In the early days of fantasy football, the game was often played through the mail: Not email, not a web-based server, not an app . . . the mail.
A group of like-minded friends would draft teams made of players from all over the NFL, send in lineups and keep score manually, with a calculator that was just a . . . well, calculator, and not a small, taken-for-granted part of a vastly more powerful computing device.
From humble beginnings, fantasy football has become a global phenomenon. Today, fantasy football is literally a multi-billion dollar industry. Each year, new players sign up for new leagues and draft teams made up of all the athletes they want. In many ways, it has encroached upon and evolved football fandom to the point that many people now have more of a vested rooting interest in their fantasy football team than their favorite NFL team.
So, the big question that follows is, simply – why?
Let’s face it, if you root for a struggling NFL team, the thought has crossed your mind that you’d do a much better job of running the show than the executives of your favorite team. If they would have just drafted [player X] or traded for [player Y] or gotten rid of that bum [player Z] like you told all of your friends they should, they would have been on the way to the Super Bowl instead of dusting off their golf clubs and heading for warmer climes when the calendar flipped to January.
With fantasy football, you get to put your money where your mouth is. It’s not just about wanting to one-up your favorite NFL team’s executives, either. It’s also a chance to get a taste of the manager’s job that every fan has dreamed of doing at one point or another. Who wouldn’t want to handpick a team of their favorite players, and set out to be the best in the league?
In many ways, the move away from fervid, unconditional team support, and toward fandom of the league as a whole, along with individual players, is brought forth by the availability of options. The NFL as a whole is big business these days, with fans having the option to watch any game they want, from across the league, on a given Sunday. In the past, you were only able to watch one of the two games broadcast in your area in each time-slot, which tended to foster a devotion to a particular team shown often in your area.
The rise in popularity of fantasy football very much coincides with the rise of game availability on television. Today you don’t just pick your players, watch one or two of them in the games broadcast in your area and receive fantasy results through the mail. Instead, fantasy football has become a real-time, up-to-the-second adventure for fans, with the ability to cheer fanatically while watching your fantasy running back break a long touchdown, just as you would when a player from your favorite team did the same.
Fantasy football has ingrained itself in popular culture, with Sunday morning shows dedicated to the game, a massive, thriving internet community and experts who are paid only to write about fantasy football. There’s even a sitcom dedicated to it. The reality is that fantasy football has quickly become one of those things that you just do. It can connect you with friends from across the country or create a new group of friends from strangers. It’s something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday morning, and at the bar on Friday night. It is ever-present in society during the season. Though many people now root for their fantasy team more fervently than their favorite NFL team, most will tell you that there is still plenty of room for both.
For most people, a favorite team is something ingrained, often passed down through generations. That isn’t going to disappear thanks to a fun, new alternative. You can now watch your favorite team on TV and check your fantasy scores on Comcast internet at the same time. If you’re team’s game is going downhill, then your fantasy players will show you which games are the more competitive and interesting alternatives