I guess my first foray into fantasy sports was in the spring of 1990, when my two uncles and I decided to have a fantasy baseball league. This was before the Internet and Yahoo leagues, so we held our "draft" on pieces of paper. (I picked Bo Jackson first, overall.)
A month or so later, was when I realized I didn't really care so much about fantasy sports, just as long as my hometown team won the game. You see, on April 9, 1990, before what I assume was a sell-out crowd on Opening Day at Shea Stadium in New York, the Pirates pounded Mets pitcher Dwight "Doc" Gooden for seven hits and five runs in 4.2 innings of work. Gooden was one of my starting pitchers, but I wasn't exactly angry by this outcome. Pittsburgh would go on to win the game, 12-3, and kickoff a season that ended with a National League Eastern Division championship. That's what I remember about my first season playing fantasy sports. It wasn't that I actually won this primitive three team league, where a scoring system was made up as we went along and recorded on a piece of paper. It was that my Pittsburgh Pirates had a magical year.
James Harrison the most feared Steelers defender?
Which Pittsburgh Steelers defender is the most feared? ESPN.com says it's none other than 37-year-old James Harrison.
Fast-forward to seven years later, and there I was with my uncle and his friend sitting in some fire hall somewhere in the late summer of 1997, as we prepared for our first fantasy football draft. Instead of opposing one another, we were part of a four-man team (Chris couldn't make the draft). To this day, I have no clue what part of the Greater Pittsburgh Area we were in, but I do remember a lot of people being in this big room, and that they were taking things quite seriously. I also recall that my squad picked 11th in a 12-team league, and we briefly contemplated selecting running back Ricky "Running" Watters, before deciding on Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe with our first pick. I can't remember any of our other selections, only that they were, again, written on a piece of paper. But this time, they were turned in to a guy (maybe the commissioner?) who would upload them onto his computer.
Moving along to Week 6 of the 1997 season, and there were the Steelers in Baltimore to take on the Ravens. Maybe you remember that game. It was the one in-which Pittsburgh fell behind 21-0 very quickly and trailed 24-7 at halftime. This was mainly due to Kordell Stewart throwing three picks and looking like a first year starting quarterback. Fortunately for Stewart, he was still endearing himself to Steelers fans in '97 and having one of those seasons in-which he could do things like throw three picks, then turn around and put the whole team on his back by, say, having a hand in five touchdowns.
Stewart led a second-half scoring explosion that resulted in a 42-34 victory. As per Pro Football Reference, Stewart passed for 246 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground, he added 78 yards and two more scores. If you're fantasy scoring at home, in most leagues that would amount to 42 points. Unfortunately for my four-man fantasy team (who knows what our name was), whoever it was we were playing started Stewart that day. Remember the 74 yard touchdown run Stewart had late in the game to just about ice it? During that play, I remember jumping out of my chair and wanting to really celebrate, but I had to temper my enthusiasm a little. You see, my uncle, sitting on the other side of the living room, wasn't looking too happy. This is when I realized that, for many, fantasy sports trumps the hometown team--at least in those weak moments.
By 2004, fantasy football was an online institution, and I was in my second-year in my brother-in-law's private Yahoo league. I was having a horrible season, as I did the year before and many years after. But the Steelers, well, they were doing pretty awesome and would go on to finish with a 15-1 record. And that brings me to another Week 6 match-up, this time in Dallas against the Cowboys. It was a pretty exciting game early-on, but Dallas scored 13-unanswered points and carried a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter. However, the Steelers answered with a Ben Roethlisberger to Jerame Tuman touchdown pass to close the gap to three. Late in the game, with the Cowboys trying to ice the clock, Vinnie Testaverde, better known as Santa Claus to many of us in Pittsburgh, gifted the Steelers with a fumble after a James Farrior clutch strip-sack. Pittsburgh set-up shop at the Cowboys' 24-yard line with just over two-minutes remaining. After two pass completions, it was second and four at the Dallas seven yard-line. This seemed like a logical time in the game to use Duce Staley, the team's newly-signed free agent running back and the guy who would lead the team in rushing that day, with 93 yards. And it was a good time to use Duce--at least for two plays. However, since Bill Cowher made Jerome Bettis Mr. Goal line after Staley came to town, this meant The Bus was inserted into the lineup on second and goal from the two and scored the game-winning touchdown with 30-seconds remaining.
I was happy. But my uncle and brother, who were both watching the game with me, they weren't very pleased. My uncle started Staley that game, and you know how that goes in fantasy football. Your starting back does all the work, and the coach brings in some big specialist to hit pay-dirt. My brother wasn't happy, either, but I don't remember why. Maybe he had Plaxico Burress or Hines Ward. Maybe he had the Cowboys' defense. Either way, it seemed weird that two of my relatives wouldn't be as happy as I was about an exciting, come-from-behind Steelers victory.
I was in that Yahoo league for seven years and probably shelled out over $200 in dues. I never won a cent of it back, but, during that time, the Steelers won two Super Bowls, providing me with priceless memories.
I guess you can say I have a sickness. I'd rather see my hometown team win a trophy than me win money in fantasy sports. It's a good thing, too, because the former happens a lot more than the latter.