OAK ISLAND, N.C. — This family vacation has proven to be a blessing, but priorities must prevail. At 10 a.m. Sunday I was benching Chad Henne for Andy Dalton (ouch!) and feeling confident that C.J. Spiller would continue to be incorporated into the Bills’ offense (double ouch!).
By the afternoon I was ready to send a check to Wes Welker and some thugs to Mark Sanchez. (Who exactly told you that Santonio Holmes had entered the Witness Protection Program?)
My whining, while important to me, is not the point. The point is that I was able to keep up with all the pitfalls and promise of a fantasy football Sunday via the ESPN ticker while watching Tony Stewart not run out of gas for the second straight week.
While I’m sending a check to Welker, NASCAR should be sending a check to the NFL, Yahoo! and everybody else who has pushed fantasy football into the stratosphere over the last few years. Those folks have helped NASCAR survive a rough patch.
By 2004, the first year of the Chase, NASCAR was so en vogue that everybody wanted a piece of the action. Shoot, even Garnier Fructis hair product was jumping into the game. Garnier Fructis?
The spot that NASCAR was in then was a little bit of an inflated bubble, similar to the dot-com crash of 2000. Pro wrestling had just such a bump during the WWE Attitude Era, which saw Monday night ratings high enough to make even NFL and its Monday Night Football brand take notice, depending on who you ask.
In both NASCAR and WWE’s cases, same as anybody else who had a product that seemed even marginally competitive, it didn’t last long. The question is whether you have a viable enough product to keep making money after realism and the accompanying hand-slap comes from Big Brother.
Amazingly, Big Brother is NASCAR’s best friend these days. The jury is still out over whether fantasy NASCAR will ever gain any kind of foothold over fans. There are just too many variables (one flat tire, one absent-minded jack man, etc.) that can ruin the whole day.
I was commissioner of a league, Tires & Tequila NASCAR, for two years. Now I’m slaving over fantasy football, not playing fantasy NASCAR, and not missing it, even though NASCAR is by far my favorite sport. (Same way I was a soccer goalie instead of a quarterback in my youth but would never watch Manchester United while the Cowboys are playing.)
The popularity of fantasy football, though, has largely diluted the affinity for teams. As polarizing as the Patriots are, a lot of people don’t care whether they win or lose as long as folks like Welker do their thing.
In that atmosphere, where the entire game he’s playing in is largely irrelevant, a ticker at the bottom of the screen with an update of his tally is more than enough. And on ESPN, you can watch the whole race, never see a lick of actual football and quench every bit of your football needs.
If not for fantasy football’s growth, NASCAR would have an even bigger hole to dig out of. The auto racing schedule will always be challenging, with the biggest race coming in February and the championship being decided in the midst of a swarm of college and pro pigskins that made Atlanta kiss NASCAR’s feet when it was moved OUT of the Chase.
At least the races that are left to deal with the gridiron monster have an ever-growing population to try to exploit: football fans who have stopped giving a damn about football teams.