Relentless forward sucking

Three American buddies, two Canadian brothers and a couple of Mexican entrepreneurs walk into a fantasy sports trade show…

Fantasy sports bring out peoples’ passion. Roughly half of the people I met in Nashville, at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) winter conference, started their business because they love playing fantasy sports.


I met The Footballers, three longtime friends who podcast about fantasy football all year long. There’s no offseason for them. Because they love fantasy football.

I shared a breakfast table with two guys from Mexico who built a daily fantasy service to satisfy Latin Americans’ passion for football — American football and soccer.

I pitched an idea for an eBook dedicated to sucking at fantasy football. My pitch was funny.

Pitching “24 Years of Sucking @ Fantasy Football” in Nashville.

The two Canadian brothers who won the pitch contest were funny too, plus they have cool technology that curates all of your fantasy news. Dang those Canadian overachievers.

What do you do when you’re a doctor who’s passionate about fantasy sports? You create a company that projects injury risk for every NFL and NBA player. Here’s Tom Brady’s recent prognosis:

Another pitch showed how big data is improving the fantasy experience with customized, SportsCenter-like highlights reels. Check out this version for NASCAR fantasy:

No love for kickers

Speaking of SportsCenter, an ESPN writer provided my favorite stat of the conference: Over 70% of fantasy players think that kickers should be…kicked out of fantasy scoring.

I agree. (Nothing against kickers).

There was free pizza during the conference. And hot dogs. And bottomless bags of my favorite food, popcorn.

I’m passionate about fantasy sports and about writing, so pitching a book idea at the FSTA conference was a golden opportunity.  Throw in a fantasy buffet of endless ballpark food and, well, that definitely does not suck.

Fantasy data doesn’t lie. I wish it would.

I play fantasy football. I’ve played in the same league, with the same group of friends, for 24 years. During that span, I won the league championship once.

That’s a 4% success rate. The other 96% of the time, I’ve been bad.

My team is named the UndaDawgz. A more appropriate name might be the UndaPerformerz, since I finished in dead last place 29% of the time.

My team logo.

This season was going to be different. For starters, I had more time to prepare: 67% of all fantasy sports players have a full-time job. I had no such distraction. Suckers!

The average player spends $9 on fantasy magazines. I had no desire to be merely average. I spent twice that amount.

Advanced scouting

A good fantasy draft strategy is critical. I created a spreadsheet of nearly 250 players that stack-ranked, color-coded and annotated all of my potential draft picks.

Jen and I even attended the real NFL draft in Chicago. Talk about next level preparation.

Next level fantasy football research.

I had the #11 pick in my fantasy draft. Statistically speaking, #11 is the worst draft position in our league.

How do I know this? Because I analyzed our league’s historical data. I might have too much time on my hands.

I was confident on draft day. My draft headquarters, the couch, were distraction free. I had good snacks.

The first 10 picks proceeded as I expected. My spreadsheet was on point. Then it was my turn.

I chose Le’Veon Bell, star running back for the Steelers. Almost immediately, I started second-guessing my decision.

Bell was suspended for the first four games of the NFL season. He’s a high-impact player, but did I draft him too soon? He wasn’t even going to step onto the field for another month.

As a backup plan for Bell’s suspension, I drafted his backup, DeAngelo Williams, with my fifth pick. More hand wringing and second-guessing. Did I just waste a high pick on a part-time player?

I wasn’t the only one second-guessing my decisions. CBSSportsline gave my final draft a mediocre B-minus grade.

Reality bites

In week one, the backup Williams had a monster game. Unfortunately, the rest of my fantasy team lived down to its B-minus rating. I lost the first game by 12 points.

My second game was against another team that received a B-minus grade. I lost by 16 points.

I made reactive changes. My team reacted by losing in week three by 21 points.

I made more changes. In week four I suffered my worst defeat yet, by 34 points.

It took five more weeks before I finally won a game. By then, all hopes of making the playoffs were gone. I won two games the entire season.

New technology, same results

Fantasy sports have changed significantly in 24 years. When our league began, roughly 3 million people played fantasy sports. Today, it’s 57 million.

We relied on the newspaper for stats and we calculated points by hand. There were no fantasy football websites. We submitted our weekly roster via a landline.

Today, stats are available in real-time and scoring is automated. Nearly 40% of all fantasy players get their information via cell phone.

My (lack of) fantasy success hasn’t changed much over the years. But I keep coming back. Our league began as a tight group of friends living in the same city. Today, we’re flung across the country. Fantasy football is the one remaining thing that we all have in common.

There’s always that tantalizing thought that this could be my year. Historical data suggests that my future fantasy prospects are dim. But who needs data, anyway?

Happy Flu Year! A running report

My 2017 race calendar is filling up fast. In fact, 2017 is less than a day old and I’ve already chalked up my first race result: DNS (Did Not Start). While Jen powered through the Resolution Run this morning, I sat home on our couch with the flu.

Completing the Resolution Run in a healthier, flu-free New Year.

I completed a fair bit of running in 2016. In January, I finished my first ultramarathon, the Avalon 50. I won my first race this year; it was a local 10K. I followed that with a third place age-group finish (“third among the olds”) at the Orca Half Marathon.

Photo stop on Catalina Island along the Avalon 50 miler.

I also witnessed some amazing running in 2016. When Amy Cragg, Des Davila and Shalane Flanagan dueled it out on the streets of L.A. at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, I observed from Figueroa Street. A few months later, I indulged in two full weeks’ worth of spectating at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan setting the pace at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trial in Los Angeles.

My mom is an OJ – Original Jogger. As a kid, I would spectate and cheer when she ran the New Haven Road Race. Sometimes I would tag along during her training runs, but I rarely made it around the block.

Newspaper clipping of my Mom running the Lenders Bagels race.

I tried cross country running in high school, but I routinely finished last in competitions. I gave up running entirely when I reached college. By my mid-twenties, I literally refused to run. Then I got fat. So, I fell back on running.

I trained for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C. and – surprise! – I did not finish last. And so, for the ensuing 20+ years, running has been part of my life. Some years it’s a big part and some years it’s a small part. But it’s always there.

It was there in a big way during 2016. From January through April, my runs were meandering and nostalgic. I soaked up many beach runs, in expectation of my #1WaytoSEA move from Santa Monica to Seattle. From May through July, I dialed down the running and dialed up the biking, to prep for an epic transcontinental bike ride with my brother.

Sunset run route along Santa Monica beach.

In August, I got serious about running again. I enlisted my first running coach, via a startup app called Ekiden. My goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I chose the Seattle Marathon to achieve my 3:25 qualifying time. This was probably not the wisest choice, since the Seattle course is notoriously tough with a succession of nasty hills starting around mile 20.

In late November, I finished the Seattle Marathon in 3:29:06. I missed my goal by just over four minutes. But I shaved more than five minutes off of my previous Seattle Marathon time – from 12 years ago! Not a bad run.

I can honestly say there were no bad runs in 2016. A hamstring injury made for a few painful runs and caused me to cut a few runs shorts. But they were better than not running.

In 2017, I’m continuing to chase my goal of qualifying for Boston. I’m also eyeing another 50 miler. Separately, after a hiatus, my Dad and I will return to the New Mexico desert to participate in the deeply meaningful Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon.

I’m ready to be done with this flu. It’s a bummer to start the New Year with a DNS. But there’s lots more running to look forward to in 2017.