INDIANAPOLIS – There was only one good reason for Matt Hasselbeck to run out of bounds at the 1-yard line against Carolina.
To help his fantasy football team, of course.
The Tennessee quarterback set up Chris Johnson for a touchdown, something Hasselbeck said was all part of a master plan. As Johnson entered the media room following Tennessee’s 30-3 win, Hasselbeck walked out and yelled, “Fantasy points!”
Later in the week, Hasselbeck cleared things up.
“I thought it was a good joke,” he said.
Fantasy football has become a fun reality for many NFL players. It’s impossible to know how many are involved, but this much is certain – those that do fumble through lineup changes and bye weeks just like average Joes. Some players, such as Hasselbeck and Green Bay Packers offensive guard T.J. Lang, have teams that are capable of making title runs. Others, like Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, know their teams aren’t going anywhere.
The NFL is fine with players participating in fantasy football, and Jones-Drew even has a radio show about it. Even NFL players who don’t participate in leagues get messages from fans through social media. Some, such as Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek, like the idea of fantasy football, but won’t play it until they retire.
Most understand that fantasy football brings fans closer to the players and the league.
“I think it’s great for the game,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Lineup changes in fantasy football take on a unique look when NFL players who are trying to avoid conflicts of interest while still trying to win have to make the tough choices.
Like benching themselves.
“Last year, I got drafted myself,” Hasselbeck said. “The computer drafted me, and then I had like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. It was tough. I had myself on the bench most of the year.”
Jones-Drew, on the other hand, wouldn’t bench himself, even when he was out for the season with a knee injury.
He still won the championship.
Here’s the best part: He was out during championship week, still started himself and won anyway. His lineup in a touchdown-only league that allows two starting quarterbacks included Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Frank Gore and the Packers’ defense. It was too much for Jaguars assistant equipment manager George Pellicer.
Talk about bragging rights.
“All the stars aligned for us last year,” Jones-Drew said.
A year later, things have changed. Jones-Drew has lost quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Matt Cassel to injuries, and now he sits in “dead last.” Now, he can’t brag to the rest of the league’s owners, including Jaguars teammates Greg Jones and Terrance Knighton.
“They’re dishing it all back to me now,” Jones-Drew said.
Jones-Drew embraces fantasy football and all that comes with it. The prolific running back garnered national attention on Nov. 15, 2009, when he kneeled down at the 1-yard line on a breakaway run to keep the clock running while setting up a winning field goal against the New York Jets.
“I apologized to all my fantasy football owners,” Jones-Drew said.
That got the attention of SiriusXM, which gave him a fantasy football radio show, Runnin’ with MJD, which airs on Fridays.
Fantasy football offers a seemingly endless supply of fodder for good-natured teasing. Jones-Drew lost a few games last year because his teammates, tight end Marcedes Lewis and receiver Mike Thomas, had big games for his fantasy opponents.
“It’s been tough,” Jones-Drew said, laughing. “It’s been tough.”
Rodgers was a guest on Jones-Drew’s show earlier this season year, and Jones-Drew appeared to have successfully lobbied for Jermichael Finley to get more red zone looks.
“The next week, they played Chicago and he threw it to him three times in the end zone,” Jones-Drew said.
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