Fantasy Football and Real Life


In 1990–more than a third of a century and over half my lifetime ago–I created something called the Armchair Football League. Fantasy baseball, or “rotisserie baseball”, as it was then called, had been around for awhile, but we were some of the pioneers of fantasy football at the time. I invited seven friends and then, after a successful first year of fun and competition, we added four others in Season Two. Never would I have guessed that we would still be engaging in this silliness 33 years later, but here we are.

Many friends have come and gone during that time; three are deceased, while another is serving his second term in the U.S. Congress. We have had some leave and come back for a second–or even third–time.

One such returning “coach” is my friend Brad. Along with Don, Brad goes back to the beginning, one of the original eight.

And now Brad is dying of a brain tumor.

Nearly two years ago, Brad was diagnosed and given a two-year expected life span. And while we have prayed and he has sought treatment, it seems his days are coming to an end. And so it was with this understanding that the Armchair Football League gathered Saturday morning for its annual auction in Charlottesville, with Brad joining us via Zoom.

We were just about to begin when my phone rang and, not recognizing the number, I almost didn’t answer. We were already a few minutes late getting started, and who was calling me now?

Glad I took the call. It was Brad’s wife, Kate, calling to explain that taking part in the auction–and in one, likely final, year of Armchair Football–was what Brad had been talking about for months.

I dared not look at the other guys, and I composed myself fairly well, I guess, but my eyes got real moist, real fast.

Now that we have chosen our teams, Brad’s new goal will be to live til season’s end (and beat us all for the championship, as he has done several times). It should come as no revelation to understand that he will be everyone’s second choice to win this year’s title, and it will also come as no surprise to my readers that Brad will expect no let-up on our desire to win the championship ourselves; he wouldn’t enjoy his (again we will say “likely”) final season if we didn’t all try our best to win.

Now, you can call us silly for playing “pretend football” if you like, and I won’t argue. You can question why some of would drive distances and incur financial costs to play, and ditto. But here’s what I know: this thing has provided fun and friendship to a bunch of guys who don’t do the party thing, who enjoy good clean fun, and who in the process have formed, to one degree or another, some pretty good relationships.

Imagine that in 1990, I thought it was about football.


  1. Mark S on September 6, 2023 at 11:12 pm

    Male friendship seems
    Harder than ever to come by these days, and if Fantasy Football is a platform for real friendship, sign me up! This Sunday begins Year 1 for a new extended family League from coast to coast, hoping it keeps us in touch beyond the gathering every several years.

  2. Paul Oyler on September 7, 2023 at 6:40 am

    Dang, I should have waited until after I cut these onions before reading this.

    I’m so blessed to have been able to be a part of this thing, on and off, almost from the beginning. And it has been long enough since my last Happy Feller Championship.

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