Disclaimer: no jokes today. If you don’t care about fantasy football, please bear with me and read anyway.
I’ll start on a light note. I lost to my brother in fantasy football, which cost me 50 bucks. On paper, I had the better team and the better match-ups, but he beat me, again. I think that’s 6 in a row now. It wasn’t a good day in fantasy football. Still, it wasn’t my worst day in fantasy football. Not by a long shot. See, my worst day in fantasy football also happened to be the worst day of my life. It was 10 years ago today.
My opening fantasy football season was in 1998. I actually bought a book, an honest to god book, about the 1998 fantasy football season prior to draft day. In those days, fantasy magazines were rare and websites were unheard of. I co-owned a team with my buddy Doug. Doug and I were friends since high school, and we had worked together at Kwik Shop, having already worked together at McDonald’s. We joined the league through our boss, and his middle-aged son Mark was the commissioner of the league. With no internet help in those days, poor Mark had to tabulate each week’s scores via the USA Today’s Monday box scores and run it on an Excel spreadsheet, which, I shit you not, he actually mailed, like, through the postal service, to each player in our league every week. Mark was a dentist, so I don’t know how he had time to tabulate every score and mail it out to 12 guys each week, but he did.
Doug and I were all fantasy football all the time in August of 1998. I was between apartments at the time and living at Doug’s, in his second bedroom, which we had dubbed “the war room.” The whole room was decorated with Kansas City Star sports pages from the Chiefs’ dynamite 1997 season. Yeah, we were geeks. We both memorized the starting quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and tight ends of every NFL team, and would constantly quiz each other in preparation for the draft. Clearly, we were well prepared come draft day, a live draft at some guy’s house in the Kansas City suburbs. It was the only way to do it in those days - there were no internet leagues and nobody had a cell phone. For the record, Terrell Davis fell into our lap in the second pick, after the overall number one draftee foolishly picked Favre.
I got my own apartment after the first week of the season, and my old man had Chiefs tickets in those days so I went to all the home games. When the Chiefs were on the road, I always went to Doug’s to watch the games and so we could follow our team as best we could, which meant watching the Chiefs, and whatever game (that was broadcast in our region - no DirecTV in 1998) had the most relevance to our fantasy team.
The team was really more Doug’s than mine. I mean, I certainly cared every bit as much as Doug did, and we always discussed any free-agent or other moves that we made with the team, but Doug put up the money. Thus, Doug was the one who actually called in our starting line-ups every week. Again, in those rudimentary days, we had to actually call Mark to tell him who we were starting, and the call had to be in by 9 a.m. on Sunday, despite the fact that games didn’t start until noon.
After week 6, we were 3-3, and Doug was going out of town for a few days with his sister on a road trip to Utah. We played some Tecmo Super Bowl 3 and went to lunch at El Mezcal to discuss - what else - fantasy football. It was up to me to put in the call that week, so we agreed on a basic framework of who we wanted to start, but as Doug would be out of town, I had the final say based on potential injuries.
I woke up early on my old man’s 49th birthday, Sunday, October 25, 1998 to call Mark. I was a bit nervous about my bold call to go with J.J. Stokes over Terrance Mathis as the third receiver, but San Francisco had the better match-up. (or something, I don’t actually remember. I just know I didn’t want to make the wrong pick).
“Hey Mark, this is Jaehak. I’m just calling to put in our lineup.”
“Yeah, Jaehak. Doug’s out of town this weekend, so...”
“You didn’t hear.”
“There was an accident.”
I can’t do this in dialogue.
Doug was driving home from Utah through Colorado, 30 miles east of Denver or so, at mile marker 312, and likely fell asleep. Doug could always fall asleep anywhere. His sister was asleep too. The car rolled into the embankment. She was wearing a seat belt. Doug wasn’t. She survived. Doug didn’t.
We won our fantasy football game, largely due to the heroics of Terrell Davis in a game in Denver. TD never knew how much he meant to a kid that died a few miles away a few hours before. I went to Doug’s funeral. His mom called me earlier in the week to see if I wanted to get anything I may have left behind at Doug’s apartment. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t deal with it. I wanted to speak at the funeral, I had something prepared, but I couldn’t do it. Other than his sister, I was the last one to see him in Lawrence. I played him at Super Tecmo Bowl 3 less than an hour before he left on his fateful trip.
We won the next 9 straight and made the playoffs as the top seed, mostly due to the heroics of Terrell Davis. I hate the Broncos with a passion, but I’ll always appreciate Terrell Davis. We lost in the first round of the playoffs though. I really wanted to win for Doug, but fantasy is a fickle game, and sometimes you run into a young Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison buzz-saw.
I still think about it all the time. I think about how Doug never did anybody wrong in his life. Everybody says that about dead people, but in this case, it’s true. I’ve done lots of horrible things, as have all of my friends. Doug never did. Maybe, when dead at 21, he never had a chance to. I think about how awful that time was for me. The remainder of October and then November of 1998 was unquestionably the worst time of my life. All of my friends lived out of town. All I did was sit and watch TV. I didn’t go out, I didn’t socialize in class, I just went to class, did homework, and watched TV. I think about what an utter flake and failure I was. I didn’t hang out with Doug’s other friends, I didn’t do anything in particular to help his mom or his sister that was goddamn on the scene. I wanted to cut myself off from everybody that was close with Doug instead of trying to keep his memory alive. I was a selfish asshole and I couldn’t be bothered. At least, I think that’s how I was. I know I didn’t drink a lot in the weeks after Doug died, but I remember almost nothing of it.
More than anything, I think about how I miss my friend, Doug Eaden. I still do.