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Justin Vernold

September 28, 2013

Fantasy and football are not the same

As most of my friends would tell you, I love me some football. After all, it was sports — football, hockey and basketball, in that order — that first drew me to journalism. As a kid on the cusp of the pre-Internet generation, I still had to rely on Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and the sports sections of local newspapers to keep up with my teams.

Nonetheless, I’m still one of the last holdouts against fantasy football. I don’t judge those who play, but I’ve always had a few qualms about the game that outweigh any enjoyment I might derive from it.

The first and most obvious of these is the dilemma posed by my blind, rabid homerism for the Giants and my competitive nature. What happens when these conflict? Inevitably at some point in my fantasy draft, the best available player by objective standards would be a Dallas Cowboy. But I’d jump in front of a bus before I’d root for any Dallas Cowboy, so what choice would that leave me?

But my more serious gripe about fantasy football is when its noise drowns out the game itself, as former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook can attest. Late in the fourth quarter of a must-win Week 15 game at Dallas in 2007, Westbrook broke free for a 25-yard run to the end zone. But with a 10-6 lead and their opponent out of timeouts, the Eagles’ only chance at losing would be to score again — and give Dallas time for a Hail Mary and an onside kick. Westbrook knew this, and wisely slid to the ground on the 1-yard line, allowing Philly to kneel the clock out.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid later said he’d “never coached a player as smart” as Westbrook. ESPN.com had a different take, however, under the headline “Westbrook’s Betrayal,” lamenting “Can you imagine a Westbrook owner who lost his or her fantasy playoff matchup by fewer than six points?”

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Justin Vernold
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