The League

Dan Steinberg
Staff Writer

Dan Steinberg

Washington Post sports blogger and author of the D.C. Sports Bog

Fantasy Anti-Climax

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I still remember the first time I saw an empty NCAA tournament bracket. It was March of 1988, and we were sitting in 6th grade math class, waiting for Mr. Ludwig. In front of me was Mike Heary, whose dad was the principal and had given Mike an entry sheet for the faculty pool. The nearly blank page, covered with that empty grid, was mesmerizing. I don't think we learned much math that day, other than what the difference was between a 12 and a 5.

Within a few years, my friend Thomas and I were running a pool for much of Fredonia High. If you can believe this, we would hand draw the bracket on a piece of graph paper ourselves, write in the teams as they came off the television screen on Selection Sunday, and quickly give the form to another friend, whose dad ran a law firm and thus had access to office equipment. He would photocopy a few hundred pages, and we were in business.

Mike Heary went on to become Navy's all-time leader in three-pointers made, and to play in the tournament himself. Thomas went on to work at ESPN. The Internet went on to crush the graph paper industry. And I went on to, however briefly, cover college basketball for a living.

I've since watched the Selection Show at my parents' house and my grandparents' house, in the Marvin Center with George Washington, in Bender Arena with American, and in a small office with John Feinstein and Tony Kornheiser. It has never, ever gotten stale. Every time that doo-too ta-taaaaa-da music plays, my heart beats faster than it should.

I used to go along with the group-think that had dubbed the fantasy football draft the best day of the sports calendar, but it's really not even close. The fantasy football draft dominates your thoughts in the days before, but the event itself never fails to disappoint.

After two rounds, a skeletal team is already in front of you, all the best players are gone, and your options are receding. After four rounds, you're trying to convince yourself that it doesn't really matter whom you take at wide receiver. After six rounds, you're just staring at the first two rounds, wondering what went wrong while eating stale pizza crust. And by the end -- what should be the climax of a great sports day -- you're choosing between Jay Feely and Shayne Graham. Maryland's 41-point loss at Duke had a better climax than that.

That's the problem. The longer the day goes on, the more your previous mistakes have fenced you in. The day before the draft, all is hope and possibility, but draft day is about taking that away. It's about ruining the rush of freedom.

Selection Sunday -- coming at the end of a seven-day basketball binge -- is the opposite. Selection Sunday is a blank piece of graph paper with 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possibilities. And at the end of the night, they're all still open, and the sweet whiff of perfection can scent your dreams.

There are 63 picks you have to make, and that's counting the obvious 1 over 16 selections. There are four days for making those picks. I used to allow myself 15 picks a day, so the joy would last me right up until tip-off. And, of course, that's when the buzz finally wears off: when you can see the end of four-games-at-once on the horizon, and when you have to use the red pen instead of the yellow highlighter for the first time, ending another year's dream.

But Sunday night, when you first see the 8-9 match-ups, first ask which 12 seed will win, and first try to figure out whether to put two or three top seeds in your Final Four? There's nothing on the sports calendar that can come close.

By Dan Steinberg  |  March 15, 2009; 6:48 PM ET  | Category:  Fantasy Football Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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