Watching sports on TV is different today, thanks to fantasy leagues

It was a much simpler time when I was growing up. Not better necessarily, but definitely simpler. When Sunday rolled around we turned on the television and one of the three channels we could actually get would carry the Cleveland Browns game.

Sometimes we would join the game in progress as another channel carried the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour and my sister apparently had dibs until that show was over. No, there was no other TV to use. It was, as I pointed out, a simpler time. There was one TV per household. Three or four is more common these days. In fact, today you can watch TV without even having a television, for crying out loud. You young folks don’t know how good you have it!

Rooting for the Browns to win was my only priority. I’m old enough to remember Frank Ryan to Gary Collins, not once, but thrice! Browns or Indians win and I smiled all day. A loss was demoralizing and I turned moping around into an art form. I usually came around when I went outside and played football by myself. Funny how the Browns never lost in my backyard!

Then everything changed. You see, I joined a fantasy league. You drafted players and then competed against your friends. My guys against yours. The outcome of the actual game was of no consequence.

I have competed in a baseball fantasy league as well as a golf fantasy league. Currently I am in football and NASCAR fantasy leagues. Sunday afternoon for me involves watching the race on TV, while following my fantasy football players on the computer.

Even though there is very little money involved, my family knows not to disturb me on Sunday afternoons. One indisputable fact about my fantasy involvement is that watching sports on TV is different. Again, not necessarily better, but different.

When I first started following NASCAR I had a favorite driver. If Sterling Marlin didn’t win, I wasn’t happy. Today I have 15 drivers on my fantasy team. Who wins the race is not important. How well my top 12 drivers fare is all that matters.

Is there still frustration? Oh, you bet. When the Big One happens at Talladega, you count how many of your fantasy drivers are involved. It’s likely to be several and the mopes begin.

Football is worse. When the TV is tuned to a NFL tilt, I spend more time watching scores scroll across the bottom of the screen than I do watching the game. Even if it’s the Browns, the outcome of the game is secondary to my players getting into the end zone.

One wag suggested that being in a fantasy football league has made watching the Browns a lot easier. Given the new Browns record since their inception, he has a point.

My football fantasy league involves eight guys. We draft four quarterbacks, five running backs, five wide receivers, three tight ends, three kickers and three defenses. Our league is scoring only, so drafting a running back who rushes for over 100 yards but seldom scores is not a good idea.

Each week we play one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. You go head to head against your opponent for $3 and get a financial windfall of seven bucks if you lead the entire league in scoring for the week.

To be sure, there is not a lot of money at stake, but you would think there was a small fortune available to watch me in action. I will sit in front of my computer and thrust my fists airborne when my players score. On the other hand, I can sulk with the best of them when things don’t go my way. Let me give you an example.

I’m following the Los Angeles Rams game a couple of weeks ago and on my computer it shows that Jared Goff (my quarterback) threw a 50-plus yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks (my receiver). Twelve points for me and I’m ecstatic.

Then the play gets reviewed and it was determined that Cooks was down just before crossing the goal line. The next play is a 1-yard rushing TD by Todd Gurley. Guess whose opponent has Gurley?????

It was an 18-point swing and I turned off the computer to just watch the race. Moments later I was back on line as the anger started wearing off.

Perhaps the worst time I had playing fantasy football came years ago. I was traveling and tuned in the Cincinnati Bengals game on the radio. They were playing San Diego and I had Wes Chandler, the Chargers wide receiver.

I can still recall the voice of the Bengals announcer … “Dan Fouts is back to pass, he throws, end zone, Chandler, touchdown.” I was elated for all of two seconds and then he says “wait a minute; that was Charley Joiner not Chandler.”

The guy did that to me not once, not twice — but THREE times. In one game!!!!

So, this afternoon I will mix a little of the past with the current. Will I watch the Browns game at 1 p.m.? You bet. The race doesn’t come on until 3 p.m. Will I be rooting for the Browns to win? Of course. I’ll also be rooting for a high scoring game as I am playing Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes in my fantasy league.

By early evening, if you drive by my house, you can tell how well my fantasy teams fared by whether you see my TV or my computer sitting in the front yard. If you see both of them — don’t bother stopping.

I’ll be moping!

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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