After a decade of being mediocre or worse, the San Francisco 49ers are one win away from the Super Bowl.
In a Carmel bar Saturday afternoon, I found out just how much of a 49ers fan I am. San Francisco and New Orleans traded late-game touchdowns in a classic playoff game. It wasn’t a wild sports bar setting; more a red wine Monterey County crowd, but there was excitement for the exploits of the red and gold.
At crunch time, I found myself rooting for the Saints. The lady on the next stool was taken aback at first. Then I explained that my fantasy football playoff team had three New Orleans players and no 49ers. She was obviously well-heeled – her escort was the sort to tie a sweater around his neck like a scarf — and the capitalist in her accepted my explanation as I spoke for fantasy team owners and sports bettors everywhere:
Sometimes it’s fun to support your financial interests instead of professing blind loyalty to a particular team.
In other words, use the professional players the same way they use their fans — for money. When their contracts expire, do you think those 49ers would stay in San Francisco if other teams offered more money?
I have no bookie and it’s no high-stakes fantasy league I’m in. More of a quest for bragging rights among family members. In a quaint twist, we build our rosters before each season by opening packs of football cards instead of holding a draft.
The skill, to the extent there is any, comes in choosing a starting lineup each week. And in making trades. I’ve been trying to recover all season from a disastrous decision to swap New England quarterback Tom Brady for a handful of good but not great players.
The abuse I’ve taken from fellow league executives over that deal is motivation enough to root for my players instead of a particular team, even if there wasn’t a little money on the table.
This mercenary approach to sports-watching only goes so far. I’ve been a fan of the Steelers since the ’60s, when they held their training camp practice at Willamette University in my hometown of Salem. I procured many of the players’ autographs. They were awful back then, which made it all the sweeter when they started winning Super Bowls in the ’70s.
I’d never root against Pittsburgh, unless …
Okay, the truth is that Tim Tebow was my fantasy team’s only remaining quarterback when his Broncos played the Steelers in a playoff opener a couple weeks ago. I was pretty much pulling for Pittsburgh, but hoping that Tebow would run up some nice statistics. And when he actually won the game for Denver with a touchdown pass in overtime, well, part of me was calculating how much he’d just improved my chances.
I guess my loyalty is absolute only when it comes to college sports. I graduated from the University of Oregon back when it had a really bad football team. Now the Ducks are among the elite in college football, and I’d never root against them.
After all, college athletes don’t even get paid. They’re playing for their love of the game. Except ...
Oregon’s star running back and quarterback just announced they’d skip their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t own a college fantasy football team.