Monday, August 02, 2010

Watching Sports in the 21st Century

I'm probably not saying anything new here. These gripes are just coming to me because I decided to get back into watching pro football again and found some challenges with my viewing experience.

It's "Fantasy Football" that's ruining it for me. I wanted to be conversant on the teams in case random guy at the driving range asked me what I thought (I tend to wear a Bears cap when I'm out hitting the little spheres). So then I went to the store and tried to find a 2010 NFL season preview, something Sports Illustrated usually provides. However, instead of SI putting out a seasonal, team-by-team breakdown, they had their Fantasy Football issue: "470 Players / 53 Sleepers." And one sleeper on the couch, trying to digest everything.

Fantasy Football (FF) is an exercise in individual player statistics. If you're old fashioned, like me, and want to know how particular teams are doing, I guess you're out of luck. It's rather like learning how individual atoms function when you really want to understand chemistry--helpful, but lacking context.

I gather FF grew out of some sort of betting-pool arrangement and was "easy" to track because there are so many statistics available on professional football. Plus, it would give individual fans the opportunity to play "owner" and pick teams as if they were in charge--hence the "fantasy" aspect.

Well, here's a wild thought: I really don't want to be an owner. Let someone else make those decisions. I'd just like to know how the various teams are doing. Of course another problem I have is that I grew up a Packers fan in Bears territory; moved to Florida, where all three pro teams were lackluster and the college rivalries bored me; then I moved to Virginia (Redskins territory) and had to put up with a lot of NY Giants fans in the bars and root for or against teams I really didn't care about; finally I moved to Alabama, which lacks a pro team but again is rife with SEC college football fever. The first question someone asked me in the Marshall Space Flight Center cafeteria, in a voice as serious as a heart attack was, "Alabama or Auburn?" To which I responded "Notre Dame?" Which was my polite way of saying I didn't have a dog in that fight. And I still don't. I like the NFL.

So what team do I root for? Ah, but who cares, when there's FF and free agency? I'm supposed to fill my head with the irrelevant statistics generated by several hundred padded monsters. No, thanks. The geek in me would rather keep details from Star Trek episodes in my head and just use a little bandwidth to recall what the standings are. Is that too much to ask?

John Madden has always amused me because he can conjure up (I'm sure with the help of a dedicated staff) how Player X is the best type of player to have in Y position in third-down situations when the weather is cold and a team is down by three points. That's the point of color commentary, I suppose, but there's fandom, and there's FANDOM, and I'm a fan with a lower-case f. I don't want or need to know all that. I just like to watch the games or (if I can't watch the game) find out who won. I've been told I'm missing out.

Here's another problem with FF: Attention Deficit Disorder. A friend of Father Dan's is a dedicated FF "owner," and he spends every Sunday during the NFL season glued to the couch with the remote control in his hand as he surfs up and down the Sunday Ticket looking for how "his" players are doing. This is fun? Obviously I'm missing something. Free agency only makes the problem worse because the players keep moving around. How do you keep track of all that? Why would you? Well, okay, I've made my opinions known. Let the arrow firing begin. In the meantime, can anyone tell me how the Bears are going to do this year?

Afternoon Retraction

Okay, I stand corrected. The back of the SI Fantasy Football guide is a general team-by-team scouting guide, with "enemy lines" comments by rival coaches. To refine/reiterate my earlier points, team dynamics matter, not just individual statistics.

Go team!

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