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Fresh Eyes

I live across the street from Jason Garrett. He has invited me to go boating with him on the weekends, but I haven’t found the time.

The eyes of most football fans (particularly Cowboy fans) widen when I tell them that I have more important things to do than to spend my Saturdays on a lake with Jason Garrett. They are then either amused or annoyed (mostly annoyed) when I reveal that the Jason Garrett who lives across the street from me is the manager of a nearby Red Lobster—not the touted offensive coordinator.

Last week, I tried out this little exercise in misdirection on a Green Bay Packer fan who was chatting with me in an airport. He registered no amusement—no annoyance—no emotional response at all. He simply asked, “Isn’t Jason Garrett that overpaid coordinator who came out of nowhere?”

“Are you saying you don’t remember him as an NFL quarterback?” I fired back.

“He used to play?”

That surprised me a little bit from a Cheesehead. Dallas fans remember Garrett as the backup to Troy Aikman in various contests, but I thought that all Packer fans remembered him clearly from the Thanksgiving game in 1994, when Garrett and the ‘Boys rallied against the Pack with the whole country watching.

“I remember that game!” my new acquaintance conceded. “I just thought that was some scrub in at QB. You’re telling me that was Jason Garrett? I am going to have to read up on him when I get home. You’re stupid not to go boating with him.”

I decided against repeating that my neighbor just shares Garrett’s name. He wouldn’t have listened anyway. He was too excited about absorbing information that had been available to him for years—but that he had never had any motive to appreciate.

* * * * *

Every summer, I hear from at least one person who is thinking about kicking the fantasy football habit. The phone calls or emails generally begin in analogous ways. Here are the top ten opening lines:

  1. Now that I’m married . . .
  2. Now that I’m going through this divorce . . .
  3. Now that I have a kid on the way . . .
  4. Now that my kids are getting involved in sports . . .
  5. Now that I got this promotion . . .
  6. Now that I’ve taken this second job . . .
  7. Now that I have to travel on Sundays for work . . .
  8. Now that I have moved into a house that I am responsible for maintaining . . .
  9. Now that I am trying to focus more on the stock market . . .
  10. Now that I’ve taken up golf [or insert the activity of your choice] . . .

Even if the stimulus isn’t always the same, the logic is identical in every case. There is some new drain on my time and energy, so I have to give up some pre-existing drain on my time and energy. When I look over the activities that I spend my time on, fantasy football appears to the most expendable item on the list, so I am going to give it up.

I have written elsewhere about the flawed logic that most people use to calculate the time they spend on fantasy football. If you were going to read the sports page anyway, did you lose time to fantasy football simply because you thought about the implications for your quarterback corps as you read about the Michael Vick case? If you were going to spend 15 minutes surfing the net while waiting for your spouse to get home, is it fair to say that fantasy football took that time from you because you chose to spend it reading about Ronnie Brown instead of skimming some blog on why Farah Fawcett is just as important as Michael Jackson? If the most important participant in a conference call is five minutes late and the other folks kill the time by trying to determine whether Terrell Owens’ statistical productivity is offset by his effect on morale, then do you want to make the claim that fantasy football is stealing your life because the time could have been spent exchanging chocolate chip cookie recipes instead?

The fact of the matter is that for most people, fantasy football is an interstitial time sink. It isn’t something we devote huge chunks of time to; it’s an activity that happens by fits and starts between other activities. It’s true that I spend dozens of hours in the course of the football season checking the stats on my teams, but it is not true that I set aside even one single hour for that purpose. I will spend Thanksgiving with my wife’s family. We will watch the Cowboys play. While they are playing, I will occasionally walk over to the computer to check for statistical updates on my guys. So will my wife’s uncles. So will her nephews. If not for fantasy football, that time would be spent chewing mashed potatoes and debating whether the Budweiser commercial is funnier than the Geico commercial. You can call the time spent checking stats “lost” if you like, but I’ve already had my fill of potatoes and lizards with British accents—thank you.

Quite simply, I reject the argument that people kick the fantasy football habit because they lack the time for it. They quit because they have lost interest. If fantasy football has become a chore for you and you want to take a break for a season or to step away entirely, then it is your prerogative to do so. You don’t need to get married or have kids to provide yourself with an excuse.

Do not ask yourself, “How will I find time for fantasy football?”, but “Why am I losing interest in fantasy football?”

* * * * *

The middle paragraph of “kick-the-fantasy-habit” emails is the one that interests me. That is when the writer is likely to say something along these lines:

“When last season ended, I was actually relieved. I had become sick and tired of checking the same websites every Tuesday morning, rejecting the same outrageous trade offers every Wednesday, scouring the website to make decisions on my lineups every Thursday, and pondering the same rumors about injuries every Friday and Saturday.”

The NFL is a lot of things—but it is not boring. If your approach to gathering fantasy information has become a tedious routine, then consider the possibility that your routine is what is failing you. Shake things up. Stop watching NFL Live if you are sick of it. Start watching it if you are sick of the radio programs that have become tiresome for you. The NFL presents us with a rich tapestry that can be examined from any number of perspectives. Most of us make the mistake of allowing ourselves to examine it from the same perspective over and over—which can make even that richness appear dull.

Indulge me for a moment by visiting the FFToday homepage. If you are like me, the article that catches your eye is the mock analysis by Mike MacGregor. MacGregor has been a colleague of mine for years. He knows lots more about football than I do; he is way better with statistics than I am; he is an astute analyst and an engaging writer. I look forward to reading his analysis of an early mock. A newcomer to FFToday brimming with curiosity and enthusiasm would doubtless benefit tremendously from MacGregor’s article, but I am going to make a point of reading other things first.

For years now, I have found that the quickest way of bringing myself up to speed is to read early mock analyses like MacGregor’s in the summer. When I visited FFToday over the weekend and saw that article, my mouse moved the cursor to the link almost by itself. And then the thought occurred to me: “It’s June again. I am trying to catch up on the NFL. And I am starting, as always, with an analysis of an early mock.”

The truth of the matter is that even if William Shakespeare and Vince Lombardi had coauthored a mock analysis, I would not have been excited about reading it. I therefore made the choice to read TJ Thomas’ article on offensive coordinator changes. There is no way that reading about 5 teams (Arizona, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, and KC) was as efficient at catching me up on the NFL as reading the variously global and detailed analysis of an early mock would have been, but sometimes giving ourselves a change of pace is more important than being efficient.

I do not usually include reader feedback in my summer columns, but if any readers want to share strategies for rekindling interest in fantasy football, I will do my best to share those strategies in July or August. Can you make me as stoked about reading a mock analysis as that Packer fan was about getting home to read up on Jason Garrett? I want to look at old information with fresh and energetic eyes. I suspect we all do.