Every year, thanks to fantasy football, I get to see two friends drink an uncomfortable amount of alcohol. In case you’re not familiar with the time-honored tradition that is fantasy football, at the beginning of the year, you divvy up into two separate leagues and submit an alcoholic beverage to an assigned commissioner. At the end of the year, all the drinks are dumped into a vat, stirred not unlike a witch’s brew, and forced upon the ultimate loser of each league. And here’s a fun fact: White Russians don’t mix well with Sparks.
Why put someone through such horror for something so trivial? Because despite the name, fantasy football is anything but fantasy. We like to think fantasy football is calculated, cerebral, and somewhat logical. It involves three things that pique the modern man’s interest: pride, money, and the ability to beat your best friends and coworkers at something that you arguably have little control over. If you win, you get the gratification of running through your league Kevorkian-style and the thought that for one fleeting moment, you were the smartest man to ever grace the earth. But for every high there should be an opposite and humiliating low. For the lowly, this is your playoffs; this is your One Shining Moment.
Enter the final concoction, affectionately called “The Bucket.”
It often resembles something close to raw meat. We don’t know why. But if you have ever resigned to the fact that fantasy football is just some trivial pursuit, you’ve never seen a person drink a bucket composed of 14 beverages, one of them usually a hot Guinness. (The commissioner usually doesn’t bother with refrigerating the bottles.) The clashing consistencies and settling substances draw the repugnance of even the most machismo. This is what you get. This is what you deserve.
Remember when you forgot to set your lineup in week five? What about when you benched Tom Brady for Sam Bradford? Who the hell is Keenan Allen? All of those mistakes conglomerate and settle in The Bucket. This is the culmination. Maybe your team was decimated by injury. Why didn’t you pick Zac Stacy up when you had a chance? Nick Foles—hello? You’re better than that, and in fantasy football there are no excuses.
If you are the loser, and if your sentence is The Bucket, when you finish painfully gulping down the foamy swill, the only two desires you feel are one for bed and one for death. The headache that ensues is unlike any other you could endure, as you’ve just given your body the ultimate ‘WTF’ experience. (I can only speculate though, seeing as how I’m good at fantasy football, but I hope this doesn’t jinx me come next year.)
But The Bucket isn’t just some assisted suicide mechanism, designed to carry a cloud of anxiety over an entire fantasy league. The Bucket is more than that. The Bucket is a uniting force. It brings together college friends, high school friends, friends whom you may have little in common with other than the fact that neither of you want this dialysis-inducing witch’s brew. And you want to watch someone else do it, and conduct a psychological experiment, and probably make fun of them. This is part of our human nature.
If your league doesn’t have The Bucket, I’d invite you to add that wrinkle into your legislation next year. At the very least, the teams who miss the playoffs will still have a reason for relevancy. Even the guy who was counting on Matt Schaub to be his QB1 has a reason to set his lineup come Sunday. Even the poor sap who believed in Trent Richardson gets to spend five minutes mulling over his flex position. But even if you don’t have The Bucket in your league, don’t let that stop fantasy football from being the great equalizer that it is. When you actively participate in your league, you’re afforded the opportunity to keep in contact with people whom maybe your professional life is keeping you from seeing as much as you like.
The truth is, fantasy football is a connecting force like any other. You have a reason to meet up with friends in a centralized location and not only reminisce but write new chapters. Even if you sometimes struggle to hang out like the “good ol’ days,” you can count on fantasy football. It will be there when you miss your friends, or you’re nostalgic for something that you can’t seem to put your finger on. Maybe you just want to remind your friends they’re just abhorrent at premeditating something over which they have absolutely less than zero control. You tell them they should just quit, but you don’t mean it. Not really. Nobody should quit fantasy football. You might even need it as much as it needs you. Come what may separate you—geography, careers, personality evolution—you’ll always be connected by that gloriously disgusting bucket.