Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Improbable Fantasy Football Run

I have immersed myself in the world of fantasy sports ever since I was a middle schooler. I primarily focused on baseball with a few stints at football in the mix. In all my baseball leagues I have won just one championship and in fantasy football the best I ever did was a semifinal appearance my first year.

From then on, I would tend to quit on the fantasy football season once the going got tough and my team began to underperform. After playing in a baseball league with my friends (where I finished fourth) I thought it would be very enjoyable to start up a fantasy football league with them.

However, I did not want this to be an ordinary fantasy football league. I wanted this league to have long lasting impact where the draft and player acquisitions mattered. Then it hit me! I would set up a fantasy football keeper league!

How the keeper league works is that at the end of the year, all 10 teams in the league would select three players to keep and build around for next season. I was excited at this prospect and began recruiting people for the league. I was able to find 10 people with the most unique being my female friend Christy, who had a very limited knowledge of football. I enticed her by saying I would help her with her team.

With the league set up via ESPN, it was time to wait for draft day. After changing some scoring settings that I would eventually come across and come to dislike in another league run by Yahoo, it was time to draft. I thought I had a solid draft as I picked the following players:

  1. Eddie Lacy
  2. Zac Stacy
  3. Andre Johnson
  4. Vincent Jackson
  5. Desean Jackson
  6. Bishop Sankey
  7. Greg Olsen
  8. Sammy Watkins
  9. Mike Evans
  10. Kelvin Benjamin
  11. Matt Ryan
  12. Steve Smith Sr.
  13. Shonn Greene
  14. Chiefs Defense/Special Teams
  15. Phil Dawson
  16. Brandin Cooks
I would end the season with just 6 of the original 16 I drafted. I 'd say my biggest draft bust was Zac Stacy, who eventually lost his starting job in St. Louis. Out of this list, I ended up keeping Eddie Lacy and Kelvin Benjamin. I'll get to my third keeper in just a bit.

With the teams now set, the season began! I had a bad start as I went 0-3 to start the year. My first win came against one of my best friends, Will, who was also struggling out of the gate. After losing another game, the team Mike's Squad offered me Jimmy Graham and Brandon Marshall for Knowshon Moreno, Martellus Bennett, and Steve Smith Sr. After contemplating the trade, I decided to take it and decided to make Jimmy Graham my third keeper.

Despite the trade, I still struggled and at 1-5, I was on the brink of playoff elimination as I was facing the eventual third place winner of the league. On Monday night, with the Steelers facing Houston, it looked like Antonio Brown scored a fourth quarter touchdown that would have beat me. 

I was irate and upset that my season in the league's inaugural year had gone so bad! I was the commissioner for goodness sakes and I had one of the worst teams in the league! I renamed my team Pinhead Larry in honor of my mediocrity.

In the midst of my pouting, I saw on the TV screen that the touchdown was under review. I looked at the TV hopefully praying for a reversal... and I got it. The touchdown was overturned and the six points were taken off the board. I would win this game by one point to stave off elimination from playoff contention.

After this night, I would lose just one more game before winning four out of my last five games of the year! I rode the hot hand of Ben Roethlisberger who was somehow available in the league after his six touchdown performance against Indianapolis. 

As I continued to win each week, I slowly began to believe that I had a shot at the playoffs. On the last day of the season, in my rivalry game known as the Panda Express Bowl against my best friend Will, I was blown out of the water by 50 points! Will was able to pick up both Tre Mason and Jordan Matthews, who I also tried to add that week. Waivers had given Will preference to both these players who combined for 44 points against me! Ironically, both these players would underperform the first week of the playoffs and cost Will a victory. 

I thought that after all of this, my season was done. However, there was a glimpse of hope. Mike's Squad had the same record as me and just had to win to get in. Fortunately for me, Mike's Squad lost and I got in the playoffs as a #6 seed because I scored more points. At 6-7, I knew my odds of winning were slim. Still, anything can happen in December.

I faced my friend RJ in the first round. He should have been the #1 overall seed but fell apart down the stretch. Instead the #1 overall seed went to my friend Jack, who was a first-time fantasy player and the winer of his division. I somehow beat RJ 101-78 to get to the semifinals against my division's winner Christy. I was so proud of how far she had come and knew she was a legitimate threat with Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Marshawn Lynch, and Rob Gronkowski.

As it turned out, Aaron Rodgers had one of the worst weeks of the season that year. Rodgers doing bad meant Jordy Nelson did bad and I was able to pull out a 97-67 victory. The Baltimore defense helped me out with 23 points. Honestly I picked up Baltimore because they were playing Jacksonville that week, that's how I selected most of my defenses. It would not only pick on the Jags though, as I would also select defenses whop played Houston, Oakland, and Tennessee.

So here I was, this misfit team who was just a loss away from playoff contention earlier this year, now in the championship game! My opponent would be Jack, who was able to hold on in his semifinal game. The initial score projections had me losing by 15. I embraced the underdog role and wished Jack the best of luck when we met for lunch earlier that week.

After coming home for Christmas break, I waited in anticipation for Sunday to dawn and for the title game to commence. Most of my players played early in the day and only quarterback Matt Ryan (16), running back Eddie Lacy (15), and kicker Matt Bryant (15) put up double digit points. By the end of Sunday, I only had 71 points. I knew that this may not be enough and I was praying that just somehow I could hold on for the win.

Fortunately, Jack's team underperformed as well! Andrew Luck had zero points, Mike Evans (who I traded to Jack after we both started 0-3) put up just four points, and that stingy Bills defense was demolished by the Oakland Raiders as it put up just a single point! It was going to come down to running back Jeremy Hill and wide receiver A.J. Green on Monday night. Jack still had a great chance to win.

As Monday night approached, I was ready for whatever. Jeremy Hill broke an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and I began to get nervous. However, his production ended after that. A.J. Green would not catch a single pass in the game. As the clock on the Monday night game winded down I put my hands in the air to celebrate the final: 71-56. My ragtag team, Pinhead Larry, had won it all!

My improbable playoff run was complete! I could not believe it! Even now I feel very humbled to have won because the fantasy gods can be cruel, I know that firsthand. I look forward to going for a repeat next year but if anything I learned this: Never give up. Because it is never over until the fat lady sings.

It was a heck of a 2014 fantasy football season. It's something I won't forget for a long, long time!

Here's what my championship squad looked like:
  • Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger
  • Halfbacks: Eddie Lacy, Justin Forsett, Legarette Blount, Ray Rice
  • Wide Receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant
  • Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen
  • Kickers: Matt Bryant, Caleb Sturgis
  • Defense/Special Teams: Baltimore
  • Coach/GM/Owner: Zachary Edgar Gonzalez
Way to go Pinhead Larry, the miraculous team of 2014!

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