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In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) declared that online poker sites were banned from operating on U.S. soil. The same act stipulated that organized Fantasy Sports Leagues for monetary incentive, however, is not to be considered “gambling,” and thus permissible. The Act worked swimmingly well: millions of Americans continued to play online poker for cash for the next five years, and meanwhile, the exception eviscerated most of the fantasy sports industry’s shackles, which grosses anywhere from 1.5 to 3 billion dollars yearly depending on the source.
As an online poker player at the time of the Act’s passage, I was appalled by the UIGEA’s draconian positions on what constitutes illegal gambling versus legal gaming. Whether the UIGEA was effective (ROFL) or not, was inconsequential; it still purported to make an unjustifiable infringement against my freedom to engage in peaceful behavior with my property. As my own personal statement, then, playing five tables on online poker that night, I vowed to take a stalwart position against joining a fantasy league.
Then, however, the United States Justice Department shutdown major online poker sites for good in April, 2011. It was based on charges of fraud, which makes me wonder when Wall Street – that little blip on the fraud radar – will come into focus. Still, hunger rendering hypocrisy an irrelevant consideration, my yearn for terms like “buy-ins,” “expected value” and “statistics” pushed me into joining two fantasy football leagues several months later. Which is great, because this is perfectly legal and not gambling.
The two leagues in which I am participating are a SportsofNewYork /Boston fantasy league and another with a bunch of attorneys at a criminal defense office . To the victor of the former is “honor” amongst self-proclaimed sports pundits, to the latter a small kitty of $200. On Saturday, I participated in the “honor” draft over Yahoo!. The atmosphere within the Yahoo “draft room” was no B.S. and all business. We were advised by our “commissioner” to arrive at the site ten minutes early for some reason or another, but since I rarely show up on time in reality, I really see no point in terminating that practice for an online league. I get there about 5 minutes late, arriving in on a conversation about how Tom Brady is too handsome to be drafted lower than the 2nd round. Whether there is truth to this or not is mere speculation; however, Matt Ryan is drafted closely behind Brady and nobody picks up Jay Cutler until much, much later in the draft.
In the “room,” the following positions are to be selected: 2 quarterbacks, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, a tight end, a team defense, and a field goal kicker. Then, you pick six players for your bench. For every player in the NFL from Peyton Manning to that guy on the North Carolina Panthers who you’ve never heard of in your entire life, a virtual smorgasboard of statistics is provided: yahoo.com’s ranking, fantasy owners’ rating, what percentage of teams throughout yahoo.com start him, how many grams of Creatine each player is ingests per week, whether my franchise QB has the blues. Also, relevant details about how the player performed on the field last year are included.
Money isn’t on the line, and I initially decide to pick Plaxico Burress for two entirely sentimental reasons. The first was to honor a 6’5, 225 pound former New York Giant who caught the game winning touchdown during the Giants legendary Superbowl 2008 win. The second was to spite of Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to urge the DA’s office to sentence the maximum to a first time offender in order to “set an example” for the rest of NY to follow. In any event, this resolution came to a swift halt when my buddy, Poor Man’s John Cusack, started to harangue me on Facebook that the only right thing to do was to take a running back: the work horse that accrues a lot of touchdowns and fat fantasy point totals.
There’s a digital clock at the upper left hand corner of the screen that allots each owner one minute and 30 seconds to make his pick. After a minute, the clock turns yellow, and after 30 seconds, it turns red. Game clocks in live sports contests aren’t as intense. Everyone seems to make their picks in less than ten seconds except for this one guy who takes a full minute for every pick, which is unacceptable. He reminds me of those guys at the online poker tables who would take a full 30 seconds before making even the most rudimentary of decisions; usually, he would get “flamed” in the chat boxes as a result. Thirty seconds is way too long, and a minute is a lifetime in the online world. I hope I slay his organization when my team, “MayorBloombergLOL,” faces against his on the field!
I pick Matt Schaub from Houston because I want a reason to like Texas this year, and then proceed to take Rashard Mendenhall (Pitt), Anquan Bolden (Balt), Dustin Keller (NY), Donovan McNabb (Minn), Mike Tolbert (SD), Percy Harvin (Minn), Braylon Edwards (SF), the Dallas Cowboys defense, and by way of introduction from Poor Man’s John Cusack who wrote his name on my Facebook IM five times, St. Louis Cardinals field goal kicker Josh Brown. It turns out in Fantasy leagues, the Field Goal kicker is a little more important than he is in reality. I put it on “auto” pick for the bench draft, and Yahoo takes care of the rest. Plaxico, somehow, finds his way on my team.
Draft day with the criminal attorneys is a more raucous occasion. My commissioner – who has dropped by my office maybe once in the last seven years – comes to pick me up to go the “draft room” at the front of the building, an area usually reserved for cursing out the photo copy machine and binding legal briefs while our assistants entertain a fusillade of phone calls and occasionally sneak in a game of online backgammon to calm the nerves.
The Comish walks in on me while I’m printing out my Sports Illustrated “Cheat Sheet.” The “Cheat Sheet” is not all that it’s cracked up to be – it’s just their version of the top 250 players to be drafted.
“Nerd,” The Comish quips.
“Want one?” I reply
“Nah, I’ve done so many of these fantasy leagues now, that I have everything memorized.”
We walk, suited and booted, past a few thousand uniformly yellow criminal files to the draft room. Our league has 10 other attorneys, a welcome split between three females and seven males. If I’m a nerd, then everyone else in the room is a geek (or maybe just more of a lawyer than I am), because I have the least paperwork in my hands. Each person has five or six scraps of memo paper littered with notes. I spy some of the lists and notice that they all have numerous cross-outs and many arrows looping up and down between slots. Very serious mental gymnastics took place before draft day.
The commissioner repeats everyone’s picks in perfect deadpan accompanied by a smirk - “Aaron Rodgers in the first round….interesting.” Is it now? By the second round, one of the roisterous females of the group announces that her new nickname…and I’m paraphrasing here as per the rules and guidelines of SportsofNewYork…will be “The Commissioner Fellates Himself.” The Comish dryly replies “that name is still available,” and all my ire toward his condescension quickly turns into snark laced admiration.
Somewhere in the third round another female in the group pines “I love Matty Ice.” Her friend, married, lowly moans “Yeah.” Neither select him for their teams. Numerous groans of a different variety are released when someone snatches Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is reminiscent of Randy Moss except with twice the muscle and about two tons less the Prima Donna baggage. By the fifth round, the married female attorney gets a call from her husband. She feints a “Hey, can I call you back, I’m in the middle of my draft,” and when she realizes that nobody is paying attention to her because they are too enrapt in their lists, she starts whispering her picks into the phone and nodding her head.
There was much to do about the “flex position” for this draft. That’s the position where you can pick either a running back, wide receiver, or tight end, but not a kicker. Why not? What if I want to have two kickers on my team? In any event, the “flex” position was mentioned a good ten times during the draft. Mostly by the guys, who threw the term around because the sound of it can make a 120lb weakling sound tough – “I’m going to pick up a running back at my flex position.” I even heard a reed thin hipster yammer on about his “flex position” on his Droid across Dekalb Avenue, and actually looked street tough for a moment. Fort Greene Brooklyn street tough, but still.
For the better part of the draft, transactions went smoothly. Part of the reason is these some of these attorneys, who are really nice and (therefore) make a pittance of what corporate attorneys do whilst working 55+ hours a week, are engaged in levels of endearing homerism that online forum members of any profession or age (that includes early 40s, I know a few) would dismiss most vehemently as very “LOL.” Drafting the Jets defense wasn’t a problem considering that someone picked the Giants defense first. That nobody snickered after the pick was surprising to me, as “WTFs” swam around my head. I really need to stop forum posting.
The first eight guys I picked, in no particular order, were Boldin (Balt) again, Matt Schaub (Hou) (QB) again, Ray Rice (Balt), Michael Turner (Atl), Dustin Keller (NY), Vincent Jackson (SD), and Braylon Edwards as my Flllleeeexxxxx. In the 9th round, I picked up Field Goal kicker Josh Brown (Stl), to which the Comish took issue – “why would you ever pick a field goal kicker in the 9th round?” I wanted to tell him it was because Poor Man’s John Cusack was so enthusiastic about him, that I really felt I had no choice. But I simply said that Brown is going to be awesome, which he will be. I left the scene before the bench was selected, leaving my picks in the hands of my neighbor, the Earl of the North Shore. I ask him to pick a quarterback, two wide receivers, two running backs, and a second team defense. The next day, he picks four wide receivers and two running backs, and explains that he was helping me out. I silently declare war on him and go into my office to play Word Challenge on facebook.
Turns out that the Earl was correct, thereby sowing the seeds for amicable negotiations throughout the season. Honorable Nobility for a change, who would have thought it?! All the crap QBs I wanted the Earl to select for me were on “waivers,” so he picked up a couple of other guys instead. All I have to do is go onto yahoo.com, drop a player from my roster, thereby putting him on “waivers,” and then pick another player up, also from “waivers.” I “waive” goodbye to some guy who’s name I already don’t remember from the Atlanta Falcons, and add Tennesee Titans QB Matt Hassleback to the family. I find myself staring the few hundred available selections, undertaking in whirling calculations about which 2nd string running back may optimize value in the later rounds. I begin to wish that I could just have the freedom to figure out what to do with a pair of sixes instead.
8:00am: Circadian rhythms are obnoxious, dumb. Contemplate turning on Sports Radio to lull me back asleep. Too late, already back asleep.
11:00am: That’s better.
11:15am: Breakfast outside. Beautiful hipster passerby wearing sundresses and a couple of college athletes who can’t seem to miss a jump shot on a nearby basketball court compete for my attention. The 500% drop in humidity is a welcome change to the weather. It feels like autumn. Football is in the air.
12:15pm: OH NOES, I FORGOT TO PICK MY STARTERS FOR MY FANTASY TEAMS.
1:30pm: I’m actually rooting for the Houston Texans for the first time in my life, and feel empty inside as a result. Karma spins back nice and sweet as Houston puts up 34 points by the half, but Matt Schaub passes for more INTs than touchdowns. I still hate Texas.
2pm: I hope that St. Louis doesn’t score a touchdown for the entire season, failing to convert every single 3rd down between the 30 and 20 yard line for the entire season. This way my fantasy team would score fat, fat points, which is all that matters.
3pm: A CBS broadcast announcer mentions for the fifth time in under a minute that Michael Vick was paid the big bucks for being able to make tough touchdown passes. Oh, is that why?
3:30pm: I love it when advertising teams hit the medicine cabinet before brainstorming begins. This is a trail blazing candidate for commercial of the year.
4pm: Worst commercial of the year? I can’t seem to find the link to this commercial on Youtube, nor do I ever want to see it again. But this conversation with The Pizza Connoisseur over Facebook sums things up nicely:
Argun: “Yo, what was that commercial on Sunday where this suit is sitting in coach class, and his future suit self from 15 years later comes over and sits next to him?”
The Pizza Connoisseur: Yo, what bro?
Argun: The elder suit sits next to the younger version of himself and advises him that he needs to keep saving some cash, so that when he retires, he can sit in business class as well. Immediately after, the elder suit excuses himself so he can go back to business class. Because he’s tired of slumming it in coach, you see? Do you remember the name of that commercial?
The Pizza Connoisseur: America?
I guess “A Christmas Carol” isn’t getting a remake anytime soon.
5pm: It’s not that Washington Redskins QB Rex Grossman is about to resurrect his career. It’s that the Giants Secondary is in shambles.
6:15pm: It’s OK, Eli. A nice warm batch of cookies and the final episode of Entourage will be waiting for you at home. You’re almost there, buddy.
8pm: Why is that woman with the horse face and the black beady eyes still singing the NBC “Sunday Night Football” intro? She scares me.
8:30pm: I go to check my Fantasy Football scores. I’m well ahead of “Danny’s Doughnuts” in my SportsofNewYork league, and am horse whipping “Birds to the Bowl” in my attorney’s league.
11pm: Hey, Tony Romo – pass it to Dez Bryant again. He’ll actually run full speed for the ball this time, and leap over Derrel Revis to catch it. Promise!
11:15pm: Dummy. Jets defensive stats for the night: 4 sacks, 1 INT with two minutes left in the 4th Quarter (Revis covering Dez Bryant), 1 blocked punt.
11:45pm: What are my feelings on the Final Episode of Entourage? Hack job patch work of loose plot points that serves as an aperture to a film franchise. For instance, what will Sloan do when Eric Murphy confirms that he slept with her ex-mother in law? Will Johnny Drama sleep with Eric’s sublimely enchanting secretary? What exactly will happen in Paris, aside from surrealistically extravagant spending? All major cliffhanger material. Still, audiences viewed Entourage from their homes for the last several years, experienced the gang on their television sets come Sunday night. So on the last Sunday evening of the show, the writers should have tried to make that final experience just a little more satisfying, all cliffhangers aside.
Tuesday, 7:45am: I log onto yahoo.com and learn that I’m 1-0 in each league. However, my point total is close to the lowest amongst the winners. Translation: I got lucky to compete against less fortunate competition. Still, I’m satisfied at my shrewd transactions – just win baby, winning is everything, etc. I go to the bathroom and turn on the light. I look in the mirror and there are two half moons under my eyes. Face paint. It’s time to go to work.