Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NFL All-Halloween Team

We're settling into Fall here. Football is on television every night, and Halloween will be here soon. Football and Halloween seem to go together well, and below are the best Halloween-related names throughout NFL (and pro football) history.

Michael Myers - Luckily this guy was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and not Haddonfield, Illinois. Still, Myers piled up 212 tackles and 15.5 career sacks over 10 seasons (1998-2007) with the Cowboys, Browns, Broncos, and Bengals. He also forced four fumbles and had an interception, which is one more NFL interception than Wedge, Speedgeek, and I have combined!

Boo Williams - Although his name is scary, Williams himself probably did not frighten opposing defenses as as much as he could have. Over four seasons with New Orleans (2001-04), Williams caught 107 passes for 1,143 yards and 12 scores. A knee injury ended his career, although he signed with the Arena League's Kansas City Brigade in 2007. After that he sort of... vanished. (Sorry, I had to.)

Candy Miller - Candy is basically the best thing about Halloween, and Miller might have celebrated with a Hershey Bar after scoring his only career touchdown in 1922. The right tackle (how did he score a touchdown?) played two seasons (1922-23) with the Racine Legion and the Canton Bulldogs.

Dick Witcher - Witcher played eight seasons (1966-73) with the 49ers, catching 172 passes for 2,359 yards and 14 touchdowns. It's just a shame he never had a chance to team up with Harvey Salem, a tackle who played with Houston, Detroit, Denver, and Green Bay from 1983-92.

Death Halladay - The man's name was Death, but he surely must have looked alive while scoring his two career touchdowns. Halladay played for the Racine Legion in 1923-24, meaning he was on the same field as Candy Miller for one season.

Dave Casper - He may share his name with a friendly ghost, but Casper was mean enough to accumulate 5,216 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns on 372 career receptions. A tight end with Oakland, Houston, Minnesota, and Los Angeles, he played from 1974-84 and was All-NFL numerous times.

Cody Grimm - Don't fear the Reaper, and you really don't need to fear Grimm too much either. In three years with Tampa Bay (2010-12), he managed just two interceptions in 12 starts. He did bring one back for a touchdown in 2010. 

The following players receive honorable mention for having Halloween-, horror-, or autumn-related names: Mike Scarry, Kordell "Slash" Stewart, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Webster Slaughter, Spider Lockhart, Dick Wolf, Jim Apple, Ryan Leaf, Michael Hay, Vlad Ducasse.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fantasy Football: What's Normal?

The Grab Bag Sports bloggers all play fantasy sports. From the racing league that Speedgeek created, to hockey and basketball, we've played together in many different types of leagues. But are we wasting our time? Or are we just like everyone else? This issue was kind of addressed in the discussion Wedge and I had concerning his "return" to watching football. But after having fun watching a dumb 49ers/Rams game last night with some friends in a fantasy league (a game none of us would've ever cared to watch without hoping for a Brian Quick explosion or something similar), I really started to wonder about the real data behind fantasy football.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association has some impressive data and research results posted. Below I will highlight some of their numbers and statistics and do my best to gauge if each applies to me or not. According to the FSTA site, the data represents all fantasy sports (and not only football).

80% of fantasy players are male.

I am currently in four football leagues. Counting co-owners, we have 47 people (42 teams), and six of them (about 13%) are female. I have two leagues where the 20% number is right on. My other two leagues, though, have one female in 22 combined owners.

The average fantasy player has played for 9.51 years.

I've played for 17 years, and many of my friends are closer to that number. But we've definitely included new players most years, so that number could be fairly accurate.

The average fantasy player spends 8.67 hours each week on fantasy sports.

I feel like I spend quite a bit of time on fantasy sports. Maybe 30 minutes each day. That's kind of a lot, right? That's still only 3.5 hours! Are any of you spending NINE HOURS setting lineups and making trades? To get my total to the average, one of you is spending 14 hours! You're ridiculous.

The average fantasy player spends 17.89 hours each week on sports in general.

Wedge and I covered this in our discussion, and I think this number is accurate enough. I have some busier weeks where I'm closer to only 10 hours of sports, but I'm sure I go over 20 hours at times as well, especially around the holidays and bowl season. During baseball season, I'm sure I hit 18 hours each week on the Cubs alone most of the time.

46.8% of leagues have fees.

I'm way under this number. I'm probably in the minority, but I hate playing fantasy sports with money involved. It takes all of the fun out of it for me. I'd say fewer than 10% of my leagues have had fees, and I've never paid more than $20.

78% of fantasy players have at least a college degree.

Taking a quick look at my current leagues, and guessing in some cases, I'd say we're closer to 60-70%. Of course, many offices have work leagues, and some of those will be at 90-100%.

Other interesting numbers:

  • The average fantasy player spends $111 per year (league fees, transactions, web hosting, etc). 65% pay under $50 in entry fees each year, while 9% spend more than $300. (Obviously, not me.)
  • 74% of fantasy players research fantasy data from at least four different sports news websites. (I'm in the other 26% here. Maybe some years at draft time, I might have hit four different sites. But I usually stick with a couple of favorites.)
  • In the United States, 19% of all males (and 8% of all females) play fantasy sports.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Skipping Football: One Year Later

Regular readers may remember that last fall Wedge declared he was taking a year off. Like John Grisham's story that inspired "Christmas With the Kranks," Wedge was indeed Skipping Football. As a new dad with increasing home and work responsibilities, he decided it would be a great experiment that, at the very least, would free up some of his time throughout the week, which is perfectly understandable. But now the experiment is over, and he is free to watch again. Wanting to know his thoughts now that he's had time to reflect and get back into watching games, I did a quick interview with Wedge.

Mike: So first, what are your initial thoughts about "returning" to football? Was there a sense of elation? Or was it really not a huge deal mentally?

Wedge: Honestly it wasn’t a big surge of elation or celebration.  More than anything, it was relief. Because it was so hard to do. I don’t mean via my willpower. I mean it’s incredibly hard to avoid football in this country without abandoning mediums altogether. I don’t know how to explain it to anyone other than telling them to try it; you get a real sense for how much market saturation football has.

People might say there are always alternatives, and sure there are, but how many quality alternatives are there for a sports fan in the US? Especially on weekends when football takes over 90% of the primary TV, radio, and social media landscapes.

Mike: What are some things you realized that you'd missed the most? Coaches' challenges, right?!

Wedge: Certainly not coaches challenges. In fact, dedicating yourself to watching other sports makes you realize how terrible the NFL (and NCAA) are at doing play review. Its a simple concept really: have a person dedicated to reviews, when one is needed do it fast and do it accurately. In cases where it can be automated via artificial intelligence, do it now (see: tennis). If you can’t make a decision after watching two replays, then it’s too indecisive to change anything. With modern technology there’s no reason that takes more than one minute tops. I’m a fan of getting calls right, but too often the challenge function is abused to get a free timeout or out of spite and, in both cases, that’s when they should be able to decide quickly that it’s a waste of time and to move on, just like in tennis.

But back to your question, I definitely missed some things. Mostly I missed the game of football and the variety. Football is so spread and there are so many games that it lends itself to easily finding exciting competition. I’m even more convinced that the announcers and media covering football are by far the worst in football. However there’s one exception. I missed being able to wake up early on Saturday mornings with my son and being able to turn College GameDay on in the background. That show is the fandom appreciation show that every other sport tries to copy and the NFL wishes it had. Those guys do good analysis and back stories, but more importantly the stars are the fans in the back constantly getting face time, and they spread their wealth visiting all kinds of different schools. If it were MLB they’d only be at Yankee Stadium and Fenway every week.

The last thing I’d say I missed is football’s willingness to change and make adjustments. Many of the other sports I watched (rugby, soccer, baseball, hockey, motorsports etc.) have some severe issues with their rules/procedures and the only thing stopping them from being fixed are the sporting bodies' unwillingness to make changes. Football by comparison isn’t even the same sport it was 10 or 20 years ago because it makes so many changes, but no one has complained to go back on the competition changes. And even while they fall very short on some things they at least acknowledge the issues. FIFA on the other hand, I watched them completely ignore three different times this/last year when a player was knocked 100% unconscious for 10+ seconds and then the team left them in the game once they came to. Or Formula 1 and their lax safety rules that led to the Jules bianchi incident. Even the NFL doesn’t have the balls to defend that kind of stupidity.

Mike: What are your thoughts on fantasy football, concerning watching or not watching NFL games?

Wedge: It's funny because this was where most people told me this was a terrible idea, because there’s no way I’d be able to do well in Fantasy Football by not watching the games, and I just don’t get it. People forget that its purely statistics and chance.

A prime example: T.Y. Hilton just ripped off a massive game on Thursday night. No amount of watching football games would have helped you predict that was going to happen. If anything watching games can have a negative effect on fantasy because it’s like watching the memory line at a roulette table where you convince yourself you see something instead of remembering statistics and probability and trends.

All that said when I wasn’t watching football I didn’t win either league I played in, but I also didn’t come in last either. According to Yahoo, in your league I set the record for strongest strength of schedule. Again, I’m not sure how watching football would change my ability to do anything about that. This year I’m off to a good start but not because of watching anything because for the last 10 years all my picks are based on statistics and Yahoo/CBS rankings.

Mike: I watch the Saints, try to watch the Broncos, and try to watch at least some of the prime-time games if I can (Thursday, Sunday, Monday night). Throw in LSU and parts of random college games, and I'm probably at about 15 hours per week. Obviously there are some who would be closer to 20-25 hours per week or more, so at least I'm not as obsessed as some. I also get a lot of work done (or play with kids) while watching football. If it isn't the Saints or LSU, I'm never just sitting idle and watching. What about you? How much time do you think you're spending? Do you feel like it's a waste of time, or can it just be a healthy hobby comparable to something like fishing or golfing?

Wedge: Hobby is the most important word you mention there. Yes it most certainly can be a healthy hobby and something on in the background during other activities, and that’s what I’m doing most of the time. But the issue I was testing for, and one I think a majority of the country has, is that it’s not a healthy hobby for many people. I am addicted to competition/sports. Just watch me on twitter: I go all in on anything I watch. You’re talking to a guy who once watched the final table of the World Series of Poker live for three hours. But with most other sports you can do ebbs and flows and it doesn’t take over your life. With football I feel like this country has crossed over the line for “healthy.”

At the end of the day all sports are entertainment, they are an escape from normal everyday life, but when it becomes more important than that, when you neglect life for entertainment, then it’s crossing the line. I wouldn’t say I was there, but I know many people who are, and I’m sure I was at least in the area where I could have been doing more productive things with my time or expanding my horizon of what information I was taking in, listening to music, other sports, documentaries, whatever.

Before this experiment I probably dabbled with the 25+ hour mark because I will take live sports over syndicated television any day, so when I’m lying in bed, working in my garage, cutting grass or running on the treadmill, etc. I’d put whatever NFL or college football game was on. But sometimes you get sucked in and suddenly you are up at 12:30am because you need to see how the North Southern Midwest Central Florida vs. El Paso Dakota State game is going to end. And for many people it sometimes evolves into all the time. But I’d still say I’m not a typical American in that aspect.

If you ever need evidence of how unhealthy the relationship has gotten with football, watch ESPN in the football offseason. More than half the shows and SportsCenter coverage time is still dedicated to football. They don’t do it because they are that obsessed, they do it because the viewers are. That’s unhealthy, by a lot. So too is the way it takes over, not just NFL, but college, and high school, and the draft, and people just talking about it, and people talking about the people who talked. There are so many other quality sports out there people can watch, and its better than 70% of the football content that’s broadcast; the boycott was more about that large majority of football junk rather than the minority of really good games.

People leave public gatherings where they were having a good time to go home and watch a football game of non-importance. There are others who can’t fathom trying anything else. But you could easily replace the word “football” with any other activity and make many cases for other things. Football is just more common.

Like you said, it should be a hobby, and people should have many healthy hobbies. Don’t be the guy that only hunts, or only plays golf; instead, be a person who has tried out anything there is to try. Have a favorite beer, but make sure you try out some other beers to see if you like anything else.

Mike: After taking a year off, how do you feel about the current schedule, where there is basically football on TV nearly every night? Would you like to see it scaled back or expanded? For example, Thursday night football is fun and all, but it's also part of what made Thanksgiving football so special. 

Wedge: As you can tell from the last question, this is one of my biggest pain points about football is over-saturation. It doesn’t know when to stop itself. I attended the University of Southern Mississippi when the concept of playing college games on a Thursday night was invented. It seemed crazy. USM announced we were going to play on a Thursday, we stopped classes at lunch time so people could tailgate, and the university had to rent extra lights to make sure the field was bright enough for TV. But they did it because it meant they finally would get some primetime air because the big conferences dominated TV on Saturday. It was new territory for colleges and ESPN.

Only “problem” was it worked so well that the big conferences stole it from the small ones. And now the Boise States of the world have had to move to playing their games on Wednesday and Friday nights, screwing over high schools that traditionally played on Friday. And the NFL is now taking the Thursday slice from the big college conferences and playing games on Saturdays by the end of the year. To my knowledge, Tuesday night is the only night of a week that does not regularly have a football game on TV during the regular season.

No longer are any of these night games special because everyone plays them every night. There’s 2-3 games every night of the week instead of one matchup getting accolades for a night after a few days off allowing you to build up to it. Same thing for Thanksgiving, I’m totally with you there; tradition stampeded on.

Forget the fans though, lost in all of this is the HUGE negative physical effects weekday football has on players with much less time to recover and rest; or in college, less time to attend classes and study, which is supposed to be their primary purpose of being in college (or at least that’s what the NCAA still claims). The NFL keeps pretending like they care about the player safety so much, yet they added Thursday night games full season, play London games every year, and proposed adding two more weeks to the schedule, all to the detriment of players' bodies.

Mike: I gave up soda this year, and honestly it wasn't that hard. (Shout out to seltzer for making it possible!) You know how much I loved Coke, but it really didn't phase me after a couple of weeks. I just don't know if I could completely give up football though. I'd say, aside from necessities and things like spending time with family,  my top five most difficult things to give up would be (in order): music, horror movies, baseball, football, pizza. What is your top five?

Wedge: Man, just like you mention seltzer making it possible for you, frankly sports made it possible for me. Giving up football was only possible when I could still get sports fixes with baseball, hockey, tennis, rugby, soccer, IndyCar, Sports Car racing, Formula 1, UFC, Olympics etc.

Excluding family and necessities, the five most difficult things for me to give up now I think would be: Music, the internet, going out to eat, travel for leisure, and streaming documentaries/movies.

Mike: Any final thoughts?

I said a lot already, but I think the biggest sports related epiphanies I had during this football layoff were watching other sports and seeing things I wish football would adopt. For example:

#1 – From rugby, the best thing football could adopt is the extra point procedure. Only one of the players on the field during the touchdown would be allowed to attempt the extra point. Instant revolution in the NFL. Fantasy gets a whole lot more interesting, and we stop wasting a roster spot on kickers.

#2 The America’s Cup. I already wrote about it on GBS, but I’m still amazed and love that the champion gets to choose the rules by which they defend their crown. I really wish they could do this in other modern sports to some effect and let the games evolve each year. That’s what modern day sports are missing. That was the biggest thing people kept telling me throughout this whole thing. They kept trying to tell me how I was missing all these games, but at the end of the day I was missing the same old thing, a footnote in the history books in a way.

Imagine if this was the year the champion said all teams can only field 7 players and that no punts were allowed… and I missed that!? Then yeah, then I’m missing out. The best players would be the ones who excelled no matter the rule sets. You could tell stories about the different years and the different rule sets that had to be followed. It would add so much more significance to everything.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tecmo Super Bowl Fun

If you've been reading our blog for any amount of time, you're likely aware of my feelings about Tecmo Super Bowl and wouldn't be surprised to know that I probably play it more now than most of us did back when it was the raddest game available. In fact, there are so many fun quirks to this game that I am either remembering after all these years or realizing for the first time.

We all remember Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye completely annihilating our players and running with super turbo speed, particularly late in season mode. But there is so much more. Below are just a few of the ways that Tecmo keeps us on our toes, even in 2014.

  • Quarterback season stats have a cap of 63 passing touchdowns. I didn't remember this one and was pretty upset when I had to go count all of my players' receiving touchdowns the other day during my late-season surge toward 100 passing scores. Why was there a cap? Did they assume we must've been cheating if we got that high? Why 63? Not 60 or 65?
  • The same guy coaches every team. Seriously. Whenever they announce a division winner during season mode, the players are all celebrating with the same exact coach. Laughing white guy with a hat. Every time.

  • When you tackle the computer's player in the endzone for a safety, he gets up and keeps running. It's like he's completely ignoring reality while acting like an All-Pro player who is eluding all tacklers. Sorry, Johnny Hector. We're on the bench celebrating our two points already. Can you please bring that ball back so your team can kick it to us now?
  • The computer does not care how many of your players are injured. I recently had three of my four running backs out, forcing me to play a receiver in the backfield for two games. No free agent signings.

  • Fumbles void all stats. If you complete a 90-yard pass and then fumble, you will not get the stats for that play. This even counts if you make the computer fumble following a touchdown.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Thoughts of a (Crazy) Person in Four Fantasy Football Leagues

I've played in four fantasy leagues in one season before. But in those other years, at least one of the leagues was a joke. For a while we had a stupid league with hilarious scoring settings, like negative bonuses and 100-point field goals. Obviously, I wasn't stressing much about that league.

But this year I'm in four leagues, and I'd like to win all four of them. And it kind of sucks. The four leagues cover different facets of my life: family, friends, podcasters, and work. Who wouldn't want to win all of those leagues?

After a weekend where I went 4-0, bringing my overall record to 16-4 across all leagues through five weeks, here are some thoughts, both for anyone considering doing this in the future and to remind myself of this insanity for next year.

  • I own or play against every important player every week. Often both at the same time. "Go, Demaryius, go! No wait! Don't go THAT much! Wait, yes. Go! Score on this defense!" This is not uncommon in my house this year. My kids think I'm nuts. And I am.
  • I've never had so much riding on a Redskins/Seahawks game. Yet last night, there I was with three leagues depending on different outcomes in the Monday night contest. I basically needed Niles Paul to be terrible (he was), Seattle's defense to be unimpressive (they were), and Marshawn Lynch to score a touchdown (he did, at the very end). In a way, yes, this makes it fun to watch football. But on the other hand, I miss just watching the Redskins and the Seahawks (or other random teams) without caring much about what happens.
  • The work league is the worst one. Playing friends and family members is fun. You'll win and you'll lose, and everyone will have fun talking trash via the league site, social media, etc. It makes the holidays fun, but you don't interact in person with most friends or relatives on a daily basis. The work league is the opposite. Everyone sees each other every day throughout the entire day. I'm currently 4-1 and in third place (12 team league), but I'm definitely worried about slipping up here. It's pretty brutal. (Of course, in the meantime, I'm letting the nine losers below me in the standings know I'm awesome.)
  • It's best to own good players across all leagues. I was worried about this at first because of injury concerns and the possibility of hitting four different waiver wires when a star goes down. But I secured Reggie Wayne in all leagues at great draft value, and it's good to know he'll never beat me. Unless I'm playing against Andrew Luck, of course. Other players I own in multiple leagues include: Peyton Manning, Jimmy Graham, Desean Jackson, and the New England defense. If I'm dumb enough to play in this many leagues again, I'll try to make this happen more often.

Upcoming football content: I'll be interviewing Wedge about his return to watching football this season and will be live-blogging while watching the 1988 football flick Johnny Be Good for another edition of GBS at the Movies.