As we all ready ourselves for draft day, I wanted to post somewhat of a reminder that sometimes, fantasy football means more than just wins, losses, drafts, player projections, and parties.
I lost a friend yesterday. His body gave out after twenty plus years of fighting the good fight.
Bingo joined our league a year after it started when his brother asked if he could bring him in. We were expanding from a 8 team/two division league to a 10 team/two division league so there was certainly room, and Bingo, a baller in his second year at college, had been in a car accident that rendered him a quadriplegic. I suspect his brother was looking for ways to keep Bingo engaged socially, and since he was a fan of football and a former basketball player, fantasy football was a good fit. This was 20 years ago, back when drafts had to be conducted in person, rosters and results kept on spreadsheets, and scoring was calculated by hand every Monday morning by reading the box scores in the local newspaper.
Bingo immediately took to the league and engaged with the other members when he could. We generally only saw him on draft day and our end of season payout party, but as commissioner I spoke to him quite often over the phone. His mind was sharp and his wit quick. He had keen insights. As fantasy football and the internet developed and we moved online, it became much easier for the rest of league to interact with him on a consistent basis through the use of our league message board. We even came to look forward to his yearly "swami mock drafts" based on what he knew about the members of our league, their team and player allegiances, and his own little jabs at misdirection.
As the years past and we all became more entrenched in our league, everyone came to view draft day as the second best day of the year next to Christmas. The excitement was tangible. Generally starting in early August (sometimes as early as mid-July) owners would begin to discuss draft strategy and players. Bingo was there with his two cents every step of the way. It soon became obvious that Bingo looked forward to draft just as much if not more than any of the rest of us. Being confined to a rather large wheelchair prohibited Bingo from engaging in many social activities that most of us take for granted, but he knew that ever draft day he would get to go out and spend time away from home with people he had grown to call friends. He often would bring platters of chicken wings to share, along with his other favorite, KFC potato wedges. He was generous and kind-hearted (despite being a Dallas fan), and you could see the gleam in his eyes as he drafted his team and enjoyed the camaraderie. Eventually we moved the payout parties to his home, where he was a most gracious host. His mom would cook up tasty treats for us and we could all talk our "only-ifs" and discuss who got the luckiest wins. His mom would also draw our random order draft order for the next year. It was a good time for all and Bingo enjoyed the get-togethers immensely.
For twenty years, Bingo was a member our league. He won our league championship three times and went out on top, having won it last season. He set records in our league for most points in a season, and is still the only owner to have an undefeated season record of 14-0 (he lost i the first round of the play-offs that year). I am a better person for having known him and had his light shine on my life.
I also know that some in our league struggled with Bingo. Not him personally, but he was the only handicapped person they interacted with, and often didn't know how to interact with him. I understand it could be intimidating. He had a large motorized wheelchair with a machine attached underneath to help him breathe on occasion. He was sometimes difficult to understand sometimes as he had to speak slowly, and his breath was not always there to finish complete thoughts in one sentence. For some it was difficult, but by viewing those of us that did interact with him, they learned that patience was the only tool necessary. We all sometimes have to adapt to communicate effectively with people we come in contact with, whether it is because of a physical disability or because of personality differences. Patience usually wins the day.
I posted this because I would like to remind all of my fellow fantasy football enthusiasts that sometimes fantasy football is MORE than just fantasy football. For Bingo is was a path to lifelong friendships. It was an opportunity for socialization he might not have otherwise had. It was an exercise to keep his mind engaged when his body could not. For me it was a chance to help someone find some enjoyment in a life that many others wold have given up on in similar circumstances. For me, it was an opportunity to realize that something we could so easily take for granted could mean a lot more to someone with a different life experience. And for me, it was also a chance to make a lifelong friend. That is when fantasy football becomes MORE than just fantasy football.