My View | Denise Dunbar: It’s a family thing

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This being 2020, I’m about to share a tale of woe. This story is only tangentially related to COVID-19 and thankfully is not about loss of life or livelihood. It’s instead an account of family, competition and realizing life lessons can be drawn from the trivial.

About two months ago, my sister decided it would be fun if members of our family formed a fantasy football league and drafted teams. My initial reaction was, “No, thanks.” I’m a huge baseball fan, and have a background as a sports writer, but don’t follow pro football much anymore.

But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. We needed eight teams in the league, she said. It would be a bonding experience for our families, to trash talk about our match-ups, she said. The clincher was when she said our 85-year-old mother was willing to have a team. Ouch! I finally said “yes.”

At first, I was just going to auto-draft, but wound up picking my own players. I had the second pick and landed the NFL’s top-rated receiver and last year’s NFL most valuable player. For a reluctant participant, it seemed like I did OK.

After the draft, I received an automatically generated email saying my team was projected to go 9-1. It congratulated me on having the best team in the league. I began to secretly suspect I was a hidden fantasy football genius.

You know where this is going.

The first week matchup was, of course, against my sister. The pre-game projection had my team winning by 18 points. She won by 38.

Seven of my players failed to reach their projected point totals. Their failures were comical. My kicker had a 50-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounce back onto the field. A running back was given the ball two plays in a row with his team inside the five and couldn’t get it across the goal line. Worst, my star receiver went out with an ankle injury early in his game – and hasn’t played since.

Life lesson #1: Never assume. It’s one of the first messages drilled into young journalists. I assumed that because the stats said my team would do well that it would.

I had attempted to set up auto-draft for this team. But instead, I somehow accidentally set up an entirely new auto-drafted team in a random league. I went from no fantasy football teams to two, just like that. My accidental team didn’t look so good on paper, so I set about adding and dropping players through the waiver wire. I began doing the same in the family league, while attempting to play matchups like my sister and boys were doing.

Those moves invariably failed. If I benched a supposedly star running back because of a perceived tough matchup, he got 30 points. If I played him, he got seven. This was a pattern with player after player.

Four weeks in, I was 0-4 with a whopping -200 point differential. One week, one of my running backs had 53 points. I still lost.

Life lesson #2: Stick with your strengths. A business executive for the Washington Nationals once told me they emphasize selling out weekend games against big name teams, rather than putting energy into drawing a few hundred more fans to Monday night games against lesser teams. You have to know, and abide by, the scale of diminishing returns.

My accidental team was somewhat competitive early on. I lost week one by just three points, and actually squeeked out a victory in week two. But the accidental team cratered in week three, with 70 total points. My highest point generator was the kicker. That. Is. Not. Good.

It was week four when I mentally threw in the towel. That week, a nephew beat me by more than 120 points. That’s almost mathematically impossible. Imagine an entire team of players who suddenly get sick, hurt or become invisible all at once.

Life lesson #3: Don’t ever think you’re going to be good at something random because the odds of that are really low. It’s akin to being a casual college basketball fan all season and then thinking you can successfully pick upsets in your March

Madness bracket. It usually doesn’t work.

Life lesson #4: Don’t let your sister talk you into a seemingly innocent competition, particularly if she’s an expert and you’re, well, not. You not only won’t win, you will become fodder for family ridicule for years to come.

You could say the outcome was predestined though, as my fantasy football team is named “Baseball Rocks.”

The writer is publisher and executive editor of the Alexandria Times.

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