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For The Love of the Game

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Michael Jordan had it in his contract and you should have it in yours. Why do we torture ourselves week in and week out with a game - scratch that - an obsession with America's new greatest pastime: Fantasy Football?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before I write this article I have to give a shout out to one of the most prolific fantasy sports writers, heck, one of the most prolific writers period in the industry, Matthew Berry (@matthewberryTMR).  He wrote something very similar to what I am about to write on September 6, 2013 and even though this article is TOTALLY original I don't want it misconstrued that I am recycling any of his old articles.  Matthew Berry is hall of fame.  He is deservedly an industry titan and I read his stuff and follow him on Twitter religiously.  In fact his article was so good and so inspiring to me that you should check it out yourself right here.  So with apologies to Matthew, I write about the love of the game.

Recently I was asked by David Gonos (@davidgonos) and our fearless leader at Fake Teams, Ray Guilfoyle (@faketeams), to contribute to a book called 101 Fantasy Football Tips.  You can order it here. I wrote tip number 85 which was about preparation.  Today I am going to give you all the real secret.  This is the best tip I can give anyone.  You see, this is YOUR game.  YOU pick the players.  YOU set the lineups.  The research and analysis you do and get from our website plays a part in that.  We certainly hope it plays a big part in that.  We hope that you get insightful commentary, great advice and entertainment from what we write.  We also hope that the advice we give you will help you win your leagues.  We expect that it will. And we want every single one of our readers to dominate their matches every single week.  But reality indicates that no matter how much research you do - no matter how much time you put into the analysis, there are things that fall out of our control.  Injuries, benchings, a coach riding a hot hand, weather - no matter.  A lot of external forces come into play every week so don't take it too seriously.  We aren't curing Cancer here.  We are playing fantasy football.  A fantasy!  Play it to win, but never let the love of the game escape you.  Michael Jordan, the most fierce competitor the NBA has ever seen, had a "love of the game" clause in his contract. This clause basically forbade the Bulls from ever telling him he couldn't play basketball anytime, anywhere, with anyone.  If he was walking down the street and wanted to join a pick up game - FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME - he could do just that.

The reason I got stuck on this tonight is that I was reminded that my 12 year old son's fantasy football draft was coming up in a few weeks.  My son and his friends have a fantasy football league and I am the commissioner.  And I have to say, like Matthew Berry did in his article from last year, that it is one of my favorite days of the year.  All the boys come to our house.  They swim in the pool.  Helene orders pizzas for them and then we draft.  I hook my lap top up to the big screen in the family room (or the Samsung Room as my kids call it) and we put the draft board up electronically.  I love when the next guy up in the snake draft is ready to pick.  "Mr. Coustan, can you bring up the available running backs?" or "Mr. Coustan, who were the last five guys picked?" or the ever popular "Mr. Coustan, is so and so (who was drafted in round one) available still?"

Kids today are so in tune to electronics, whether it is X Box, cell phone or iPad, that they love the ever changing, real time draft board that my Samsung 60 inch transforms into on that day.

The boys all come with their research.  Most of them have magazines - two months old.  Some have print outs from the internet - crumpled and stomped on.  Others have hand written notes on lined paper done by their older brothers - draft Stephen Gostkowski in the 8th round no matter what!  And some actually bring their iPads and follow along - albeit slowly.

We have seen some questionable draft picks.  Gostkowski did go in round 8 last year.  I guess the punishment of making a consensus bad pick was more tolerable than the punishment of being beat up by your older brother for not following directions.  In 2011, Tim Tebow was a first round pick by a team appropriately named the NY Tebows.  There was the time where one boy told everyone not to draft RG3 and then two picks later drafted him for his own team.  Serves him right - that was last year.

But the best part of the day is watching this all unfold.  Some kids are really, really loud.  Some kids are really, really competitive and some are really, really quiet.  They even forget when its their turn.  But everyone has fun.  12 year old boys are a lot of fun.  And although the knowledge gap hasn't quite caught up to the sheer enthusiasm I get an enormous amount of joy being their commissioner every year.

During the season there is a lot of activity to monitor as the commissioner.  I think some teams changed names 5 or 6 times.  There are multiple trades made every week.  Some are outrageous and I have the final veto to keep it fair. Most of the time I let every trade through unless one team is out of it and is clearly helping his friend win.  I also have to manage the waiver wire because the teams that don't make the playoffs are in some sort of pre-teen denial and refuse to stop picking up players once they are eliminated.  There is an enormous amount of tinkering.  It seems to go against that famous mantra from the FX television show The League.  No, not the SHIVA BLAST.  I am talking about NO TINKERING! Just like Kevin and the rest of The League gang these boys can't stop tinkering.

So - don't forget the most important rule of all.  Have fun.  Do your research.  Get your analysis.  For me - that IS the fun part.  But never, ever forget that even those with the best skill and the most knowledge need just a little bit of luck to win their leagues.

Last year, after the draft, I thought I was going to kill it.  I had all my research done.  First round pick Trent Richardson was a lock!  In the second round I took that beast of a WR, Julio Jones.  Third round?  How could I go wrong with Stevan Ridley coming off a 290/1263/12 in the prior year.  By the way, you also now know that I will weave Stevan Ridley into ANY column on fantasy football. I just will. I am in borderline obsession territory now.  My keeper was David Wilson.  After he busted off that 80 yard TD run in the final preseason game he was a can't miss keep at a sixth round cost.  How about Shane Vereen in the ninth?  The NINTH round for one of the hottest draft prospects of the year!  His ADP was somewhere around the fifth.

We all know that Julio broke his foot in game five.  Vereen broke his wrist in week one.  Wilson suffered a season ending and now career ending neck injury and what the heck became of Trent?  I actually had a great time trying to overcome these injuries and poor choices during the season.  I became the Trader Jack of our league.  I did a great job cutting my losses on Trent, trading him for Randall Cobb and Giovani Bernard but guess what happened to Randall Cobb in the week I traded for him - broken leg.  It just wasn't my season.  But the point is - I had a great time.  I got to hang out with friends.  I did what little trash talking I could do, and ultimately enjoyed a disastrous fantasy football season.  I played for the love of the game.

Lastly, here is one more little piece of advice.  The 12 year old who won my son's league last year never made one trade and never made one lineup change.  He was the quietest kid at the draft and we often had to wake him up when it was his turn to pick.  Yep.  Sometimes NO TINKERING is the way to go.  And no matter how much advice and analysis we give you, read it and then make your own decisions.  Your way is ALWAYS the right way because YOU are the one who has to stand up and cheer for YOUR players every Sunday.

I get comments and emails on my columns and articles.  Should I draft this guy or that guy?  Should I draft an RB or a WR?  I will give you my opinion but ultimately the choice is YOURS.  Gather your information and make the right choice for YOU.  Play to win - but if you don't win - love the game with the enthusiasm of a 12 year old boy.

We have some great analysis coming up this week on Fake Teams starting with QBs all week.  You can check out Brad Duffendack's QB ratings and analysis here.  That will be followed up with QB Bust and Sleepers by Robert Keeley and the staff.  And then our consensus staff rankings with my Buy, Sell & Hold QB ADP analysis Friday.  We will then follow the next week with RBs, then WRs and then TEs which will take us right up to week one of the regular season.

As always, you can hit me with comments down below or find me on Twitter (@iambradstrong) or email (iambradstrong@gmail.com)  Thanks for reading.  This was a fun one.  I am looking forward to draft day!