The 5 Stages of Fantasy Football Grief
It’s that time of year again, folks. Time for millions of fantasy football players to hang their heads in shame and finally accept that they’re not winning their league’s championship this year, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re one of those people, but don’t underestimate the emotional toll of the experience either. Just because this whole competition is nothing but a random juxtaposition of meaningless statistics you played no role whatsoever in actually creating does not make it hurt any less.
In fact, just like any other psychological episode, the manner in which your brain processed this failure of a season probably played out in a somewhat predictable fashion—see the Kubler-Ross model—and depending on how bad your team was, it might have been ongoing for quite some time now.
Think back to early September, right after your team played its first game. Is it fair to assume that even then you’d already begun to notice a nagging sense of…
Stage 1: Denial
Clearly there were warning signs even as early as Week 1 that some of your draft picks weren’t going to pan out this year, but you probably just ignored them and reassured yourself that in time they’d all come around.
Then Week 2 happened. And Week 3. And, good lord, let’s not even talk about Week 4. (Kids could be reading this.)
Pretty soon it was obvious the first-round running back you tried so hard not to let any of your friends know you secretly wanted all summer was a complete dud, and your team was going to suffer all season as a result.
Not coincidentally, that realization probably also marks the exact moment your emotional response to the 2013 season transitioned from a state of denial to vein-popping, blood-curdling…
Stage 2: Anger
Anger at the players you thought were good but actually totally suck, apparently, and anger at yourself for ever thinking they were good in the first place.
Arian Foster over Jamaal Charles? Trent Richardson over LeSean McCoy? Were you snorting bath salts while you were drafting this year or just immediately beforehand?
While you were at it, you probably unleashed some additional rage at the fantasy football analysts who influenced your decisions (how any of these people still have jobs is beyond you at this point) and, for good measure, at the more fortunate members of your league who had great seasons this year thanks to draft picks that made absolutely no sense at the time.
Speaking of decisions that make no sense, what better way to transition to the next stage of your nightmare fantasy football season, the part where you dressed up like Gordon Gekko for a month and tripled your cell phone bill with a barrage of clearly desperate and totally excessive attempts at…
Stage 3: Bargaining
After realizing the waiver wire just wasn’t deep enough to save your season this year, you had pretty much no choice but to try and con one of your fellow fantasy owners into trading you some of their good players in exchange for your losers.
How’d that work out for you?
Granted, some of you probably were able to land blockbuster deals that turned your seasons around, but for most of you, the only thing you have to show for all those spirited sales pitches is a slightly altered bench and a series of text messages from friends whose intelligence you blatantly insulted. And maybe, like, Antonio Gates or something. Cha-ching!
And that’s when the gravity of the situation really started to sink in. The losses were piling up. The weeks were fading away. There may have still been a dream scenario left where you’d end up making the playoffs, but even so, you had no confidence whatsoever that your bumbling group of stat-less klutz buckets would have any chance of advancing.
What else was there to do, then, but to slide head first right into a textbook state of…
Stage 4: Depression
Rock bottom. The end of the road. It’s pretty much inevitable that every fantasy owner will end up here at some point, and boy, does it sting.
Remember how hopeful you were before this season started? Back when Alshon Jeffery was bench material and David Wilson was a superstar in the making? Crazy how quickly things can change in the NFL (just ask the Kansas City Chiefs), and crazy how nonchalantly your fantasy football roster can instantly transform from contender to complete laughingstock before your very eyes.
Many fantasy football players have been stuck in this phase since October, while others are just now entering it, probably unexpectedly. Doesn’t matter. Whenever you reach this point, your reaction is the same. You’re disappointed in your team. You’re disappointed in yourself. And on some level you’re starting to question, probably not for the first time, whether this whole thing is even worth it anymore. But that’s the bad news.
The good news, however unlikely it may seem right now, is that soon your wounds will heal, and by the time next year’s fantasy draft rolls around, you’ll be back to your old self again, ready to build another Dream Team with confidence like this whole thing never even happened.
In fact, the only thing standing between you and that happy-go-lucky future version of yourself is a moment spent reflecting in a Zen-like trance of complete fantasy…
Stage 5: Acceptance
So you didn’t win your championship this year. Are you really that surprised?
That’s like getting upset because you didn’t win the lottery. It’s like sulking because you picked the wrong checkout line at the grocery. Sure, you could have made some better decisions—drafted a different player, not lined up behind someone who argues over coupons then tries to pay by check, etc.—but it’s not like you could have known that at the time. It’s not like fantasy is a measure of intelligence.
You think Stephen Hawking wins his fantasy league every year? No way. In fact, if he does play, elementary statistics tell us even award-winning astrophysicists like himself are probably in the same boat you are right now, futilely recalculating their stats from this year’s season while simultaneously writing an algorithm to determine which under-the-radar prospect will be next year’s Josh Gordon.
Come to think of it, that’s what you should be doing too. Maybe not in the same aggressively nerdy manner, of course, but you get the idea. This is football we’re talking about. “Maybe next year” is its signature catchphrase, and being unpredictable, bordering on flat out illogical from one week to the next is what makes it so much fun.
So snap out of it. This will pass. And when it does, you’ll see once again that it was never really that bad to begin with.
If everyone won his or her fantasy football league every year, after all, why would anyone even play?