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Tonight kicks off the 2012-13 NFL season, as the Dallas Cowboys take on the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  For the last few years, the opening game has always been on Thursday, but so as not to coincide with the convention acceptance speech, they moved it back a day.


But, this season will be a new experience for me.  Or at least one that I haven't experienced in over ten years.

I started playing fantasy football around 2000 when everything started getting really popular online.  For the first couple of years, I played free leagues available through Yahoo, all with total strangers.  These were OK but they were pretty lame because:

  • You didn't know anybody.  The leagues I joined were formed by people joining at that particular time, and when there were enough players, that started the draft.
  • Half the people didn't bother.  After the draft, at least 2-3 people would never touch their team again, and another 2-3 would usually drop off.  This made things pretty frustrating.

In 2003, I was invited to play in a league by a friend who had another friend whom I'd met that ran the league.  Knowing two people was better than none, and everybody was active.  It was fun, but since most of the other guys knew each other through work, I was still the odd man out.

So, in 2004, a friend and I started talking and decided to form our own league.  We invited a bunch of friends, and soon enough we had ten of us, all who I knew personally.  I was the commissioner.  This draft and all of the others were held online.  In fact, that first year, I was down in Florida for a work assignment.

That league ran for eight seasons, until I finally decided to fold it at the end of last year.  After the first season, we actually added two more teams and ran with a dozen after that.  The best years were between 2005-07.  I never won but came as the runner-up in 2006 or 2007.  After 2008, the buddy that originated the idea ended up leaving the league under not-so great circumstances.  A couple of other people left along the way.  While I always found replacements, they were never as close of friends as those who departed.  The ‘chatter' of the league message board also died off throughout the years.  People all maintained their teams, but a lot of the ‘fun' had gone out of it.

When another really close friend announced he was leaving, that made up my mind to shut it down.  Because a lot of the ‘fun' had gone out of it, I decided to shut it down, and let everybody know around May that we wouldn't be continuing.  This let people have plenty of time to find new leagues, should they still want to play.  Some people were upset, but I know it was the right decision.  I also was ready to stop being a commissioner.  Putting everything together, managing the money and payouts, settling conflicts, and calming tempers was all part of the job.  The unpaid job.

But, it's definitely going to change the way I watch the NFL.  When you have a fantasy football team, you watch games and stats based on the guys you have on your team.  There's no getting around it.  You'll get mad when a guy on your bench scores a TD and you didn't start him.  You will see the stat ticker and realize that your opponent for the week had the guy that had a 4 touchdown game.

I realized that in many cases I stopped rooting for actual NFL teams, but was instead rooting on who I had on my team.  I always root for my hometown team, the Detroit Lions, but even then, when your fantasy opponent had Calvin Johnson on his team, cheering for one of his touchdowns still had a touch of bittersweetness.

I'm excited to get back to actually rooting for and against teams.  The Jets.  I hate them.  Same with the Packers, Bears, and Vikings.  After all, they are in our division, you have to root against them.  Before, I still held those allegiances but would still be OK with cheering a Packers TD if I happened to get the fantasy points from it.

I can see myself getting back into fantasy football after a year or two.  Not as a commissioner.  I'm done with those days.  But, for now, I'm actually looking forward to the break.  And to seeing football in a whole new light!

Do you play fantasy football?  How does fantasy football cloud your perspective when watching games and rooting for and against teams?