Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 25, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Not Just A Fantasy
Eighth in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
The Red Sox have been World Champions of the World for almost two months. I just keep visualizing Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling reenacting that scene from the end of Top Gun. You know… the one where Maverick and Ice Man make up and say, “You can be my wingman anytime!” Only this time, they’re on a baseball diamond in St. Louis instead of on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean. “Petey, you’re still dangerous, but you can be my Ace anytime!” “BS, Curt! You can be mine!”
Ah… if it were only that simple. As it turns out, Pedro would never offer to be the number two starter…anywhere. Oh well… all that really matters is the first sentence I wrote.
Since October, I’ve spent a lot of time realizing that other sports actually do exist. There have been plenty of other sports to follow, sometimes whether you like it or not. Mike Ferlazzo, the satin jacket hater from Long Island, jokingly got upset with himself for knowing that Ty Willingham had been fired. He prides himself in not following sports, but around here, you really can’t help it. Since sports are almost always on TV in the Dining Facility, people who never cared about basketball now know that Ron Artest is producing an R&B album and Peyton Manning has a little brother playing in New York.
It’s comical when someone doesn’t want to watch football and attempts to change the channel to an old sitcom rerun or news program. Even if it’s a replay of a meaningless game, to turn football off is practically un-American. Sporting events, football games especially, seem to really take people home. Not only do they help pass the time, but they get people thinking about home and where they normally would be to watch these games.
And when the TV’s not on, there’s plenty of sports conversation going around. It’s hard not to know who claims the Cowboys or Eagles as their favorite team and it’s almost impossible not to know who’s in a Fantasy Football league. Fantasy Football brings us a few “home games.”
Among a group of my friends, Fantasy Football has loomed on the horizon since early August. In order to get the draft done this year, we knew it would take some effort. A live draft was out of the question. The “Reverse Cowgirls” owner worked during the day, while another owner usually flew in the middle of the night. The owner of “Kuwaiti Danish Dairy” (named after the ice cream supplier in our mess hall) was at another base, with minimal internet access. Last year ten of us got together at someone’s house with some German beer for the draft. This year, 12 of us drafted over the course of 5 days. Since no one has internet where they work, it was a constant series of word of mouth picks that the “Grumpy Old Geezers” just selected Anquan Boldin (or some other guy who’s probably out for most of the season) and it’s now “Blonde Ambition’s” pick. When someone checked the net and found that we were waiting on someone, every effort was made to track that owner down. Often, four or five of us would end up at the internet zone at the same time, talking trash and offering bogus advice to the guy trying to make his pick. For one pick, the owner of “it’s discovietnam” (no capital letters) was found in the front seat of an Apache about to launch for a mission. Since we knew he’d be gone for a couple of hours and the draft would be waiting on him, I called him from our TOC over the secure radio. As soon as he heard my voice, he knew what I wanted and offered up “Drew Bledsoe” as the first quarterback ever to be drafted from an Apache.
Of our ten league members from last year, two moved to Korea in the offseason, which made their participation difficult. All eight of the others came back to play in our aptly named “Needs of the Army” league. Adding four more here was pretty easy, since there were plenty of sports fans looking for new ways to pass the time.
Marking time as it passes is by far the most compelling reason to play fantasy football this year. The NFL season is set up brilliantly for that. Weeks are numbered and treated as proper nouns as if they’re months. When a number follows it, the word “Week” gets capitalized so that no one misses the fact that another week has passed. For Fantasy Football participants, the passing of each week means a victory or a loss and a step closer to or further away from the playoffs. Fantasy also breeds interest in just about every game of the NFL season. We get about 5 or 6 games each week on AFN and, almost always, there’s a receiver or even a kicker who’s success or failure affects your team.
Week 15 wrapped up our Playoffs and our season. The winner, “Left is Easier” was the Stop Loss Division champ and our strongest team all year. His worst-to-first turnaround was definitely aided by some extra spare time… and, of course, by the Indianapolis Colts. What’s great this year about our league is that even those that didn’t win realize that the end of the season means it’s almost time to go home.
Most of us are bigger college football fans than NFL fans, but only 5 or 6 games a week on TV makes it pretty hard to follow the action. So again, we’ve created our own action. With a Playstation game, NCAA Football, we’ve got a “Dynasty” going where six of us control different teams from one conference. The season is saved as it progresses and when you’re not playing one of the other players, you play against the computer. The season goes on with Top 25 polls and a Heisman Trophy race discussed in mock issues of Sports Illustrated. After Josh Burton took Kansas State to three consecutive Big XII titles and finally a BCS National Championship, we switched conferences to allow two new teams to start on a level playing field with the Big Ten. John Manfra returned glory to Penn State with an undefeated Big Ten Title and National Championship. A bonus for those of us not making the title games was the opportunity to rag on the few poor saps that actually were fired from their coaching jobs.
We got this idea from my friend Fish in another unit. Fish and his buddies split up some NFL teams and played seasons of John Madden Football on Playstation. They even have a bookie who establishes point spreads and over/under lines. Only the two who are playing don’t know what the spread is and the crowd roots according to their $2 or $3 bets. While I was visiting, I watched Fish win the AFC Championship among a crowd that numbered close to ten.
Our college game allows us to play for all of the traveling trophies in college football. The Big Eleven has a lot of these, from the “Old Brass Spittoon” to “Paul Bunyan’s Axe.” You can also play games outside of the “Dynasty” for any of the other traveling trophies in Division IA, such as the “Keg of Nails” and the “Jeweled Shillelagh.” We even made up some of our own trophies. When I beat my roommate, I win the “Rotten Watermelon” and we record the score on it with a marker. This watermelon was a gift from one of the Iraqi Red Sox fans from the picture posted earlier. (Don’t worry, we actually threw the watermelon away when it got rotten, but we replaced it with a replica.) When I beat Chris Visosky, I win the “Old Jar of Fatness,” a gallon sized plastic jar that holds pretzels, or Oreos, or peanuts -- whatever we have handy at the time.
Football, real or imagined, is a little piece of America that gets piped into us here. And other than some time zone issues, it arrives pretty much unchanged. As the season winds down, the NFL Playoffs and the NCAA bowl season bring new interests to follow, and for us, it marks the beginning of the end of our year in Iraq.