Blurring reality and fantasy football
NFL quarterback is the most difficult, demanding job in sports.
You call the play and break the huddle with 70,000 opposing fans screaming that you suck and demanding that the defense kill you. And as you step up the line, you wonder whether they just might. You look up at impossibly large, incredibly strong and ridiculously angry defenders. They are all out for blood, your blood. Wait -- is that the corner creeping up? And is the weakside linebacker faking a blitz or is he really coming?
You call an audible. The center snaps the ball and you take a seven-step drop. You go through your progressions. Is the primary receiver covered? The secondary receiver? How about the tight end? Hurry up, hurry up. The pocket is collapsing, the linemen are charging, you need to make a split-second decision and yet there is one more thing to bear in mind.
Which one of these receivers did I start in my fantasy league today?
OK. That probably won't cross Matt Hasselbeck's mind this season. But the Seahawks quarterback is in a fantasy league this year. No, really. He is.
"I don't think he would be thinking about that during the game but you never know. You never know," Seattle receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said with a smile when informed Hasselbeck is playing in a fantasy league this year. "If I'm him, I'm drafting me. Throw me the ball. I have the best hands on the team, I'm going to catch and I'm going to get you points. It's as simple as that."
At the urging of his brother, Tim, Hasselbeck somewhat reluctantly joined a fantasy league Tim set up this season with ESPN among old college teammates, friends and family members. Matt wasn't sure whether to do it -- after all, his day job keeps him pretty focused on the real league -- but he was persuaded after his Twitter followers told him that he simply must.
"I was considering it and I was on Twitter, so I thought, 'Well, maybe I'll do it and then I'll let one of my followers on Twitter just run my team,'" he said. "Because people on Twitter all hit me up for fantasy advice on our team. But that's probably wrong because I told everyone to draft T.J. Duckett as their goal-line back 'It's going to be a big year for T.J. Duckett. I think he's going to do it.' Obviously, I was wrong. But it would have been true had he been on our team."
Hasselbeck said he hadn't chosen a general manager to run his fantasy team yet but he had many applications. "People are tweeting me their credentials. 'I won this in this league and that in that league.' The questions they're asking show me they know more than I know. They're asking,' Is it a keeper league?', stuff I don't even know.
"Where I'll be good is picking the defense every week. I'll be good at that because I watch a lot of film but I don't know anything about running backs. I don't know anybody's starting running back. Like, I got guys the computer drafted and I don't even know if they're starters. So I'm going to let someone who is good at fantasy do it. It will be a thrill for them and easy for me and my friends will think ... well, I'm telling you this so now they'll know that I'm not running the team. We'll see how it goes."
In other words, Seahawks fans need not worry Hasselbeck is devoting too much time to his fantasy team. "I'm not giving a lot of thought to this. It's more about keeping in touch with these 10 buddies ... I've talked about this more right now than I've thought about it total."
Bruce Taylor, the editor of Fantasy Football Index, said he isn't aware of any other NFL players taking part in a fantasy league. Asked what advice he would offer Hasselbeck, he replied, "The main thing -- and I'm sure he knows this already -- is he shouldn't draft himself. Maybe he has the self-discipline to avoid checking into a post pattern when it's third-and-inches (I wouldn't). But that's not the real problem. The real problem is that if his back flares up again, he'll have to cut himself and pick up Tarvaris Jackson. And it will be humiliating when none of his friends claim him. It's just because you're hurt -- seriously."
Too late. Hasselbeck said the computer drafted Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and -- what are the odds of this? -- Matt Hasselbeck.
"How many people are in this league?" Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson asked. "Ten guys? And he got all those quarterbacks? He must have tapped into the system and figured out how to cheat the system."
"We definitely have some depth there," Hasselbeck said. "But we don't really have any running backs."
Hasselbeck said he won't pick any possible real-life opponent on his roster. Not that the computer always paid attention when it drafted his team.
"I thought I took him off the [computer list] but I still got Larry [Fitzgerald], I don't know how," Hasselbeck said. "I like Larry. But I'm never going to have Larry on my team. You know what I mean? I'll take Randy Moss but not Larry because we play Arizona.
"Here's my thing -- it's going to be hard for me to get a good team of players that aren't on an opponent's roster. I'll take Seahawks but I don't want Rams. I don't want Cardinals or 49ers -- I don't know who else we play. The Vikings. I don't want Adrian Peterson. Aghh, that sounds weird but I can't have him. I'll take Maurice Jones-Drew or someone like that. I'll take Randy Moss. I'll take Jeremy Shockey. Wait, I have Jeremy Shockey. I'll keep Jeremy Shockey. I have Ryan Longwell. I might have to get rid of Ryan Longwell. I love Ryan Longwell. He's a friend of mine. I used to be his holder. But he's gotta go."
Hasselbeck said he didn't have any Seahawks other than himself yet but did have waiver claims in for Edgerrin James and Justin Forsett. "But I don't know if they'll make the cut. It's all about touchdowns and how it shakes out. I definitely have insider knowledge ... as we saw with T.J. Duckett."
No worries. There are plenty more teammates the Seahawks didn't release who would be happy to be on Hasselbeck's fantasy league team.
"This is some exclusive information you've just given me," Burleson said. "I'll probably shoot him about 20 text messages. I'll Twitter him because he's addicted to Twitter. I'll do whatever I can because that could help me out this year a lot. We might do a little money work, take him out to dinner a few times. I'll do what I can now that I have this information. Did you tell any other receivers? Shhh, keep that between me and you."
Sorry, Nate. Houshmandzadeh knows, too.
There are two obvious negatives to having your quarterback playing in a fantasy league. One, he may keep calling quarterback sneaks near the goal line to boost his point total. Two, he'll drone on endlessly in the huddle about how his team is doing.
But there is a serious potential upside, as well.
"Obviously, when it gets down to crunch time and he needs to get his team over the edge he's going to do whatever it takes to get those points," Burleson said. "But if he has a good quarterback that's producing and a receiver he's actually playing with, he might force a couple extra balls your way because he knows the numbers in the back of his head and it might help his fantasy league team. So yeah, definitely, there would be an advantage playing for a quarterback who has you on his fantasy team."
But if the opposing team's defensive coordinator knew you were on a quarterback's fantasy league team, isn't there a risk he would double-team you?
"There are definitely some disadvantages however you break it down," Burleson acknowledged. "Either way you go, you want to keep it hush-hush. If I'm on the team I don't want anybody to find out because I could get extra coverage coming my way if people think he'll be forcing me extra balls."
"That might be what [Hasselbeck] wants you to think," Houshmandzadeh said. "It could all be a Jedi mind game. He might want you to think that. That's a good point. He might get guys on his team that he's not really going to throw to. So I don't want to be on his team."
Which brings us to the quarterback dilemma. When you have Manning, Favre and yourself, who do you start?
"That's tough," Burleson said. "I like Brett but I have to ride with my guy. I've got to ride with Matt. Because I know what I'm going to try to do for him."
Plus, if Burleson said he doesn't pick Hasselbeck, "I might not get no balls."
"Who do you think he's going to start? He'll start Peyton," Houshmandzadeh said. "I would start Peyton just to eliminate thinking, 'I've gotta do this, I've gotta do that.' I'll start Peyton -- who are the Colts playing this weekend? It depends a lot on who you're playing. But it all goes back to there being one simple solution to everything. Throw me the ball."
Actually, Hasselbeck says he'll start himself, not Manning. "Oh, he's totally on the trading block," he said. "We're going to get somebody good for him."
If Hasselbeck does start himself, Taylor has two final pieces of advice.
"Tell him to study the film of Brad Johnson's TD pass to himself (vs. Carolina Panthers, 1997). If he can execute that play consistently, he'll be on the cover of Madden next year," he wrote in an e-mail. "And tell him to get his leg loose. The greatest fantasy QB ever was George Blanda, because he also kicked field goals and PATs. If the Seahawks could save themselves a roster spot, Hasselbeck could earn a hell of a lot more money than he stands to win in any fantasy league."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.