I lost track years ago of the number of fantasy leagues I’ve
participated in. Strangely, it doesn’t matter how big the
purse is or how many published “experts” I’m competing
against or how many people are watching the weekly scoring updates.
No league has ever mattered to me as much as the one I started with.
I’ve mentioned this league (JAFFL—Just Another Fantasy
Football League) occasionally in my columns for FFToday. It is a
48-team mega-league with four conferences and a rather complicated
scheduling and playoff system. It can hardly be called a big-money
league (since the champion takes home a purse of only $1500). If
anyone else in JAFFL writes professionally concerning fantasy football,
I’m unaware of it. I also doubt that many of the 36 participants
outside of my own conference know that I have been moonlighting
as a fantasy football analyst for the past 5 years.
So why is it that I’m more concerned about my performance
against a bunch of average joes in a league that nobody ever heard
of than I am about my performance in an exclusive league at FFToday
in which I compete against experts and subject my picks, roster
moves, and lineups to public scrutiny?
I’m not exactly sure, but I think it may have something to
do with the fact that in the decade I have been involved with JAFFL,
I have never won the championship.
I’ve won my conference. I’ve earned a bye going into
the postseason. I’m a regular in the playoffs. But I’ve
never claimed the title—and I desperately want that title.
If you told me that I could choose between winning the JAFFL championship
and being declared Bill Gates’ sole heir, I would have to
think it over.
There are lots of reasons that it’s difficult to come out
on top in a 48-team league. Obviously, it’s far more difficult
to beat 47 people out for first place than it is to beat 11 people.
But there are other factors as well. In most leagues, you won’t
encounter your own players on other people’s teams. But in
our mega-league, each conference has its own draft. In 2005, I cleverly
picked up Larry Johnson fairly late in the draft. I was beaten in
the playoffs by an owner in another conference who had also picked
up Larry Johnson late. Last year, I stole Frank Gore fairly late
as well—only to lose in the playoffs to an owner from another
conference who had done the same.
And then there is the fact that some conferences in a 4-conference
league are bound to be more competitive than other conferences.
As folks leave JAFFL and are replaced by others, some conferences
bring in knowledgeable competitors, but others bring in clueless
patsies. My conference drafted last in 2006 and had the chance to
review the drafts for the other three conferences. One of the conferences
had gone through some turnover and brought in some inexperienced
folks who locked in on quarterbacks in the early rounds. Trent Green
and Marc Bulger were the 16th and 17th overall picks in that conference.
The newcomers clearly weren’t putting much pressure on the
more experienced members of that conference.
How could the winner of our conference (with the same 12 freakishly
competitive guys for the past 4 years) expect to compete against
the winner of a conference filled with rookies and pushovers?
That same question comes up every year at our draft, and I can understand
why some of the folks in my conference maintain that we are at a
disadvantage vs. those in conferences with high turnover from one
year to the next because we all have to draft against other people
who have a clue. Nevertheless, I’ve written in the past that
I believe the cut-throat competition in our conference only makes
our winner stronger than the other conference champs. He will almost
certainly have a weaker pool of players to draw on, but he has learned
to make quicker waiver wire decisions, more reasonable and beneficial
trades, and better choices about his lineup each week.
The fact that my arch-rival in my conference (a foul-mouthed, obnoxious,
narcissistic, sputtering, contentious, insufferable blowhard by
the name of Greg Petty, owner of the Token Cowboys) claimed the
JAFFL title this year may support my argument.
Greg Petty is the first (and will probably for the foreseeable future
remain the “only”) person to have won two JAFFL championships,
so it’s difficult for me to conclude that being in the most
competitive conference of a mega-league really puts one at a disadvantage
(any more than being in the NFC East prevented the Cowboys, Redskins,
and Giants from claiming the Vince Lombardi trophy repeatedly in
Of course, it’s entirely possible that our conference only
thinks of itself as the most competitive. Folks in other JAFFL conferences
might point to Greg Petty’s success and use it as evidence
that the other eleven folks in his conference (including yours truly)
are a bunch of patsies and pushovers. And since we are all losers,
we should just suffer in silence as they explain why it’s
so important to take Trent Green with the 16th overall pick.
But here’s the interesting thing about Greg Petty’s
perspective: He wouldn’t interpret his own success as an indicator
of the level of competition that he faces in his own conference
or the level of competition that other owners face in other conferences.
He would laugh if I tried to argue that the folks in my conference
had somehow made him a better player because of our knowledge. And
he would laugh if folks from other conferences tried to argue that
the folks in my conference had somehow made him a better player
because of our lack of knowledge. He would laugh and take a swallow
of Shiner Bock and belch and scratch his genitals and gloat and
say, “I won because I’m good, and there aint nothing
that any of yall can do about how good I am.”
And I confess I’m beginning to wonder if his mentality is
in fact the key to his success. The man is constitutionally incapable
of discussing football. He only pontificates. When my brother drafted
Curtis Martin in what turned out to be a career year for him, Petty
sneered that Martin was older than dirt and useless. When Deion
Branch was drafted last year, Petty scowled and barked at the entire
room, “Branch will not play a single down this year. Mark
As I think back over the dozens of hyperbolic predictions and absurd
side bets Petty has made over the years (after the draft, when he
had no motivation to lie), I’m quite certain that he has gotten
far more things wrong than right.
But being wrong doesn’t faze the man. I sat in his living
room watching football with him and said, “Well looky there.
Deion Branch appears to be playing more than a single down.”
He glared at me and sneered, “What do you know? You’re
just like all these idiots who think that Peyton Manning has what
it takes to win a Super Bowl.”
When I see him at this year’s draft, he won’t be affected
by Manning’s victory. He won’t acknowledge that he was
wrong about Manning, but he’s sure to make some outrageous
prediction about Randy Moss and the Patriots.
He’s just an absurdly (almost an insanely) contrary person.
It makes no sense to me that a man who overstates and oversimplifies
so many things about football can nevertheless make such sound,
balanced, nuanced decisions when it comes to making trades and managing
He’ll never read this article because he can’t stand
fantasy football websites. He brings a preseason magazine to the
draft each year only to help jar his memory about player names.
But he just buys whichever one is cheapest. He doesn’t read
the magazines; he doesn’t consult experts. He’s convinced
that just about everyone who writes about sports (whether they concern
themselves with fantasy implications or not) is a complete idiot.
And he seems equally convinced that sports fans are all idiots.
Owners are idiots. Coaches are idiots. Players are idiots. Apparently
everyone in the world who has the misfortune of not being Greg Petty
is an idiot. The upshot is that he listens to no one, reaches all
his own conclusions, and trusts only his own instincts about player
talent and roster management.
There’s a hilarious irony in there for anyone who knows the
etymology of “idiot.” If we recall that idiots are “private
people”—people who live in their own worlds instead
of the one that they share with other fans, writers, coaches, owners,
and players—then the true idiot is Greg Petty. But he appears
to be an idiot in an extremely productive way from a fantasy perspective.
He may get lots of things wrong, but he never gets sucked into the
hype of the moment. He doesn’t even know or care what the
hype of the moment is.
It seems like a liability to me that he is so very wrong about things
that the vast majority of other people get right. But that is the
price he pays for being right about all the things he keeps to himself—the
things he gets right that everyone else gets wrong. I know lots
of fantasy experts who are more balanced thinkers, more meticulous
thinkers, more precise thinkers. But I know no one who is a bolder
or more independent thinker.
The case of Greg Petty makes me wonder whether it’s better
to be precise or bold in our thinking about fantasy football. My
initial response to that question is to point to the scads of websites
like FFToday and the many publications available at a convenience
store near you and conclude that an increasingly specialized and
insightful set of analysts appears to be directing the community
of fantasy players to an increasingly standardized set of conclusions.
Rogue thinkers can easily separate themselves from the pack, but
whether they come out ahead or behind might have more to do with
luck than the quality of their thinking. So the question that raises
itself is: “If I want to distinguish myself from my competitors
by making some outlandish decisions, what kind of independently
reached conclusions are most likely to pay off?”
But I can hear Greg Petty snickering in the background because I’m
trying to take a precise approach to bold thinking. He’s calling
me an idiot, but that is precisely the wrong word because I can’t
help being interested in other people’s positions on things.
I read and listen and mull things over and discover that it isn’t
too long before the line between what I think about Shaun Alexander
and what other people seem to think is too blurry for me to make
If we focus on this aspect of my own mentality, I guess I am anything
but an idiot. But I’m pretty sure Greg is going to insist
that we focus on the JAFFL championship and who won it—and
in his private world, “idiot” is just a synonym for
P.S. I couldn’t work “mean-spirited drunk”
into my earlier description of Greg Petty because it was getting
too long, but I include it here simply because it’s true.
For responses to this fantasy question please email
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