A Journey to NFL Super Fandom

James Williams @footyramblings

Like many NFL fans I have been counting down the days until the new season starts, ever since that ludicrous Patriots comeback back in February.  Rewind a year and it was a very different situation.

Traditionally a soccer fan (I’ll use soccer for clarity, even though it will always be football), I had no interest in the NFL and couldn’t even have told you whether it was in season or not. I was instead watching England lose to Iceland and bemoaning the failures of our national team which was the icing on a garbage year after the not so mighty Newcastle United contrived to get themselves relegated.

My American Football Experiences

They boiled down to:

1. Two failed attempts to stay up and watch the Superbowl
2. Playing Madden on the PlayStation
3. Having a Washington Redskins t-shirt (more of which later) when I was eight years old.

I had however been convinced that a trip to Wembley to watch the NFL would be worthwhile, and being fond of a weekend away, agreed to get involved. I was informed we would be watching the Bengals take on the Redskins, which at the time meant very little.

I did however make a promise to myself that I would at least try and have some understanding of what was going on when I was there.

I was encouraged to look in to fantasy NFL as a good introduction, as well as digging out Madden on the PlayStation.

I’d always been fond of fantasy football (as in soccer) so agreed to get involved in our six team mini-league. I was registered and told the draft details, which was all well and good except I didn’t know what that meant.

It was time to do some homework.

My Intro to Fantasy Football

I discovered that unlike most soccer versions, NFL fantasy only allows one team to have ownership of one player.  Where as in the Premier League fantasy game you find all twenty players have bagged the points for another Harry Kane treble, the fantasy NFL set up means this won’t happen.

Stage two of my education and I figured out I needed:
– One QB
– Two RB’s
– Two WR’s
– One TE
– One FLEX
– One D/ST
– One K
– A shed load of BE’s.

I figured out that a QB was a quarterback, but after that I was stumped. I turned to everyone’s best friend in this situation and Wikipedia told me the finer details of the positions and what their role was.

I was now aware that a TE was a Tight End, which despite the suggestions is not something that requires medical treatment.

It was at this point I became lost in the type of diagrams I used to see on Madden, just before randomly choosing a play I had no understanding of.

I decided to take a step away from the mechanics of the game and get back to fantasy research. My knowledge of actual NFL players was non-existent. It is a cliché but I knew OJ, John Madden, Dan Marino and someone Brady who was going out with Gisele. What I did have at my disposal was the delights of the world wide web.

I soon became aware of what a massive industry fantasy NFL was, mainly stateside but with a growing reach. I read. I read some more. And after that, I read some more.  I made notes. I read draft strategies. I even watched the NFL Network for pointers (no half measures here!).

With our six team draft approaching I had a list of names to chose from.  It was at this point I became mildly hooked on mock drafts.  They served a dual purpose; firstly allowing me an idea of how the actual draft works but also to formulate back up plans and research players who hadn’t cropped up on my radar.

The Draft

Before I knew it draft time was upon us, and of course poor old me, the newcomer, the one with no clue at all, ended up with the last pick.

My plan/chance to snatch Le’Veon Bell or OBJ had gone. Antonio Brown had already been snapped up and I was left with Adrian Peterson as my first pick.  I wasn’t too concerne, as Peterson was talked up as one of the strong early picks (that one didn’t go to plan).

The perceived wisdom suggested filling the first four picks with two WR’s and two RB’s.  With Peterson on board I snapped up Allen Robinson.

Are you detecting a theme yet?

Filling my quota of highly rated picks destined for a poor scoring season I brought in Sammy Watkins as another WR. Mark Ingram was my second RB and then things began to get tricky. The Gronk, who two weeks earlier would have have sounded more like a character in a children’s story, had gone in round two but I managed to snap up Jordan Reed as my TE.

At the time, Tom Brady was suspended following deflategate, so I didn’t even think of him and wound up with Drew Brees as a solid pick at QB.

I knew I would struggle further down the line, but did pick up two sleepers who I’d read about in Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard.  These two became the core of my team racking up points week after week.

First Game

The first game week came and I found myself glued to my phone on a Sunday evening watching numbers change as the games were played. I lost my first matchup, but only just.

I knew there and then I was bang in to this.

With the Wembley trip approaching I decided it was time to get involved further and actually watch a game.  I invited myself round to a pals house on a Sunday evening in Gameweek 7 to watch the Dolphins host the Bills. The game sticks in the memory as Jay Ajayi (by this time my star running back) clocked up 214 yards, his second 200+ yard game in a row.

I was asking the most basic of questions.

What does a Tight End do?
Why do they punt?
What is a two point conversion?

My host was most patient and talked me through it all.

The surprising thing is, I probably knew more than I thought.  The basic premise of downs and yards I had in my head, it was just the mechanics that warranted explanation.

I enjoyed watching the game, and the format of the coverage with Sky showing the action from the other games during the same broadcast was bonus.  Every time it cut to a game elsewhere I would rack my brain to see if I had a player playing in that game.

My fantasy showing wasn’t great, I lost a few matchups, but also had some wins on the board.  I was a long way from being disgraced which is more than I had expected when I signed up.

Trip to Wembley

The Wembley trip arrived and I had decided to cheer for the Redskins on the basis of a t-shirt I owned in 1987.

The spectacle was nothing short of amazing.

From the tube ride up with fans wearing their kits to the tailgate to the merchandise fest that awaited outside the stadium, every bit felt new but comfortingly familiar. Once inside I was taken with the novelty of being able to watch with a beer in hand, something us soccer fans aren’t allowed to do.

Once the pre match razzmatazz was done, the game was underway and I had the double bonus of my team scoring first with ‘Fat’ Rob Kelley crossing the line for some fantasy points. The game ebbed and flowed and went in to overtime at 27-27.

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One rule that appalled me (and still makes my blood boil nearly a year on) was when Dustin Hopkins put over a field goal only for the Bengals to call a time out.  Hopkins proceeded to miss the retake costing the Redkins the win and me a winning bet with the bookies.

With the OT, the experience was approaching four hours but it was great.  Watching the game on TV was informative but seeing the whole thing play out in the flesh was even better.

Redskins SuperFan

I fully jumped on the Redskins bandwagon moving forward. I went a bit ‘superfan’ following them on social media, reading the blogs and watching their games.  One late Sunday game had me nodding off at work the next day without an excuse that my gaffer would buy.

I continued to manage my fantasy team with enthusiasm despite our play off changes receding week by week.  A late charge gave me a chance of sneaking in but my hopes were dashed by another stellar showing for David Johnson who propelled my opponent to the top of the pile in the regular season.

What I found to have as a newbie was a disconnect between the names on the screen and the actual real life players. Jordan Reed had become my favourite player as he a) played for my team and b) racked up the fantasy points.  Yet I wouldn’t recognise him if I we stood next to me at a bar. David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell were names I associated with high scoring performances yet I didn’t know the strengths of their game, or even who they played for!

I guess over time this will change. I am full immersed and will certainly be watching more games as well as winning numerous fantasy leagues this coming season. At the moment my knowledge is second and third hand. To some extent this will always be the case as the NFL journalists and broadcasters will always have more idea about draft prospects and good trades than a new fan, no matter how enthusiastic.

Over time I aim to develop organic opinion rather than regurgitated stats and thoughts of others. I’ll start with the Redskins to make the playoffs in 2018, just for fun…

At the third time of asking I made it through (almost) all of the Superbowl and must confess to be looking forward to the new season.

I am going mock draft crazy and have a draft list that has had way too much thought put in to it for the time of year.

Anyone for a mock draft?

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