league members showed up for his memorial service with the trophy in hand, having renamed it the “Steve Coleman and Rick Francis Memorial Trophy” in honor of the fact that Rick had faithfully served as commissioner for over twenty-five years. In 2018, two more of our original players passed away. By that time, I wore the commissioner’s hat, so I placed an “In Memoriam” plaque on the marble block and listed the names of the four deceased players. We left room on that plaque for the rest of us to eventually join them (but not too soon, of course.) We bring the trophy to every memorial service. One of these services ended up happening on the last Sunday of the fantasy season. Because of a tight race for first place that year, all of our players kept checking their phones for the scores during the service and the wake (including his own son)—Tommy would have loved it! Each year at the Super Bowl Party we raise a glass to our four departed members as we award the trophy to that year’s winner. Four second generation legacy players have since joined us and some of their children have expressed interest in playing once they can afford to cover any losses they might incur (we give no quarter.) We have since added a second tier onto the trophy, Stanley Cup style, that will hold the winners names until 2085 when the legacy players will need to add a third tier to it. New players can only join if a vacancy occurs. Any new prospects must receive an invitation based on a referral from another member involving a vetting and vote by the league. While we certainly want to take your money, we really want someone who will fit in and fully engage with the group. So what about you? As a former athlete, huge sports fan, and devoted Vikings supporter, how in the world have you managed to bury your head and go this long without joining a fantasy league?
Doug: No one reason really, but I do play in March Madness bracket pools and have for the last twenty years. Not to boast, I have won a couple of times and this year I had the right teams playing for the Championship. I enjoy researching the players and teams during December, January and February to identify the ones who will likely enter the post season playing “Hot!” This year I could see that so far no one had stopped the Zags and the powerful Baylor team certainly deserved respect. But, I confess, I didn’t see UCLA, Oral Roberts, or the other Pac-12 teams doing as well as they did. I think I would enjoy the same “build up” to the season if I played NFL Fantasy as well. It gives me a reason to look more broadly at the NFL than just at my favorite team the Vikings and their App.
Diana: I admit, I play March Madness too, but I usually choose my teams in about ten minutes and then it all runs on autopilot from there. I personally need more ongoing input and strategy. With fantasy football I can make choices each week that determine my destiny—or at least I like to think that I can control it. I did win it all this year, so I can continue to live in that dream at least for now. Fantasy football motivates me to want to watch every game. Newsletters each week rival the celebrity roasts hosted at the Friar’s Club. Besides, drafting the running back that another guy wanted makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning. I contend that most fantasy players look forward to draft day more than any other time of the season—lots of high hopes and posturing. Everyone thinks they can win it all and we do not hesitate to vocalize that view—until you lose your best player to a season ending injury in week one (we have all experienced this.)
Doug: Now you sound like my brother, the college All-American. He has played fantasy football for over twenty years. He told me that their drafts take place on a Saturday afternoon in the high-rise boardroom of a prestigious Los Angeles law firm. It seems like a really big deal.
Diana: Rightly spoken, grasshopper. Players plan for weeks in anticipation of Draft Day. Everyone comes with their cheat sheets and their game plan held close to their chest. Then the actual draft begins. Everyone’s plans usually blow up by the second round—let the trash talk begin. It’s a beautiful thing.
Doug: My nephew plays now too. My brother says that it brings them closer together. One of my sons also plays in a fantasy league. It sounds like it might serve as a way to bond more with him, too. I want to connect more emotionally to the games that I watch…you know, to have a “dog in the hunt.” As I said, I even have a Vikings app on my phone that gives player insights, interviews, and coaches’ press conferences. I think you may have convinced me to talk to my son about playing in his league this year.
Diana: Now, there you go, baby steps. Bonding time with your son—a good start. We’re definitely gonna have to work on your taunting skills, though.