If you’re not a football fan, you can skip this column. I won’t hold it against you.
If you are, well, you’ve probably realized with some excitement — or perhaps some alarm — that training camp for the hometown San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders starts in about 10 days. The meaningless Hall of Fame Game, pitting the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, follows on Aug. 4. The regular season starts only a month later.
I grew up rooting for the Cleveland Browns in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the only era in recent memory in which the Browns were any good. The strikingly accurate Bernie Kosar threw downfield strikes to the likes of Webster Slaughter and Brian Brennan, Eric Metcalf provided backfield excitement as a poor man’s Barry Sanders, and the speedy and fantastically named Michael Jackson burned defenses only to catch deep passes about 50 percent of the time.
Football united Clevelanders, instilling tremendous civic pride in an area that’s often treated as a national punchline. I fully understood that power on Jan. 6, 1989, when my father and I watched the Browns defeat the Buffalo Bills in dramatic fashion in old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Clay Matthews intercepted Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly with seconds to go as the Bills were driving for a winning touchdown, preserving the Browns’ 34-30 win. I embraced strangers all around me, and for a few minutes, our cultural and socioeconomic differences didn’t matter. We were in bliss, and we wanted to share it with anyone within arm’s reach.
Unfortunately, that season would end in heartbreak — a familiar theme for Browns teams of that era.
In 2008, my high school best friend asked me to join his fantasy-football league. I said I would, but I wasn’t particularly excited about fantasy sports, as I considered them a bit geeky and preferred “the real thing.” I finally signed up for a team and figured I wouldn’t pay much attention to it.
Well, that changed pretty quickly. By the time I was three weeks into the season, I was obsessively setting my team’s lineups and realizing that although I couldn’t control the fate of my star-crossed Browns, I could influence my own team’s performance by making intelligent decisions each week about which players to start, and which to sit. Two weeks later, I was hooked on fantasy sports.
I’ve taken part in fantasy leagues involving baseball, the NFL and the Canadian Football League (don’t judge me) every year since, and I’ve always had a blast. I had a random thought on the way to work recently.
I enjoy both fantasy sports and interacting with readers. What if we had a league involving several readers, deputy editor Adam Trumble, and me? We could meet for a draft on an upcoming Sunday, interact throughout the season and gather after the season to congratulate the winner. There would be a prize involved — likely a gift certificate or a trophy — and people involved who were interested would be invited back the following season.
Whether it happens depends on reader interest. If you’d like to be involved, please send me an email at the address listed below. And don’t worry about encountering stiff competition from me; my fantasy teams tend to perform about as well as my Cleveland Browns have in the past decade.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.