Move Over Shakespeare: In Praise of Rotoworld

In 2014, on my way to an abysmal last place finish in my Yahoo fantasy football league, I monitored the progress of my prized draft pick Doug Martin obsessively. After his Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 48-17 to the Baltimore Ravens (a game in which Joe Flacco tossed five touchdowns!), I clicked on the Doug Martin player notes to read the assessment of his 11 carry, 45 yard dud. In Yahoo fantasy leagues, the player notes are provided by Rotoworld.com. Said Rotoworld: “Martin is on the borderline of being droppable in 12- and 14-team leagues. We’ve completely lost hope that he will turn his season around.”

Completely lost hope! Completely losing hope is what happens to people on lifeboats, or people expecting the Trump administration to give them aid after a natural disaster! The idea that the writers updating us on Doug Martin’s productivity had completely lost hope tickled me to no end. I began to play closer attention to their reports.

Fantasy football offers few joys and many sorrows. Once in awhile you’ll destroy an opponent in one of those perfect weeks when everything seems to break your way. You’ll win your league about once every Hailey’s Comet. But most of the time your guys will underperform, you’ll find yourself obsessively refreshing your phone at a barbeque for updates of a Colts-Browns game, and another human being suffering a concussion will be cause for sorrow…because they couldn’t score you any more fantasy points from the sidelines. You spend the early parts of the following week monitoring injuries and scouring player notes. However, thanks to the team of writers at Rotoworld.com, the scouring of player notes has now become the the only thing about modern football I find redeemable. The work they’ve been producing has easily supplanted Shakespeare as the finest in the Western canon. Rotoworld.com is my favorite literary establishment.

Fantasy advice, based as it is on statistics, would seem to invite a sober and analytical writing style. You should start X because of his yards per carry and recent uptrend in touches. You should bench Y because of his frequent drops and lingering hamstring. But writing an infinite amount of player updates, I imagine, is infinitely boring, and so the Rotoworld team occasionally displays a flair for the dramatic. By “flair for the dramatic”, I mean they sometimes excoriate a player with a beautiful turn of phrase, or scathing barb, that has little do with stats. I live for these scathing barbs.

Entering the 2016 season, I happened to click on the player notes for Jordan Cameron, entering his second year as a Miami Dolphin. All thoughts of drafting Cameron went out the window when I read that, “According to Dolphins beat reporters, Cameron’s summer has been brutal and filled with dropped passes at practice. Cameron is legitimately stealing money in Miami, collecting $6 million this season.”

It’s not surprising that Cameron, after being outed as a thief, retired that same season.

This year the Rotoworld writers have stepped up their roast-heavy analysis. Public enemy number one, in the preseason, was Ryan Mallett, who was playing quarterback for the Ravens in place of the injured Joe Flacco. The evisceration of Mallett was complete and total, though it required a thorough investigation into all of the Ravens skill position players. As I began to scout them at the end of August, right before my draft, I noticed a common, disdainful thread:

From Mike Wallace’s player notes:

“The 31-year-old speed demon finishes the summer with three grabs for 40 yards. He was one of the lucky ones in the Ryan Mallett ‘led’ offense.”

From Javorius Allen:

“Allen spent time with the first-team offense, though like everyone else, he didn’t show anything. It was hard with Ryan Mallett leading the attack.”

From Terrance West:

“Running room was tough to come by with Ryan Mallett inviting stacked boxes.”

And the best tidbit, from Jeremy Maclin:

“It ends a wasted preseason for Maclin, who couldn’t get anything going with sub-CFL talent Ryan Mallett.”

Ouch.

The quotation marks around an ordinary word (“Ryan Mallett ‘led’ offense”) is one of my favorite Rotoworld tropes. They mockingly use it in a variety of scenarios, like a belligerently sarcastic air-quoter. Re: Cam Newton: “Off to a ‘slow start’…” Re: Adrian Peterson: “Peterson ‘added’ two receptions for four yards.”

Other turns of phrase that have brought a smile to my face this year have included describing Pete Carroll as owning a “rose-colored lens factory” for his eternal optimism. Claiming that Mike Glennon has “shown exactly nothing” through four starts. Nothing that, “Every touch the Giants give to [Paul] Perkins is basically a wasted play.” And, on the topic of waste: “[Latavius] Murray is too one-dimensional and not even very good at that one dimension. He’s looking like a complete waste of $3.4 million guaranteed.” But they have saved much of their in season derision for the one and only Joe Flacco, the same Joe Flacco that once torched the Bucs for five touchdowns in 2014. In the Mike Wallace notes from October 2nd, they beautifully describe a pass from Flacco as “a dying quail wobbler,” perhaps the most poetic ridiculing of a throw I’ve ever read. And then there’s this, following a 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

“It was another dreadful outing for Flacco, who was sacked four times for a loss of 29 yards. He averaged a ghastly 4.8 yards per attempt, which, incredibly, was a vast improvement from last week’s 1.56 against Jacksonville…The Twittersphere has long debated Flacco’s ‘eliteness,’ but ‘mediocre’ would actually be a step up from what Flacco has given us over the first four weeks.”

However in terms of all-time takedowns, there is one player update that stands apart, a holy grail of derision. It involves a certain quarterback from Jacksonville. The library of congress should stow this paragraph alongside Twain, Steinbeck, O’Connor, and Dickinson. It is so crisp, clean, harrowing, funny, and hopeless, that I don’t know why the rest of us poor saps even try and string sentences together:

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Bortles was utterly horrendous, and frankly, lucky not to get benched. His stats do not tell the story of a quarterback who was tossing painful wobblers all evening. His motion has become a cross between side-armed Matthew Stafford and Tim Tebow. At times it looked like he was trying to toss a fully-baked turkey. All of Bortles’ ‘production’ came in garbage time. He was 8-of-16 for 64 yards as the Jags trailed 27-0 at halftime. Bortles was bad enough to get his coach fired, something that seems like a distinct Friday possibility. Bortles will be a bottom-barrel QB2 against the Chiefs in Week 9.”

As it stands now, my team is 2-4. Derek Carr is playing with a broken back, Davante Adams was nearly decapitated a couple weeks ago, and the president of our country seems to think trolling the NFL is his most pressing concern. But I don’t mind. The struggle is real, and the Rotoworld writers do nothing better than describe a struggle. My quarterback might be tossing around fully baked turkeys and my top running back might fail at being one-dimensional, but as long as the Rotoworld team keeps plugging away, I’ll be happy. When it comes to football, they are my rose-colored lens factory.


Featured image by Jonathan Moreau — Flickr.