"You play to win the game!" screamed Herm Edwards at a postgame press conference. Coach Edwards was speaking about the NFL, of course, but in this oft-repeated quote, he could just as easily have been speaking about fantasy sports.
Friendship is great. So is competition. Camaraderie, smack talk, league traditions -- all fun and wonderful. But at the end of it, you play. To win. The game.
But sometimes, in fantasy, it's more important to not lose than to win. Because of all the things that bring leagues together, of all the funniest, most outrageous, most talked about traditions, it's punishments for losing that are the most memorable.
While writing my book Fantasy Life, I heard of every imaginable punishment. I heard of leagues where the loser has to wear nothing but a Speedo, dress up as a woman, dress up as a clown, get waxed, get shaved, and swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon while getting slapped in the face by a fish. You heard me. Slapped in the face by a fish.
And that one didn't even make the list.
The DJ and Pasta League out of Brooklyn is a seven-year-old keeper league that harks back to vaudeville for its last-place loser. As "Raffa the Gaffa" explains, "Every year before the draft the last-place team will stand for one minute and all the league members launch tomatoes at him."
More than 200 pounds of tomatoes are thrown at the loser, and incidentally, for you kids out there thinking of doing this, Raffa offers this helpful hint: "Microwave the tomatoes so they soften up a little, bringing the grime level to a 10."
In their league, Scott LoMurray and his best friend Aaron Doverspike have weekly head-to-head bets where the loser has to do some pretty terrible things, including getting a leg wax and sitting in the back of a pickup truck as it goes through a car wash wearing only a Speedo, a swim cap, and goggles. But my favorite punishment of theirs involves putting on a helmet and Rollerblades and standing on a busy corner with a sign that reads "I Suck at Fantasy Football."
Travis Knoll's BIG League in Bigfork, Montana, wonders why only one guy should have all the fun. They decided it's not just the one in last place who gets punished. It's everyone who didn't win the league.
Travis explains: "Whoever finished in second place gets to choose from the list of punishments, then third place, and so on, until the last-place member is struck with the worst punishment. These included getting slapped on the inner thigh four times, eating worms, eating a small jar of mayonnaise, and finally, standing about 15 yards away from the rest of the league wearing nothing but your underwear and a mask while each owner gets one shot at you with a paintball gun. Needless to say, these punishments cause much bruising, scarring, and vomiting ... as well as plenty of laughter."
There's no artful way to introduce this one, so I'll just go for it: balls. Huh, easier than I thought, actually.
Christopher M. Curran's Chicago-based Crotch Buffet Fantasy Football League gives out the Balls in the Basement Award to its last-place owner. The "winner" has to "proudly" display it in his house and change all of his social media pictures to include both his face and the trophy. Most important, the trophy features a removable set of realistic-looking balls. When the loser leaves the house, he must remove them from the trophy and carry them with him. If a fellow league member calls him out and he doesn't have the balls on him, he loses one draft spot in the next draft for each infraction.
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No punishment is as stinky as the one for Commish Kevin Leary's Beer Boy League, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. This league has been around for 19 years, and since 2002, the last-place team has had to sign this shirt, retire its team name, and then wear the shirt during the draft. While serving everyone drinks.
It's never been washed. NEVER. 2002. Just saying.