Ihave a friend in the newsroom who's an expert on gambling and we sometimes talk about the parallel universes formed by fantasy players and bettors.
This newspaper and others cover sports as a fairly straight enterprise. Teams make moves on and off the field to try to win games. Local fans alternately take glory in or bemoan those choices. It's a tried-and-true formula for engaging with sports.
But every Sunday, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, watch NFL games without any parochial interest in which team wins. That's not to say they watch dispassionately. But they're either rooting for individual players (fantasy footballers) or for a point spread (gamblers).
These worlds are so vast and powerful that we've created our own vocabularies for them. "I need the Colts to cover at home," or "I picked up the Seahawks defense this week because they're playing the Raiders."
Those phrases have little to do with the winning of flesh and blood football games. But sidle up to any bar in the country on a Sunday afternoon and you'll find 10 instant friends who know precisely what you're talking about.
In thinking about this, I sometimes try to separate my fantasy self entirely from my traditional sports fan self. Last weekend was a pivotal weekend for my two fantasy football teams. Both entered 4-4 and seemed on the cusp of entering serious contention or falling off the pace. So I decided to keep a diary of a football Sunday from fantasy Childs' perspective.
OK, it's 12:55 p.m. and I'm in the basement with my cats and the big screen.
My one game against local radio personality Paul Mittermeier is one of those great situations where all his starters are playing in early games. So I won't have to worry about him miraculously passing me on Monday night. Even if he jumps to an early lead, I'll have Willie Parker at 4:15 against Denver and Tom Brady and his tight end, Ben Watson, against the Colts at 8:15.
Paul begins in a hole because one of his starters, Plaxico Burress, isn't playing for the Giants today. I love it when that happens. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
As it happens, the Ravens game against Cincinnati will be key to my fantasy weekend. I have the Bengals defense, receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Ravens kicker Matt Stover starting against Paul and Rudi Johnson starting in my other game. So basically, I want Johnson and Houshmandzadeh to score, and I want the Ravens offense to move the ball but stall out enough to have Stover kicking all day. A 15-14 Ravens win would be about right.
Oh great, the Bengals fumbled the opening kickoff. So much for putting their defense in a good position.
I see a Giants highlight pop up and they're talking Tiki Barber. Good sign. And finally, finally, the NFL's leading rusher scores his first touchdown of the season. Never had so many fans been so disgusted with such a good season.
Randy Cross, doing commentary on the Ravens game, informs me that Barber doesn't regard scoring as part of his job.
Great. Just what I wanted to hear.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have found their vintage form, driving behind the legs of Jamal Lewis and mates only to stall in the red zone and leave the scoring to Stover. Perfect. Late in the first half, Carson Palmer lofts a pretty pass toward the end zone. Who's the target? Who is it? Yeah, it's Houshmandzadeh and he holds on for the touchdown.
This game is actually going pretty well for me. Stover kicks from 36 yards. Wait, that sucker is angling to the left, angling, and it ricocheted off the goal post. Shoot! Wait, it ricocheted over the crossbar. Good! He is so money.
Seconds later, news of a Terrell Owens touchdown crawls across the bottom of my screen. I'm up 35-8 on Paul and his guys are running out of time. Fantasy nirvana.
Actually, he comes back on me a bit behind late-game fireworks from Marc Bulger and Deuce McAllister. My screen again flashes to a Cowboys-Redskins highlight. I see a long pass spiraling toward T.O. Fantastic news because he's a key member of both my teams. The ball nestles into his hands. Oh wait, no, he dropped it. Why must they tantalize me like that? I know we like to wallow in Owens' humiliation but at my expense? Arghhh.
The 1 p.m. games are wrapping up. Mike Vanderjagt has a chance to put Paul ahead with a field goal but he misses it, and I've clinched one game. Willie Parker's two touchdowns later in the afternoon will amount to little more than icing. And I'll watch Patriots-Colts at 8:15 as fan Childs because I need nothing from Brady or Watson.
The ticker tells me my other game against the first-place Fordyce Redbugs isn't going so hot. Kevin Jones and Marques Colston may not be superstars, but they're my enemies this week.
I'll need a big rally behind Philip Rivers at 4:15 and Randy Moss on Monday night. I can't watch Rivers live but repeated flips to ESPNews and the NFL Network tell me that he can't get it going against the Browns. I knew I'd miss Matt Hasselbeck at some point.
By the end of Sunday, I'm down 15 points and need a huge game from Moss to pull past the Redbugs on Monday. I have little to no hope. So little that I barely watch the 16-0 drubbing that Oakland takes.
With one win and one loss, I've moved into a first-place tie in my local media league and fallen into pointless mediocrity in my other. And fantasy Childs goes into hibernation (well mostly, anyway) until next weekend.