BALTIMORE — The most exciting day of the year for my college buddies and I isn’t Christmas, any of the eight days of Hanukkah or Thanksgiving. It isn’t a big movie premiere, birthday or even finally getting a date with that girl from the subway; it’s the day in the first week of August when the Retired Orangemen Fantasy Football League Draft Book arrives in the mail. It’s the very best day of the year because it means two things are in our immediate future: the upcoming NFL season, and the annual ROFFL Draft Weekend.
The ROFFL dates back to 2002 and as you guessed, consists of me and my Syracuse University buddies, along with a few stragglers we needed back in the day to fill out the league (Binghamton, Haverford and Oneonta are also represented). But it’s turned into much, much more with a website, weekly articles, a podcast, an entire Draft Weekend, trophies for first and last place, and the aforementioned Draft Book. That first season we picked our players via an autodraft, and ironically, the guy who won has never had a winning season in 12 years.
In 2003 though, it all changed when we decided to have a yearly live draft in Atlantic City. For our 10th anniversary we tore down Las Vegas (what can I say, we like to gamble) and for our 13th year we started a new tradition: holding our draft in the city of the team that wins the Super Bowl. So as it was we all packed up our magazines, ADP lists and team gear for the state where crab cakes and football are emphatically done: Maryland.
Admittedly, Baltimore wasn’t my first choice. Being a West Coast Guy now, I was rooting for San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII, but to say the Charm City was anything but a fantastic host would be a classic Barry Sanders stretch run. For the 12 of us who made the trek – Parker had to phone in from Los Angeles and Jarrett from New Jersey – it was arguably the most fun we’ve had at a Draft Weekend.
It all started with a night at Camden Yards in a suite to watch the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics but not before a few of us hit up Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, which is home to some of the rarest comic books in the world. Jason, Jay and Marc are makeshift nerds and were geeking out upon seeing the first edition Superman and Batman, as well as old action figures, movie posters and the like from pop culture throughout the years. It was a pretty amazing and well curated museum, and the history buff in me enjoyed it immensely. A couple of them even bought Avengers keychains, while I would’ve loved to have taken home an Elvis poster.
But the real reason we were there Friday night was to see some baseball, stuff our face with Boog Powell’s BBQ and announce our keepers for the upcoming season. See, the ROFFL is a 2-player keeper league and you can retain any player for you want for a maximum of three seasons; so there’s definitely some strategy that goes into who you’re keeping on a year-to-year basis. This season was the end of my time with Texans superstar running back Arian Foster, so I was forced to keep Jaguars stud Maurice Jones-Drew and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. I debated keeping Mike Wallace over Ryan since quarterback has some depth this year, and even had a plan hatched earlier in the week to wait and draft Andrew Luck and a Colts receiver, but I chickened out and made the safe play with The Mattural and the high-powered Atlanta offense.
All-in-all, the keepers went pretty much as I predicted in my mock draft, aside from Rob Gronkowski not being kept, one guy keeping Antonio Brown instead of Reggie Wayne and another keeping Ray Rice over Reggie Bush (we’re a PPR league), and so as the Orioles game went on – and they rallied for a 9-7 win thanks to a Brian Roberts’ grand slam – talk in the suite and the bar afterward turned to draft strategy. Back into the mix this season were all-world running backs Adrian Peterson, Foster, LeSean McCoy, and some studs who were not kept, such as Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Larry Fitzgerald and Stevan Ridley. As I was picking in the 8 hole, I figured to have my selection of one of the latter four, which I was completely OK with.
Before I get ahead of myself, Saturday kicked off with a trip to the smallest and most-stupidly-staffed Dunkin Donuts in the 410 and a pre-draft tour of M&T Bank Stadium, also known as the Ravens Nest (I don’t know if anyone actually calls it that, but let’s be honest, they should). Originally, I wasn’t too keen on taking a tour of a football stadium, as I’d been in a couple before, and generally speaking, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Boy was I wrong.
Some highlites: the stadium is made with 1.5 million bricks, and if you laid them out end-to-end would cover 155 miles to Ocean City, Md.; the new-and-improved concourse wasn’t open to the public for last Thursday’s preseason game, which made us the first civilians to walk through it; our tour guide was this 70-year old named Tom who used to be a roadie for the Allman Brothers Band; a luxury suite can be yours for the cool price of $125,000 a year, which includes 28 tickets and 23/hour a day access throughout the entire year; Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s two-story luxury suite has bulletproof glass for when President Obama comes to visit; they have 3 jail cells in the depths and roughly kick out 150 people per game, most of them women; when John Madden used to still broadcast games for Fox and NBC, he’d drink a half case of beer before each contest and Tom said he almost got fired once for knocking a beer all over the broadcast console; our buddy Josh, who set the whole thing up and worked a year for RaveTV, wrote some of the inspirational essays that adorn the Club Level walls, which was pretty neat to see; the Ravens lockeroom is located 30 seconds from the field, whereas the visitors takes a few minutes to access. Tom made sure to let us know that’s a huge advantage come halftime.
However, the ultimate highlite of the tour was when Tom let us go on the field to run rampant like those brats in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but not before we walked through the Ray Lewis Memorial Look At Me And All My Awesomeness Tunnel. Of course, I had to do the dance. The only thing missing was a giant heap of sod for me to throw off myself and shove down my throat, which Tom assured us Ray would do before each game after posing for a picture with the weekly sod giver contest winner. Once on the field, we went Ray Kinsela after he finally finished the Field of Dreams and stood there and soaked in what he had created. Our jaws were agape and eyes buggin’ at what we were absorbing through our sports fan pours. Now, I’ve covered many football games in my sportswriting days and even stood on the sideline next to the head coach for most of them, but I have to admit, it was pretty awesome being on a NFL field with your 10 buddies and a football. My arm isn’t what it used to be, but I turned back the clock a bit throwing touchdown passes to the guys. Oh, and I even dusted off my shoe and drained a 25-yard field goal (on my 2nd attempt). So if Justin Tucker misses any chip shots in the first couple games, I’M READY!!!!
As for the draft itself, I was more than happy to take Ridley with my first pick. I debated between him and Morris for a couple minutes, but in the end, it’s always fun to have a player on the team you root for (and one who could score 15 touchdowns this season). So instead of Tom Brady touchdown passes, I’ll be hoping receivers get tackled at the 5 and Ridley takes it in from there. The problem with my league is that most of my buddies tend to over-think and over-analyze who’s available and their potential. As has been proven time and time again, fantasy football is 98% luck and 2% setting yourself up to have good luck, so there’s roughly no difference between who you’re taking in the later rounds. Such, our draft runs insanely long, and that’s just what happened last weekend. Thankfully, there was an Orioles game going on we could peek out the windows of the B&O Warehouse behind Camden Yards (oh, did I fail to mention we drafted in the warehouse behind Camden Yards? my bad) and take in while Jason and Nick spent an episode of Ray Donovan debating between Brian Hartline and Toby Gerhart.
In the end, I was very satisfied with my top selections (MJD, Ryan, Ridley, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez), my defense (Seahawks) and my backups with starting potential (Roy Helu and Andre Roberts). I took a flyer on a couple sleepers (DeAndre Hopkins and Markus Wheaton) and went back to old reliable with my kicker (Sebastian Janikowski). Is this finally the year the Gregg Moore Trophy takes its rightful home at Brockman Manor? I don’t know, since an injury could squash all title hopes faster than you can pronounce Michael Hoomanawanui. The Colt .45 LA Bandits have been so close before and came up short, but with another season anew I’m hopeful, and that’s no fantasy.