“So as you can see, it may be a struggle for Gehrig. That’s good. It could be a guaranteed playoff berth for me.” – Chad Marshall, Aug. 13, 2011.
“Some guys didn’t want to be in it because these guys get a little too cocky in the locker room, but at the end of the day, we’ll see where we’re at.” – Eric Gehrig, Aug. 13, 2011.
Nobody saw it coming. Chad Marshall predicted he would struggle. Andy Gruenebaum described his draft performance as “a shocker.” In a raucous pre-draft email, Danny O’Rourke pegged his championship odds at 17:1, the lowest calculated odds of any league member. He was thought to be so ill-informed and inept that people honestly believed that head athletic trainer Dave Lagow had a chance to ascend to next-to-last place for the first time in Lagow’s Crew fantasy football career.
Nobody saw it coming. Nobody, that is, except for Eric Gehrig, the 2011 Crew Fantasy Football League champion.
“It’s funny,” Gehrig said, “because I remember right after the draft when Danny was really running his mouth, I told him, ‘You better hope that I don’t win this league.’ I thought I would win, and I did win.”
In his very first year in the fantasy football league, Gehrig has cemented his place in Crew locker room lore.
“It’s great for him,” said Gruenebaum. “He’s in the ring of honor now. He’s one of the few guys that have a fantasy championship. It’s Jason Garey, me, Danny O’Rourke, and now Eric Gehrig. What a laundry list of schlemiels, if you will.”
When confronted with the uncomfortable truth, not everybody could find their words, Yiddish or otherwise.
“Will, give me some help here,” Marshall pleaded as Hesmer walked past. “I need some banter. I’m at a loss for words talking about this guy.”
“Gehrig?” Hesmer asked. “He’s got a heart of gold, so it’s hard to really give it to him, unlike someone like Gruenebaum, who’s just a bad person.”
The vanquished would soon find their voices.
After a 9-4 season that earned him the No. 2 seed in the eight-team league, Gehrig defeated fellow rookie Cole Grossman in the league semifinal.
“Cole’s a good player,” Gehrig said. “We talked about this. It was the first time either of us had ever played fantasy, so for both of us to finish in the top four, that’s pretty good. And the fact that Cole lost to me and then I went on to win it all shows that Cole and I are both brilliant.”
In the final, Gehrig defeated his real-life captain, Chad Marshall. By way of comparison, Gehrig helpfully drew some parallels to other well-known sports figures.
“Chad’s pretty bitter,” he said. “That was his third championship game and he has won zero titles. Chad could be the LeBron of fantasy football. I guess you could call me the MJ or Kobe. Chad is going to kill me for that, but make sure you put all that in there.”
When told of Gehrig’s remarks, Marshall’s eyes rolled so hard that they almost fell out of their sockets.
“First off, those guys have five-plus championships and Gehrig only has one,” he said. “I mean, before he starts throwing names out like that… Wow.”
Since it was his first ring, perhaps Gehrig should have called himself the Dirk Nowitzki of fantasy football.
“I’ll give him that,” Marshall conceded. “He’ll love that too because of the German connection. But he can call me LeBron if he wants. It’s true that I have no rings.”
Well, except unlike LeBron and Gehrig, Marshall has a REAL ring that comes from winning a REAL championship.
“Yeah, there you go,” he said. “Exactly.”
Yet even as Marshall said those words, one could sense that the Home Depot Center’s confetti-strewn podium seemed much more than three years and 2,200 miles away. Massive Sunday was something that could barely be seen way off at the other end of the telescope, as observed from his vantage point on a cold and alien planet where Eric freakin’ Gehrig reigns supreme as the undisputed ruler of fantasy football.
“It was a nightmare,” Marshall said. “It was one of the worst days of my life when I lost to him in the finals.”
So how did this happen? In a league with such hard-core fantasy stalwarts, how did Gehrig prevail in his very first try?
“I’m pretty knowledgeable,” Gehrig said. “I’m not surprised I won, even though it was my first time playing fantasy football and these guys have been playing for eight or nine years. It just says a lot about my knowledge. I don’t think it was an accident. There are something different things I’d done, like I picked up Victor Cruz before he went off, and I picked up the Bears defense which got me 45 points one week to beat Dave (Lagow.)”
Although he may be trying to bask in reflected glory, forward Tommy Heinemann also figures that he played a role in Gehrig’s success. When Heinemann ran into quarterback injury troubles, he traded two of his bench players in exchange for Eli Manning. Upon joining Gehrig’s team, the two bench players then exploded for big weeks down the stretch.
“I gave him a couple of players at the end of the season that really helped his playoff push,” Heinemann said. “At the time, Beanie Wells and Percy Harvin weren’t doing well. Then Percy Harvin decided to go off and become a top-ten receiver for the last five weeks, so anything I can do to help Gehrig was my pleasure.”
Based on these two tales, it would appear that an astute waiver pickup, a good job in picking a defense, and a key trade that was either the result of Heinemann’s beneficence or Gehrig’s prescience all added up to a championship. But alternative theories exist.
“Here’s the thing about Eric,” said O’Rourke, “and this is the God’s honest truth. He won the championship, so you can’t take anything away from him, but he had the worst draft imaginable. He had Aaron Rodgers and bad players, but he won. This was the year that bad players did well, so more power to him.”
Despite his championship bravado, Gehrig admits that he had some learning experiences as a first-time fantasy football player. He promised that Marshall would elaborate on them if asked.
“First of all, he shows up late to the draft and should have been kicked out anyway,” Marshall said, picking up steam with each recollected example of ineptitude. “He was supposed to cut his hair before the draft, which was one of the rules for him coming, and that didn’t happen either. He actually thought about drafting Carson Palmer when he was still retired. He couldn’t figure out how to start to kicker in week one, so he didn’t start a kicker. He dropped Rob Gronkowski, the best tight end in NFL history. He didn’t trade him—he just dropped him.”
This particular blunder still amazes O’Rourke. “At the time, in week three, I had the best tight ends in the game, and needed help at wide receiver, so I traded Gronkowski to Gehrig. He played him for a week and then dropped him. This guy is a beast. I may pick Gronkowski in the first round this year, and Gehrig just dropped him.”
But Gehrig saved his most baffling bit of team mismanagement for when the stakes were highest. In the championship against Marshall, Gehrig prevailed through unconventional means, namely by starting his quarterback, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, against his own defense, which was that of the Chicago Bears. Such a strategy is a zero sum game because points earned by one come at the expense of the other.
“Yet somehow, he still won the league,” Marshall fumed. “He must have a golden stick up his [butt]. I don’t get it. He can try to justify it all he wants, but it was pure luck.”
The luck theory gained plenty of traction. Players brought it up independently of one another.
“It’s similar to (MLS),” said Hesmer, “where if you get hot for a week, you’re in the playoffs, and then anything can happen.”
“That’s the beauty of fantasy,” said Gruenebaum. “Anyone can win it. Get a little bit of luck here and there, sprinkle in a little bit of that German love, and you get some German chocolate cake. That’s what happens.”
“It was tough to see a young guy come in and win it, especially a guy in his first year,” Hesmer admitted. “I’d like the young guys to recognize that it’s a much tougher prize to win than that, but they paid their money and they get their chance to do it. After all, it is pretty much a game of chance.”
Gehrig shrugged off the claims of luckiness and the critiques of his so-called learning experiences.
“If I didn’t make those mistakes,” he said, “just imagine how I would have run away with it. Had I not done all of those things, I would have killed all those guys, so these mistakes kept me closer to them.”
And besides, it’s not like Gehrig was the only player to make a blunder at a crucial moment.
“Chad started Tim Tebow in the final,” he said. “I wasn’t sure about that move. But when you have Aaron Rodgers, like I do, you can’t complain.”
William Hesmer possesses an analytical mind. No matter the undertaking, whether it’s goalkeeping, investing, or even fantasy football, he does his homework. His team was built to win regardless of the alliteratively fickle finger of football fantasy football fate. Yet while he did win the Supporters’ Shield for the best overall record, it was another championship-free season for Hesmer.
“Will was a little bit bitter,” Gehrig said. “He always thinks he’s entitled to win because he says he has the best team with all of these stars like Adrian Peterson, but I think he was maybe happier that I won instead of a couple of other guys.”
Sure, from Hesmer’s point of view, it was better than watching O’Rourke repeat or Gruenebaum win again, but the title-free season was a disappointment after so much meticulous preparation. Especially when it was undone by the fluke of all flukes.
“My team was unstoppable, but after week nine, I lost all three of my running backs,” Hesmer explained. “I basically rode my hot start to the regular season championship. I lost the last three or four games, I think, because I was scrambling to find a running back every week. In the course of an hour, I lost Adrian Peterson, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Fred Jackson. They all went down on the same day. So that was that.”
Other players sympathized with Hesmer’s plight.
“On paper, Will had the best team,” Gruenebaum said.
Feeling emboldened, Hesmer appealed to the public, as if fantasy football championships were decided by a ridiculous voting system like the one used in college football.
“Let’s put this out there and let the people decide,” Hesmer said. “Drew Brees…”
“And he’s a good guy,” Gruenebaum interrupted, “so you should get extra points for that.”
“I only draft classy guys,” Hesmer said. “Fred Jackson…”
“Lovely,” Gruenebaum chimed in. “He’s just lovely.”
“He’s just an absolute stand-out,” Hesmer agreed. “Ahmad Bradshaw, Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis, Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Ravens defense, 49ers defense, and Mason Crosby. I think I had a right to say—
“That’s fine,” Gruenebaum said, cutting off Hesmer before his frustration boiled over. “I think the one thing we can take away from fantasy football is that there’s more to life than fantasy football. Especially if Gehrig wins. When Gehrig wins, you say, ‘Okay, is there really any skill involved?’ That’s why I was very chill about fantasy this year. When you see the end result, and you see that a guy like Gehrig has won, it’s like, there has got to be more to life than fantasy. This can’t be it.
“I decided I was only going to be in one league this year and that I was just going to enjoy the games,” Gruenebaum continued. “There are guys wishing that other people get hurt just so they can win their fantasy matchup, but I’m not that guy. I used to be, but I’m not anymore.”
It would appear, at first glance, that Gehrig’s unexpected victory played a role in nurturing a more mature Andy Gruenebaum.
“I think it was more to save my marriage than anything,” Gruenebaum countered. “I think there were times where my wife was going to walk out on me, so I had to really tone it down.”
If you were to spend any time with Gehrig, you would know that he is as happy-go-lucky as they come. He does not seem like the type to inflict a reign of smack-talking terror upon those beneath him. And in his championship’s aftermath, that was true…to a point.
“He was being very considerate about it,” said Hesmer. “He was being a good sport until he sent an email (on the eve of training camp) where he let loose and rubbed it in. But, you know, every man has his breaking point, and I think he had heard enough about how he shouldn’t have been the champion that he had to remind everyone that he WAS.”
“Yeah,” Gehrig confessed, “I did send the guys an email just telling them that I’m the champ, and sorry if you doubted me, but I’ll just collect the winnings, and thanks for playing.”
Given the acid-tongued tenor of O’Rourke’s pre-draft email, the thought of Gehrig getting the last laugh seemed almost…dangerous.
“Danny’s trying to be nice about it now,” Gehrig said, “but I know deep down inside he’s really burning.”
Maybe Danny’s burning wasn’t all that deep down inside after all.
“Is this censored?” O’Rourke inquired when asked about Gehrig’s email. “Or are you going to print me word for word?”
I advised Danny that I will print him word for word within the guidelines and limitations of the team’s official website.
“He’s a [long stream of profanities.] Eric Gehrig is a [second long stream of profanities.] Is that printable?”
Not in the least. Not even close. Undeterred, O’Rourke took a second stab at describing his post-championship interactions with Gehrig.
“You have to take everything in context, you know?” he said. “He’ll come up one time and saying something obscene, like, ‘You suck, blahblahblah,’ but then he’ll start trying to make out with your neck and stuff. He’s really weird. He’s a [third long stream of profanities.]”
Lagow, who was listening in, shook his head. “And Sirk won’t be able to use any of that.”
“I know,” Danny said, “but at least he will be able to laugh at it when he does his quotes.”
I told O’Rourke of how Gruenebaum found that Gehrig’s victory gave him peace because it showed him that there is more to life than fantasy football; how Gehrig’s championship demonstrated that there is no skill involved and so it’s not worth stressing over.
“That’s a very good point,” Danny said. “I would have said the same thing if Gruenebaum won because I hate him just as much as Gehrig.”
It was a bad day for Lagow to be the low man on the totem pole. Lagow was in the champ’s good graces (“Dave finished last again, but he tries,” said Gehrig), but O’Rourke was a wounded animal. He was looking to lash out at the slightest provocation, and Lagow unwisely poked him with a stick. Lagow claimed that he finished in 7th place, one spot ahead of O’Rourke.
“No, I finished 7th and you finished 8th,” Danny clarified, sternly. “I would have finished 6th if I had bothered to set my lineup in the final week”
“I’m positive I finished ahead of you,” Lagow countered. “There will be research forthcoming.”
“Do it,” Danny dared.
“I know I finished ahead of you, because it was the only thing that gave me solace this offseason.”
Danny scoffed. “It was fake solace, but solace nonetheless.”
Lagow once again vowed to email me research, adding, “I hate Danny O’Rourke. Make sure you put that in there.”
Four days later, the following email hit my inbox:
“Research shows that I did indeed finish last. I suck. You can quote me on that.”
What a bummer of an email. If only there was a way to bounce Lagow up to 7th place to boost his flagging pride…
The 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes won yet another Big Ten title, and they became the first team in OSU history to defeat a team from the Southeast Conference in a bowl game. But officially, it was all a mirage. Due to NCAA rules violations, the Buckeyes’ entire season was wiped clean from the record books.
The inconvenient facts are that Gehrig was late for the draft, plus he also failed to cut his hair beforehand, which was a condition for his participation. These transgressions have not been forgotten.
“There’s a huge asterisk there,” said Marshall. “Gehrig is the Barry Bonds of fantasy football.”
Could Gehrig meet a similar fate as the 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes? Could his championship season be vacated?
O’Rourke firmly believes that it is worth a full-blown investigation. “I think I’m going to set up a meeting with the other seven members to see if we have something there. I would definitely vote for it. I will definitely be looking into that and I will get back to you.”
Eric Gehrig may be the reigning king of fantasy football, but uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Especially when Danny O’Rourke is hell-bent on regicide.
Questions? Comments? Wish to testify for or against Gehrig in advance of the investigative committee hearings? Feel free to write at email@example.com or via twitter @stevesirk