Lessons from the EMFRL
The real meaning of Jahvid Best and Michael Vick's Sunday: Why fantasy footballmatters
I know all you fantasy football players out there are hunkered down in front of your computer trying to make sense of a wild week two and wondering what to make of Michael Vick and formerly relatively obscure Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best going forward (while pitying the guy who didn't play Best this week).
I invite you to take a break from all that, and let me tell you about the unique fantasy league that I’ve been running for the last 20 years.
Yes, that’s right. 20 years. Long before there were fantasy write ups in every newspaper in the country, long before the Internet touted information like ADPs and receiver targets and all that other mumbo-jumbo, and long before ESPN actually devoted airtime to how many touchdowns Andre Johnson will score, I started the Milwaukee Avenue Rotisserie Football League with my brother, my cousin and my two next-door neighbors, named after the street on which we all resided.
The name alone should tell you that we’re dealing with ancient times here. It wasn’t even called “fantasy” football yet, but rather was piggybacking off the name that baseball used. We had tried something similar in the '80s, but, armed with a book describing some rules to live by, we assembled in my basement in 1991 to choose our initial teams.
A lot has changed since then. In 1995, we expanded to eight members, and, though some guys have come and gone, we’re still at eight. Four of the original members remain. The fifth, my brother Bobby, bowed out a few years back, although my other brother Rich is now a part of it, along with a few other relatives and lifelong friends. The league name has changed as well.
In honor of a beloved, portly Calico cat who roamed the draft room for most of the league’s existence before passing way in ’03, I renamed it the EMRFL, the first two letters short for “Elsie Memorial”.
More importantly though, a lot has remained the same. This is a league with rules and quirks that have become legend over the years. First of all, it is an auction league in which we bid on players while staying below a predetermined salary-cap for each team.
This set-up allows us to protect players from year to year, adding on to their salary the longer you keep them. For instance, my buddy Rob heard crickets in the room when he brought up a then-unknown Marques Colston for a dollar a few years back, but he still has him at a very affordable price five years later.
In this way, dynasties are possible as in no other league I know. My brother Bobby once won the title four years in a row. In the last nine years, my one buddy Art has four titles and four second-place finishes. We even have our own Bobby Cox, as my cousin Chuck, also known as Ground Chuck for his brilliance in finding bargain running backs, has made the playoffs in 15 of the last 16 years, but has just one championship to show for it due to his teams’ consistent struggles in the Week 15 semifinal round.
Then there is the notoriously shallow talent pool to choose from. You see, when we started with five teams, we decided that it would be too easy to choose from the whole league, so we limited the picks to only NFC players, since all of our favorite teams are from that conference. As the league expanded, we never had the heart to change it, and so things get pretty dicey on draft day. The best players are bid up to unimaginable levels, and, due to league rules stipulating that each team draft seven running backs, players like Giants blocking back Madison Hedgecock and Cardinals backup Larod Stephens-Howling become hot commodities.
Finally, there is the setting of the draft itself, still in the basement after all these years. My mom makes potato pancakes and wimpies for the whole lot of us. As we celebrated our 20th anniversary draft the other day, we joked that our truly majestic cholesterol intake over all of these draft days will probably prevent us from making it to our 40th anniversary.
That passage of time is ultimately what makes the league so special. When we started, most of us were in our late teens or early twenties, in college or high school, without the faintest clue about the lives ahead of us even as we were damn sure we knew how about the statistical prospects of Erik Kramer or Vai Sikahema. When I looked around this year, I saw a bunch of guys with established careers, a few who have to travel hours now to get to the draft, most with wives and kids, and it’s hard to fathom where those 20 years went.
Still, once the draft began, we were the same goofballs that we’ve always been. My pal Mike still bids on guys even though he’s not quite sure who they are. My cousin Gary still holds everything up endlessly by rifling through a bunch of cheat sheets that are hopelessly outdated. And they all still give me a hard time for my reluctance to budge even a little bit on rules changes.
Whenever I hear someone snickering about what a waste of time fantasy football is, I laugh to think how wrong they are, at least in my case. This draft gives me the opportunity to reunite with my very own band of brothers, turn back the clock, and be transported back again to a time when life’s biggest concerns revolved around how much I should bid on Herschel Walker.
So, instead of wishing you luck on the season ahead, I’m instead wishing that you all are fortunate enough to have a league half as near and dear to your heart as my league is to mine.