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P R O LO G U E

THE DRAFT
SA N L U I S O B I SP O , C A L I F O R N IA
Fuck it. Lets wake him up.
Dude. Its two oclock in the morning. We told him tomorrow.
Hes going to be pissed.
So what! Nine out of ten is a majority. The time is now! Now
isnt a time.
I hear this argument somewhere behind me. My attention is on the
ten-by-six-foot fantasy football draft board hanging on the wall. Its
made of a giant single sheet of white paper, ordered online, professionally
printed. Im squinting at it with a Bud Light in my hand. The sheet of
paper is why were all here the ten of usat a rented house a few
miles from downtown SLO. The sheet of paper is why Brian is about to
be roused from a peaceful sleep. Its mid-August and were on the brink
of our Draft Night, a physical gathering to choose our imaginary teams
for the upcoming NFL season. Ive been in this league for four years now,
around the time I stopped playing the real thing. The first two I missed
the playoffs. The last two I won the title. Thats right, folks! Im the
champion because I have learned to play fantasy football with my heart.
The experts tell me this is a bad idea. The experts also have
hemorrhoids.
My team is called the Sleeve, and I have the last pick in the first
round and the first in the secondthe tenth and eleventh picks. Previous
years champ picks last.
I think we gotta wake him up, says Rocky.
Rocky is ready now. No one is more upset by my back-to- back
victories than Rocky. He is the commissioner of the league. He is also the
most dedicated football fantasizer, a thirty-seven- year-old-man who
considers knowledge of sports different than being a good athlete. Rocky
is both knowledgeable and athletic, but considers me only one of the two,

as do most of these guys. They view my back-to-back titles as a black eye


on the integrity of the league, as both years I snuck into the playoffs with
the last seed, then ran the table.
Sure you can play the game, Nate, but do you know the game? That
means: do you know the numbers? No, you dont!
Thats right, I dont know the numbers. Me player. Me played. Grab me
a beer! I yell and look down at my swollen right ankle. Pain is my
most loyal friend. We were out there in the dirt field throwing the
ball around today. Me, Rocky, and Ryno: open-field triangle catch. Ryno
has a rocket arm. When he cocks back, I know I can sprint and he can
get it to me. Snap! It flies from his fingertips with uncoachable torque
and lands in my hands like a baby being born. I am the midwife. I will
not drop your baby!
You would have been impressed by this game of catch. The bunny was!
The bunny is brown and has been watching us ever since we arrived
here at the turtle housenamed for the two tortoises living in the
courtyard. Bunny saw the look on my face when the ball was in the air:
total dedication.
Bunny lives here. I do not.
Its been six years since Ive worn an NFL helmet. Time passes like a
freight train. Each day I drift farther from the tracks. Farther from the
life I lived as NFL Guy, that psychopath who ran headfirst into other
people for money. But it never really leaves you; the psychopath. He pops
up from time to time, demanding some recognition. But its getting
harder to justify his presence in the real world, where mortality isnt so
easily concealed. My body is falling apart.
Im having ankle surgery in two weeks to clean out a cabbage patch
of bone spurs. But you know what? These low-top Chucks felt plenty
supportive for a game of catch! Excitement is the best painkiller. And Im
excited to be here at this sprawling rental property on a country road
where we all went to college in the late nineties at Cal Poly. Were all
pretty excited, honestly. Look at Rockys T-shirt. Theres blood coming
through in several spots on the back.
Earlier today, on the last throw, in the last light above us, he nodded to
me and took off running like a little boy in the park. I threw it high and
deep: predictable, parabolic. Rocky under- stands this language and
gave chase, extending his arms at full stretch and diving. The ball met
his hands as he rolled through the rocks and dirt shirtless and popped

up like a prowith a few new cuts. You can tell the athletes by the
way they fall. Cheers erupted from deck chairs.
Catch is a spectator sport.
These guys didnt play in the NFL. Didnt play college foot- ball. Half
of them played high school. Football looks different to them.
This is a yearlong fantasy league with thirteen regular season games.
Every week I face a different friend. Then three weeks of playoffs. Top six
teams make the playoffs. Top two have a bye in the first round. The
championship takes place in week 16 of the NFLs regular season. The
buy-in is $100. Winner takes $500, second place takes $200. The high
point total each week pays $25.
But this isnt about money. Its about humiliating my friends.
And it starts now.
02:04
One hundred eighty draft picksone hundred eighty names on colorcoded stickers purchased ahead of time by Rocky, who also b(r)ought the
draft board. Ten teams: eighteen players each. You need quarterbacks,
running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, a kicker, a team defense, and
one individual defensive player. Basically guys who hold the football.
Yahoo, the online platform we use, tracks every intricate statistic
requiring nothing of me but a wi-fi signal.
Each of my players individual performances score points for my
team. Six points for a touchdown, 1 point per 10 yards rushing or
receiving, 1 point per reception, 5 points per passing touchdown, and a
variety of other single-point rewards for long plays and big yardage
totals. The fate of the players actual foot- ball team doesnt matter to
me: only the fate of the individual player. One man holds the ball. Hes
the guy you want on your fantasy football team. He scores you points.
But! One man does not move the ball; one team does.
Really, the only bit of fantasy advice that I have is this: Draft with your
heart! Pick the guys you like on the teams you like. Makes it more fun. I
won the championship the last two years by drafting with my heart. I
pick my friends. Former teammates. Guys I like. I draft wide receiver
Brandon Marshall every year. I draft Jay Cutler. Kicker Matt Prater. We
all played together in Denver. I draft Broncos. I fill my cup with

nostalgia. I try to make it matter!


I played in the NFL from 2003 to 2008 and didnt know much about
fantasy football, other than when some friend told me that he drafted me
in the last round and said, Dont let me down, man!
I definitely let him down.
My career was the opposite of the fantasy. Mine was special teams.
Mine was blocking. Mine was injured reserve. Mine was whatever the
fuck they asked me to do that week, and it rarely involved the ball in
my hands. I had two one- yard touchdowns and 27 catches in my
career. Thatd be a great single game, but for a career? They arent
Hall of Fame numbers, Im told.
Rocky leaves to wake Brian and returns one minute later. Hes up but
hes not happy, says Rocky as he laughs and strolls back into the
draft room, followed by Brian, golf hat pulled low and puffing from a
vapor contraption that looks like a bone from R2D2s rib cage.
Sorry, man, I say to him. He is unamused. He leans against the
wall and looks over his notes. This is his year! He knows it! Probably
not, though. Fantasy football is a crapshoot. Its pin-the-tail-on-thedonkey. Because despite all the conjecture, injuries are the deciding
factor in fantasy football. The health of the player is all-important.
Think of it! We are monitoring another humans physical health, so
that we may win a computer game. Well then, let us begin!