- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2012

This is my 22nd season playing fantasy football, which means I’ve been emotionally invested in the outcomes of more games than I care to count at a level I would rather not admit. There have been plenty of highs and plenty of lows. But I have never experienced those extremes the way I did this past week — and the game didn’t involve my team.

After Sunday’s afternoon games, it was obvious I would not be advancing in a particular league, so my focus shifted to the other playoff semifinal. My wife held a 12-point lead heading into Sunday night’s Patriots-49ers game. Her opponent had Frank Gore and Stephen Gostkowski. She was done for the day but did have Chris Johnson going Monday night if it came down to that. We both expressed our hope it would not come down to that.

As we nervously watched, her opponent crept closer. A wild play in which Gore recovered a fumble and ran it in for a TD momentarily led to stunned silence from my wife and what I’ll generously describe as a prolonged period of not silence from me. I believe our pug left the room during this time.

It turned out that the play actually benefited my wife because it was a return TD under NFL rules and this league only awards points to position players for offensive scores.

Having dodged that bullet, my stomach was still in knots. And I still felt like screaming (the roller coaster comparison is more than metaphor when I’m watching an important NFL game). It didn’t help that the Patriots began a frantic comeback midway through the third quarter. As the extra points piled up, my blood pressure rose.

Once David Akers’ FG made the score 41-31 late in the game, I felt a small sense of relief. Gore was done for the night, my wife held a two-point lead, and what were the odds the Patriots would decide to kick a FG? Well, pretty good, as it turns out.

Needing a TD and FG to force overtime, the Patriots’ drive stalled in the final seconds and they decided to go for the easy points and take their incredibly slim chances with an ensuing onside kick. So out trots Gostkowski for what almost certainly would be a meaningless score (it turned out to be exactly that), and because the line of scrimmage was the 23, that pushed the kick past 40 yards, meaning it would be worth 5 points.

As the kick sailed through the uprights, my wife cursed the league’s FG scoring system and I just cursed. I think the pug left the room again.

Minutes earlier, I thought we would go to bed safe in knowing she had won, not having to stress over Chris Johnson holding her fantasy fate in his hands. But now, she was trailing by three points in a league in which 80 yards is only worth two points. To win, Johnson would have to, at the very least, reach 100 yards or score. As I was annoyingly explaining this to my wife, she pulled up the league website to check Johnson’s recent fantasy performances. In the previous three weeks, he had scored four total points. Uh-oh!

Trying to go positive after hours of negativity, I kept saying, “It’s all right, you’re gonna win. I can see it — a long touchdown run.” I actually had thought about such a scenario earlier in the night as her lead was dwindling, but my declarations at the moment were nothing more than me trying to make up for dragging my wife along on the aforementioned roller-coaster ride.

Once Monday night’s game kicked off, I was tracking every play, hoping Johnson would break a big run early to calm me down or maybe even score quickly so I could move on to worrying about something else. Johnson’s first three carries resulted in a total of 0 yards. Uh-oh!

At this point in the night, I received a call. My smart, funny and beautiful wife had lost track of her keys while shopping. Our 16-month-old was the prime suspect, but he wasn’t talking. He was, however, crying, so I left work early to do what I could.

On the 30-minute drive there, I realized I would receive a text from my brother, the commissioner, if Johnson gained enough yards or scored. My phone was silent the whole way. I didn’t want to stress over it any longer, so I turned my phone off (or so I thought), put it in my pocket and entered the store with my focus now completely on getting our son to bed and finding those keys.

I was only there a few minutes when a cashier alerted us that a set of keys was just turned in. They had been left in a cart. They were my wife’s. We were all smiles — me, my wife and her friend who had come to help out. Even the very tired boy cracked a smile.

I then left with our son while my wife stuck around to decompress with her friend. I had forgotten all about the game as I sang made-up songs to keep my passenger from getting too cranky. Then my phone made a noise. The game! This is it! I pulled the phone from my pocket, hit a couple buttons and there it was: “Hey, she just won.” I immediately dialed my brother’s number to get the specifics. A 94-yard TD run! Yes!

The first thing I did when I got home was double-check (and triple-check) the game cast to make sure it was all official. I then called my wife and told her. She was overjoyed. And so was I.

In all honesty, I have never been more ecstatic at the outcome of a fantasy football game. I’ve won this particular league and all the spoils that come with it five times, but none of those victories elicited the happiness I felt for hours as Monday night turned into Tuesday morning.

Of course, it occurs to me that I have to go through this all over again this weekend (although, thankfully, there is no Monday game). But I’m sure I can keep my emotions in check this time as my wife plays for a championship. Right, honey? On second thought, don’t answer that. This column already is too long.

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