I was right in the midst of some Monday night smack talk. My team, the Saugus T-Bones, was in the championship game of one of the two fantasy football leagues I’m in. I was invited into this league by my son, Luc, and it includes several of his former hockey teammates at the University of Oklahoma. It’s a 12-team, testosterone-filled league with former collegiate athletes and at least a couple of dads, including me.
The other league I’m in is our Signal “office league.” It’s a 10-team league consisting of current and former Signal employees, plus Luc and my daughter, Brooke.
In The Mighty Signal Callers’ league, I’m proud to say three of the final four teams left standing had the last name “Whyte.” Luc and I squared off for the bronze in the third-place game, where I soundly trounced him and taught the boy a lesson about the wisdom and experience of his elders.
In the championship game, my daughter, who is about the most casual sports fan possible (her team name is “Yay Sports”) went up against former Signal staffer Emily Alvarenga.
I love both of my kids infinitely. But I thought it was hilarious that Brooke beat her brother in the semifinals and made the title game over a bunch of newsroom folks who care a LOT more than she does about fantasy football.
Ultimately, Emily won the championship and Brooke took second place.
In the other league with Luc and his buddies, I entered the playoffs with a middling 7-7 regular-season record, as the No. 6 seed, going up against a succession of teams with much better records, including the top seed, which had gone 11-3 in the regular season.
But I went on an epic playoff win streak and lo and behold, there I was, in the championship game, sitting on a 10-point lead going into the fantasy season’s final game on Monday night.
I was up against Luc’s college hockey teammate, roommate and good friend, Tyler Lazarek (also 11-3 in the regular season). Tyler, like Luc, went to Oklahoma after growing up here in the Santa Clarita Valley. Good local kid from a good local family.
But fantasy football, as you know, is Smack-Talk War.
“Looking forward to watching my coronation… oops, I mean Monday Night Football. Sorry. Slip of the tongue,” I said in a text thread with Tyler and Luc.
“Don’t piss me off, Tim. I know where you live,” Tyler replied.
Parenthetically, Luc wasn’t as interested in the championship matchup as Tyler and I were. I believe that’s because Luc was eeking out a narrow win in the battle for 11th place, aka The Toilet Bowl.
In the final matchup, my remaining players were Josh Allen of the Bills and Ja’Marr Chase of the Bengals. Tyler had Joe Burrow of the Bengals, plus the Bills’ kicker, who I am not naming here because, well, he’s a KICKER.
Going into the game, I was sitting pretty (ESPN gave me an 82% chance of winning) and I was feeling quite cocky in the smack talk.
Then, it stopped.
“Watching this injury? Damn,” I wrote in the text thread, not yet knowing the full gravity of what had happened to Bills safety Damar Hamlin.
We didn’t talk any more about fantasy football that night. All of a sudden, football — whether “real” or fantasy — didn’t seem important at all.
Hamlin, as virtually everyone knows by now, had suffered cardiac arrest after what otherwise looked like a routine football play, in which he collided with Bengals receiver Tee Higgins and absorbed a blow to the chest.
The scene that ensued is now familiar to millions, even those who weren’t watching the game live: A crowd of medical personnel crowded over Hamlin, administering CPR, players from both teams shocked, many of them in tears, as an ambulance was brought directly onto the field to whisk Hamlin to the hospital.
In a game where everyone is accustomed to physical injury, this was different. This was life or death.
Much has been said about it in the media in the hours and days that followed, and I honestly don’t feel like I have anything especially original to add to that conversation: The NFL, after what seemed like a too-long delay, ultimately made the right decision to suspend the game. It would have been inhuman to ask those players to strap on their helmets, go back onto that field and play a game, in that moment, considering what had just happened, what they had witnessed and the then-entirely unknown prognosis for Hamlin.
Across the nation, millions prayed for Hamlin. While there are, obviously, multiple tragedies occurring on any given day across the country, Hamlin’s medical crisis was shocking and unifying because it happened during a major televised event that is supposed to be fun, entertainment, an escape from reality for most of us.
Then reality visited itself upon that field, and we all saw it, together.
Thankfully, a few days later, good news about Hamlin started emerging from the hospital. And while he wasn’t entirely out of the woods yet, by week’s end he was breathing on his own and talking to his loved ones — especially good signs.
Only then did we allow ourselves to return to the trivial: What becomes of that fantasy league championship game?
“If you beat me are you going to write a Sunday article about it?” Tyler asked in our text thread.
“Well. Yes, probably,” I replied. “I’d ask permission in advance to quote our text exchanges, though.”
“Here’s a quote for ya…” he replied, and then added an emoji that I can’t publish in a family newspaper.
Soon after that exchange, the NFL announced the Bills-Bengals game would not be resumed. So, the fantasy season ended with me leading Tyler by 5 points. But, considering it could have gone either way, we agreed to share the championship, and if there had been prize money in this league — which I am ONLY saying hypothetically — we would have split first- and second-place money as co-champions.
ESPN did ultimately declare me the winner, but I think we did the right thing and I feel good about ending the smack talk with a healthy dose of sportsmanship.
After all, as we were all starkly reminded this past week, this is not life or death.
It’s just a game.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.