This is a piece about something being different when done the American way. I wanted to start it by pointing out some of the more obvious differences between the States and here in the UK. Then I realised that all the spelling jokes had been done. And the obesity ones. And the ‘electing the same moron twice’ ones. So, instead of a snappy – if somewhat contrived – intro, I’ll get straight to the point. Fantasy football, US style.
With the start of the NFL season only hours away, I would normally be logging into NFLUK and picking the side which, for the umpteenth year running, would fail to win me Superbowl tickets, or even a place at the big Superbowl party they hold each year. However, thanks to a friend with not only a finely tuned sense of generosity, but the knowledge that I love finding new ways to humiliate myself, I am now also a player in the US competition run by ESPN. And boy, do they take it seriously.
Look at the fantasy leagues run by the newspapers and other media over here. It’s just another feature offered to haul you in as readers, isn’t it? Can you imagine any of them publishing a separate monthly magazine on the subject, as ESPN do? Or providing weekly updates on their websites, as ESPN do? Thought not.
Not only that, but the whole game is different. Not for them the situation where several million people can, all at the same time, claim to own one player. Oh no. What happens is that each team is entered into a mini-league of 10 to 12 players. That mini-league then holds an online draft, at which each team takes turns to select a player. Once that player is selected, no-one else in the league can have them.
Which is why I found myself spending last Sunday evening, when I should’ve been preparing to move house the next day, hunched over a laptop, instant messaging with half a dozen Americans I had never met before. And a friend who was chucking sarcastic comments at my every selection.
The actual process should have been very straightforward. The draft order had been selected at random (albeit not in the way I thought it was going to be), so I had third pick in the odd numbered rounds and eighth in the even ones. There were to be 16 rounds, and various other little quirks to keep people like me on their toes. Most importantly, though, none of this messing around with salary caps. If you can get them, you can stuff your team with Peyton, LT, Steve Smith and Antonio Gates without fear of anything other than your fellow league members being envious.
Unbeknown to us, though, the ESPN website had decided to introduce a random element of its own, too. This meant that, although you selected a player, you wouldn’t necessarily be allowed to have him. I don’t think that this was deliberate, but it certainly made the evening more eventful. I got Gates by accident, when I tried to draft Deuce McAllister. And I got Deuce when I tried to draft Peyton. Which sounds like a pretty good return, until I tell you that I have no idea who I was trying to draft when I got landed with Ahman Green. I’m not sure that even the Texans want him.
So, with Joseph Addai having got me off to a fine start in the season opener (the Colts beat the Saints 41-10, more of which next week), it’ll be interesting to see what the rest of Week One brings.
(Apologies to those of you who were waiting for a team-by-team pre-season rundown. I lost the notes in the move but will try and do it before Sunday)