Well, I’m mostly certain hell has frozen over. How do I know? Because I actually give a flying fig if the Denver Broncos win their football game tonight. I haven’t been a fan of the Broncos since my family moved here from Buffalo, New York, back in 1977. Orange Crush fever was alive as Denver fought for its first Super Bowl title. I was 9 years old. I had the Orange Crush t-shirt on and drank Orange Crush soda as we watched the game at our friends’ home. It could have been the beginning of something beautiful. Instead, the only crushing thing on January 15th, 1978 was our 27-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. And so, my brief fling with the Denver Broncos football franchise ended long before it truly began. Picking up the pieces of my shattered heart, I did what any fickle, young woman scorned would do: I started calling my ex names and reveling in the bad things that happened to them. And, I ceased all interest in the National Football League, save for Super Bowl Sunday each year when I was at least guaranteed an abnormal amount of unhealthy food and a few memorable commercials for my time and attention.
My visceral distaste for the NFL continued for most of my life until last year when a friend asked me if I wanted to join a fantasy football league. I must confess that in the years directly preceding this invitation I wholeheartedly made fun of my husband (and anyone else) who thought fantasy football was a worthwhile endeavor. I can hear myself clearly now:
“So, wait...you pick real players, put them on an imaginary team, and then play other make believe teams? What is this? Never Never Land? Seriously? Do you not HAVE a life?”
Still, since my husband was participating in a couple fantasy leagues and seeming genuinely excited about the prospect of Sunday football for the first time in years (and dragging me through the whole experience whether I liked it or not), I decided to join my friend’s no-money-wagered, all-female fantasy football league for the 2008 season. I knew nothing about football other than the basics. I could tell you how most of the scoring worked, what the object of the game was, and that the phrase “a flag was thrown on the play” meant “hold on...something’s up.” I didn’t understand what a “safety” was or what role a tight end played, but I figured that since I was going to play with seven other women in this league it was a safe bet that some of them didn’t know those things either. And, all I really wanted was to be able to share in the excitement on game days with my husband since the television was going to be tuned to football anyway.
So, my friend Kris set us up with Yahoo’s fantasy football online. She emailed me a date and time for the draft. Thirty minutes before the draft, I printed out a couple online cheat sheets with names of players I might want to draft, poured a glass of red wine, and logged into the site. I chose a name (the Colorado Cougars -- why not? I’d just turned 40) and watched the seconds tick down. I stumbled my way through my first fantasy draft. In the first round, I got to choose fourth. I immediately swiped up Tom Brady who, in addition to holding a top-five spot on my “Sports Stars I’d Love to Hook Up With” list, had been the winning quarterback in the previous SuperBowl. By the time the draft was over, I felt I had assembled a fairly competent team. As I compared notes with a friend’s husband and my own, I registered that they seemed suitably impressed with my choices. As a coach, I was feeling tentatively optimistic. This was going to be a good season.
But, no sooner had my about-to-be-stellar, first-ever fantasy football season begun then tragedy struck my fledgling Cougars. During the first game of the season in Foxborough, I watched my Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady go out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
My first reaction was an audible “Are you kidding me? Having sex with Tom is going to be a lot more difficult if I have to worry about his stupid cast!” which was then followed by “ACK! I can’t believe my number one draft pick is going out for the entire season!”
I was out of it before I even got started. I struggled to pick another quarterback since the good ones had been swiped up during the draft, but settled upon Aaron Rogers, Brett Favre’s replacement in Green Bay. I just hoped I could hold my own. I ended my season in 6th place. It was not the awesome season I had planned on with Tom, but the experience provided what I had hoped it would...a reason to become invested in the NFL again. And, even if my 6th-place finish put a permanent rift in my relationship with Tom Brady (well...okay, it was a combination of his thoughtlessness in becoming injured and effectively trashing my first season as head coach and his oh-too-public relationship with that flawless and omnipresent Supermodel Who Must Not Be Named), I learned a lot and enjoyed the competition.
When the opportunity arose to play again this season with the same gals from last year, I signed up. I changed my team name from the Colorado Cougars to the Carefree Cougars (because I’m 41 now and I’ve grown less competitive and more zen through last year’s losses -- yeah, right). I ended up with third round choice in this year’s draft and prepared for a new season of football. I actually looked forward to the start of football season this year for the first time in my life. My new team, led by Peyton Manning, has some incredible talent at running back and wide receiver. And, as we’re now 6-0 going into next week’s tough match up against the number two team, the Denver Doll, I am fully reinvested in the NFL. Hubby and I are having fun commiserating, celebrating, and consternating each week over the games and our teams.
So, as the Denver Broncos battled the San Diego Chargers tonight, I found myself both watching the game and following it on ESPN Live with a born-again interest in my home team. I feel as if I’ve come full circle. I will admit that I resurrected that fickle, young woman scorned briefly last week when the Broncos beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and I smiled and cheered at their defeat (that will teach you to go out on me, Tom). Thirty-one years ago when I was just a kid, the Denver Broncos broke my heart. This year they are attempting to renew my faith in them. I feel a kinship with Denver coach Josh McDaniels. I’m just starting out with my team too, and no one really expected much out of us either. But, now we’re both 6-0 and we get to celebrate a bit tonight. And, although I’m not quite ready to reclaim my status as a Broncos fan (I refuse to be one of those pathetic bandwagon hoppers), I henceforth promise to stop referring to the Broncos as “the Donkeys” and let go of my long-held grudge. Wishing you continued luck, Josh, but when Kyle Orton plays my team (via Ali’s Gators in our fantasy league) I vow to crush you both like an empty can of orange soda. Game on!