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Anything But An Idiot

I lost track years ago of the number of fantasy leagues I’ve participated in. Strangely, it doesn’t matter how big the purse is or how many published “experts” I’m competing against or how many people are watching the weekly scoring updates. No league has ever mattered to me as much as the one I started with.

I’ve mentioned this league (JAFFL—Just Another Fantasy Football League) occasionally in my columns for FFToday. It is a 48-team mega-league with four conferences and a rather complicated scheduling and playoff system. It can hardly be called a big-money league (since the champion takes home a purse of only $1500). If anyone else in JAFFL writes professionally concerning fantasy football, I’m unaware of it. I also doubt that many of the 36 participants outside of my own conference know that I have been moonlighting as a fantasy football analyst for the past 5 years.

So why is it that I’m more concerned about my performance against a bunch of average joes in a league that nobody ever heard of than I am about my performance in an exclusive league at FFToday in which I compete against experts and subject my picks, roster moves, and lineups to public scrutiny?

I’m not exactly sure, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that in the decade I have been involved with JAFFL, I have never won the championship.

I’ve won my conference. I’ve earned a bye going into the postseason. I’m a regular in the playoffs. But I’ve never claimed the title—and I desperately want that title. If you told me that I could choose between winning the JAFFL championship and being declared Bill Gates’ sole heir, I would have to think it over.

There are lots of reasons that it’s difficult to come out on top in a 48-team league. Obviously, it’s far more difficult to beat 47 people out for first place than it is to beat 11 people. But there are other factors as well. In most leagues, you won’t encounter your own players on other people’s teams. But in our mega-league, each conference has its own draft. In 2005, I cleverly picked up Larry Johnson fairly late in the draft. I was beaten in the playoffs by an owner in another conference who had also picked up Larry Johnson late. Last year, I stole Frank Gore fairly late as well—only to lose in the playoffs to an owner from another conference who had done the same.

And then there is the fact that some conferences in a 4-conference league are bound to be more competitive than other conferences. As folks leave JAFFL and are replaced by others, some conferences bring in knowledgeable competitors, but others bring in clueless patsies. My conference drafted last in 2006 and had the chance to review the drafts for the other three conferences. One of the conferences had gone through some turnover and brought in some inexperienced folks who locked in on quarterbacks in the early rounds. Trent Green and Marc Bulger were the 16th and 17th overall picks in that conference. The newcomers clearly weren’t putting much pressure on the more experienced members of that conference.

How could the winner of our conference (with the same 12 freakishly competitive guys for the past 4 years) expect to compete against the winner of a conference filled with rookies and pushovers?

That same question comes up every year at our draft, and I can understand why some of the folks in my conference maintain that we are at a disadvantage vs. those in conferences with high turnover from one year to the next because we all have to draft against other people who have a clue. Nevertheless, I’ve written in the past that I believe the cut-throat competition in our conference only makes our winner stronger than the other conference champs. He will almost certainly have a weaker pool of players to draw on, but he has learned to make quicker waiver wire decisions, more reasonable and beneficial trades, and better choices about his lineup each week.

The fact that my arch-rival in my conference (a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, narcissistic, sputtering, contentious, insufferable blowhard by the name of Greg Petty, owner of the Token Cowboys) claimed the JAFFL title this year may support my argument.

Greg Petty is the first (and will probably for the foreseeable future remain the “only”) person to have won two JAFFL championships, so it’s difficult for me to conclude that being in the most competitive conference of a mega-league really puts one at a disadvantage (any more than being in the NFC East prevented the Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants from claiming the Vince Lombardi trophy repeatedly in my childhood).

Of course, it’s entirely possible that our conference only thinks of itself as the most competitive. Folks in other JAFFL conferences might point to Greg Petty’s success and use it as evidence that the other eleven folks in his conference (including yours truly) are a bunch of patsies and pushovers. And since we are all losers, we should just suffer in silence as they explain why it’s so important to take Trent Green with the 16th overall pick.

But here’s the interesting thing about Greg Petty’s perspective: He wouldn’t interpret his own success as an indicator of the level of competition that he faces in his own conference or the level of competition that other owners face in other conferences. He would laugh if I tried to argue that the folks in my conference had somehow made him a better player because of our knowledge. And he would laugh if folks from other conferences tried to argue that the folks in my conference had somehow made him a better player because of our lack of knowledge. He would laugh and take a swallow of Shiner Bock and belch and scratch his genitals and gloat and say, “I won because I’m good, and there aint nothing that any of yall can do about how good I am.”

And I confess I’m beginning to wonder if his mentality is in fact the key to his success. The man is constitutionally incapable of discussing football. He only pontificates. When my brother drafted Curtis Martin in what turned out to be a career year for him, Petty sneered that Martin was older than dirt and useless. When Deion Branch was drafted last year, Petty scowled and barked at the entire room, “Branch will not play a single down this year. Mark my words.”

As I think back over the dozens of hyperbolic predictions and absurd side bets Petty has made over the years (after the draft, when he had no motivation to lie), I’m quite certain that he has gotten far more things wrong than right.

But being wrong doesn’t faze the man. I sat in his living room watching football with him and said, “Well looky there. Deion Branch appears to be playing more than a single down.” He glared at me and sneered, “What do you know? You’re just like all these idiots who think that Peyton Manning has what it takes to win a Super Bowl.”

When I see him at this year’s draft, he won’t be affected by Manning’s victory. He won’t acknowledge that he was wrong about Manning, but he’s sure to make some outrageous prediction about Randy Moss and the Patriots.

He’s just an absurdly (almost an insanely) contrary person. It makes no sense to me that a man who overstates and oversimplifies so many things about football can nevertheless make such sound, balanced, nuanced decisions when it comes to making trades and managing his team.

He’ll never read this article because he can’t stand fantasy football websites. He brings a preseason magazine to the draft each year only to help jar his memory about player names. But he just buys whichever one is cheapest. He doesn’t read the magazines; he doesn’t consult experts. He’s convinced that just about everyone who writes about sports (whether they concern themselves with fantasy implications or not) is a complete idiot. And he seems equally convinced that sports fans are all idiots. Owners are idiots. Coaches are idiots. Players are idiots. Apparently everyone in the world who has the misfortune of not being Greg Petty is an idiot. The upshot is that he listens to no one, reaches all his own conclusions, and trusts only his own instincts about player talent and roster management.

There’s a hilarious irony in there for anyone who knows the etymology of “idiot.” If we recall that idiots are “private people”—people who live in their own worlds instead of the one that they share with other fans, writers, coaches, owners, and players—then the true idiot is Greg Petty. But he appears to be an idiot in an extremely productive way from a fantasy perspective. He may get lots of things wrong, but he never gets sucked into the hype of the moment. He doesn’t even know or care what the hype of the moment is.
It seems like a liability to me that he is so very wrong about things that the vast majority of other people get right. But that is the price he pays for being right about all the things he keeps to himself—the things he gets right that everyone else gets wrong. I know lots of fantasy experts who are more balanced thinkers, more meticulous thinkers, more precise thinkers. But I know no one who is a bolder or more independent thinker.

The case of Greg Petty makes me wonder whether it’s better to be precise or bold in our thinking about fantasy football. My initial response to that question is to point to the scads of websites like FFToday and the many publications available at a convenience store near you and conclude that an increasingly specialized and insightful set of analysts appears to be directing the community of fantasy players to an increasingly standardized set of conclusions. Rogue thinkers can easily separate themselves from the pack, but whether they come out ahead or behind might have more to do with luck than the quality of their thinking. So the question that raises itself is: “If I want to distinguish myself from my competitors by making some outlandish decisions, what kind of independently reached conclusions are most likely to pay off?”

But I can hear Greg Petty snickering in the background because I’m trying to take a precise approach to bold thinking. He’s calling me an idiot, but that is precisely the wrong word because I can’t help being interested in other people’s positions on things. I read and listen and mull things over and discover that it isn’t too long before the line between what I think about Shaun Alexander and what other people seem to think is too blurry for me to make out.

If we focus on this aspect of my own mentality, I guess I am anything but an idiot. But I’m pretty sure Greg is going to insist that we focus on the JAFFL championship and who won it—and in his private world, “idiot” is just a synonym for “loser.”

P.S. I couldn’t work “mean-spirited drunk” into my earlier description of Greg Petty because it was getting too long, but I include it here simply because it’s true.

For responses to this fantasy question please email Mike Davis. Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.