WILKES-BARRE — For a diehard fantasy-football fanatic, it’s no longer a case of rooting for the home team but a matter of rooting for his or her own team, one created and pored over and rearranged perhaps countless times.
Millions of fantasy-team owners engage in growing numbers every year in this battle tied to the National Football League, and the name of the game is usually besting and beating your closest friends.
In this world, nobody really cares which NFL team wins or loses anymore. Instead, it’s all about who scores.
For years, groups of all sorts have gathered in garages, hotel rooms, bars, patios, basements, living rooms and cabins to hold the drafts at which they choose — with varied reasoning — the players who will make up their fantasy teams. With any luck, an armchair coach’s selections will rack up enough collective points to catapult him or her to victory and perhaps a big pot. In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the time-consuming, friendship-cementing pastime has taken hold every bit as much as it has across the rest of the football-watching land.
Justin Eddy, Brian Harris and Randy Knappman are three friends who participate in multiple fantasy leagues.
Knappman, a 31-year-old jeweler, is in 11 leagues. He has been playing fantasy football for 14 years. How can he keep track of 11 teams, more than 100 players and still have a real life?
“I just root for everybody,” he said. “I probably have whoever scores on one of my teams.”
Eddy, 32 of Pringle, works in the electronic security business, and Harris, his best friend, is a 34-year-old businessman from Newport Township. Harris once bragged he was ranked 87th in the world by some fantasy-football website. His friends just scoff at the boast, noting they are ahead of him in one of their leagues.
And that’s what it’s about — winning and points, points, points. You can never get enough points, diehards say.
“We had a guy in our league who was losing, and he didn’t care about his team,” Harris said. “He wouldn’t make any changes, so we kicked him out.”
But they remained friends.
Eddy takes it to a different level. A devout Denver Broncos fan, he struggles with picking up players on teams playing the Broncos.
“I can’t root for a guy to score because it would hurt the Broncos’ chances of winning,” he said. “I don’t want anybody playing against the Broncos to do well.”
Websites do the work to compile the statistics. In the years before website development, league leaders would have to rely on newspapers to accurately report the statistics from each game. That took a lot of time and effort, and mistakes could be costly.
Even while getting interviewed about their little addiction, Eddy, Harris and Knappman constantly checked their phones to catch instant updates on player injuries and statuses for the coming week.
“Oh no, Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White are both out,” Knappman shouted. “I have them both on one team. I gotta find out who’s available.”
The pace is constant and frenetic. As Harris said, it’s not about the money, even though some fantasy leagues offer big payoffs.
“I just want to win,” Harris said. “I want to beat them.”
As a league commissioner, Harris said, he sometimes has to make decisions “for the integrity of the league.” That gives you some idea as to the level of commitment fantasy players make.
“Fantasy football is so popular now that the major networks make reference to it all the time,” Harris said. “If a guy gets hurt or has a huge day, you will hear them say, ‘If you have him on your fantasy roster … ’ ESPN and the NFL Network have fantasy-football shows.”
All three of the local guys have significant others and children, but, make no mistake, fantasy football is not talked about much at the dinner table.
“They know not to bother me on Sundays between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.,” Knappman joked.