Arizona led San Francisco 16-13 with less than 8:00 left. The 49ers had the ball at the Cardinals 3 yard line and lined up for a 3rd and goal. Shaun Hill dropped back, looked left into the end zone.....Isaac Bruce, covered......Josh Morgan, covered. He spun and looked right.....Arnaz Battle, covered. The Cardinal defenders were bearing down on him. Quickly, he checked down to Frank Gore, who had spun wide open in the flat. Caught at the 2 yard line....the 1......touchdown, San Francisco!!!! The 49ers would win the game 20-16. A road win against not only the defending division champs, but the defending conference champions, to open the season. I jumped up and down on my couch and pumped my fists. I let off a Ric Flair-like whooooooo! Then, all of a sudden, I slumped back onto the couch and my jubilation was tempered just a bit. Wait a second, I thought, as I scrambled through about a dozen printed sheets on my coffee table. "Oh crap!" One of my opponents I was playing against in fantasy football has Gore on his team, and now Gore has 2 TDs today, putting me in a big hole. That thought quickly exited my head and all I cared about was the 49ers being 1-0 and that hopefully LaDanian Tomlinson would do enough on Monday Night to give that particular fantasy team a win. But the thought did enter my head. Even if just for a fleeting moment. Was I wrong to have that thought? Or is that the new natural reaction in 2009 - be happy for your favorite team, but temper the enthusiasm until you find out if your opponent in fantasy football has the player who just scored the winning TD? Is a Bengals fan (all 10 of them, shouldn't be too hard to find them and ask) that has Brandon Stokley on his fantasy team, happy today? Let's examine....
I have been a 49ers fan for over 30 years. I have celebrated their triumphs and agonized over there defeats. I will never forget Joe Montana's 88-yard drive to win Super Bowl XXIII or the dismantling of the Dolphins (in Super Bowl XIX), the Broncos (in Super Bowl XXIV) and the Chargers (in Super Bowl XXIX). All told, I have watched the 49ers win 5 Super Bowls. I have watched great playoff comebacks and wretched playoff defeats. Like most fans, I use we and our when describing them. So, their losses become part of me, as do their victories. In over 30 years of rooting for them and about 20 years of sports gambling, I have one steadfast rule (you listening, Pete Rose?) I have never gambled against the 49ers. I have never gambled against any of my favorite teams, for that matter. On occasion, if I feel really confident, I will wager on them, but never against them. That is basically rule #2 in the true sports fans handbook (rule #1, Yankees fans, Gators fans, Notre Dame fans, post-2004 Red Sox fans, Cowboys fans and Lakers fans is never abandon your true team to jump on someone else's bandwagon). This of course leads to a very dicey question - isn't having a fantasy team a form of gambling? So, in effect, wasn't I - who was playing against Frank Gore yesterday - wagering against the 49ers in some form? Not exactly. I wanted the 49ers to score. And, once I thought about it, I didn't care that it was Gore who scored. I just would have preferred that someone else scored the TD (like Josh Morgan, for example. 3 catches for 38 yards. Bust out year, my butt!). It's not like I was rooting for Arizona to stop Gore from scoring. But just that little twinge gave me pause and made me ask myself which is more important - the team I have rooted for, cried over, cheered mercilessly for, for over 30 years.....or my wallet? Because remember, winning a fantasy league doesn't just give you bragging rights over your friends, but it usually fattens your wallet pretty well. Fantasy Sports, football in particular has become a big business.
When I was in college, me and some buddies started a fantasy league. Really, it was just for fun. We all threw in $20. There were 10 teams and the winner won the $200. Not exactly high finance. Now, league entry fees can be upwards of $200 or more, with payouts well into the thousands of dollars. So, really, there actually is a dilemma for fans. My heart and soul or my wallet? It's not like if the 49ers win the Super Bowl, I'm getting a ring or big fat bonus check from the organization for being a super fan. Actually, what I'd probably get is some lost income - since I'd wind up spending hundreds of dollars on Super Bowl Championship memorabilia and shirts. But if my fantasy team wins it all, I'm going to have quite a bit of extra money in my pocket. Money to hopefully spend on the 49ers if they ever win another Super Bowl.
There is not a right or wrong answer here. Traditionalists will say that you have to root for your team no matter what...and that fantasy sports is a dumb idea anyway. Some of the younger generation (the post-2004 Red Sox fans and post-1996 Gators fans) will say root for your fantasy team and then just pick a team that makes it to their sports' championship game to root for. Me? I'm a traditionalist. But I'm a traditionalist who could always use a little extra money. So, for now, for the rest of the 2009 NFL season, I say, Go Niners! And Go Hebrew Oilers! And Go Heartbreak Kids! And Go Holy Shirts and Pants! And Go.....wait, I can't really tell you the name of my 4th fantasy football team. It's just wrong. Just know that I am rooting really REALLY hard for LaDanian Tomlinson tonight. And I don't even like the Raiders, so tonight, there won't be a conflict of interest.