The English word for “tradition” is derived from the Latin tradition and means, simply, to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.
We’ve seen the role of tradition in typical sports fandom, exemplified in clever Budweiser commercials that tell us that it is only weird if it doesn’t work. We’ve seen it in our friend’s insistence that his dirty hat holds the luck and our grandmother’s careful preparation of a particular dip on game day. Sports are steeped in tradition, for both players and fans.
And, as fantasy football has developed into something that lives and breathes, it has become more ritualistic, more dependent upon what happened in the years before. Fantasy football then, has become something of a tradition in itself. And though traditions vary by league as much as rules for game play, they consistently address the same issues—draft location, draft order, prize for the winner, punishment for the loser.
Most leagues are religious about the location in which the draft is conducted. Restaurants and sports bars are an ever-popular choice, though potluck style basement parties are also frequent. Vegas is perhaps the mecca for drafts, as many leagues happen across multiple states. Still other drafts happen online or via Skype.
The obvious way to determine draft order is to begin with last year’s loser and work your way backward. You could also punish the loser by forcing them to go last again. But if you’re the creative type, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
On The League, fantasy football participants determine draft order by racing through airport security, betting on a children’s race, and racing through the Dallas Cowboy’s Training Camp. Other leagues use chili or dip cook-offs, NCAA March Madness brackets, or milk (or beer) chugging contests.
There is perhaps no greater title than that of league champion. Should you be so lucky as to claim this title, you’ll undoubtedly be bestowed with good fortune. Many leagues award a trophy, usually made or obtained illegally, that is given to the winner for one year. The winner usually receives cash, a dinner from the loser, bragging rights.
But they might also choose a theme for next year’s team names, or (most likely) otherwise benefit from punishments inflicted upon the loser.
Coming in last place in a fantasy football league is a terrible thing—it is worse than winning is good, arguably. As the loser, you’ll likely be asked to do all sorts of terrible things. These might include providing goods and services to the winner (that seems manageable enough) or using social media to advertise your obvious inadequacy.
In an article on Cracked, Matthew Berry detailed some of the worst punishments from around the United States, excerpted here—
“The last-place team will stand for one minute and all the league members launch tomatoes at him. More than 200 pounds of tomatoes are thrown at the loser.”
“Whoever finished in second place gets to choose from the list of punishments, then third place, and so on, until the last-place member is struck with the worst punishment. These included getting slapped on the inner thigh four times, eating worms, eating a small jar of mayonnaise, and finally, standing about 15 yards away from the rest of the league wearing nothing but your underwear and a mask while each owner gets one shot at you with a paintball gun”
The list goes on, and includes several punishments that are infinitely more graphic and body-part oriented.
Of course, there are more positive traditions that accompany some of the more humiliating—one league sponsors underprivileged youth who wish to attend the Russell Wilson Passing Academy, while others participate in fun runs or volunteer work as part of a team building experience.
But the one tradition that runs across all leagues? Nobody pays on time.