Lambeau Field. Both within the state of Wisconsin and across the world those two words conjure up many images, mostly joyful and almost always iconic. In another distinct realm—fantasy football—those two words are equally important.
For the last 11 years my very best friends and I have been competing in Lambeau Field, a fantasy football keeper league that surpasses any other in which I’ve played. In its camaraderie, competitiveness, and overwhelming pressure to do well each and every season, Lambeau has no peer. And if you are ever fortunate to win it, there is no more amazing accomplishment in the fantasy realm. There is no greater glory one can achieve.
Entering the 2013 campaign, the Green Bay Gamblers—the most storied team in the history of the league—had not finished first in Lambeau Field since 2008, a drought that felt much longer than just four seasons. But thanks to sage in-season trades each of the last two years, GBG had four very good keepers and some extra draft picks to maximize.
But let’s start back in 2008, the last time the Gamblers finished on top. Previous to that season there had been much success, with championships in the first two seasons and three out of the first four. But by ’08 that dreaded word—parity—was starting to creep into league conversations. (I preferred when words such as ‘dynasty’ and ‘juggernaut’ were more commonplace.)
After being knocked out of the playoffs for the first time in the quarterfinals in the previous season, 2008 was a make-or-break year. And for months I wanted to trade up (from fifth) in the draft to the number one overall spot. (I had done that two years earlier to draft the New Orleans Saints Reggie Bush, the perfect player for Lambeau with his penchants for catching passes and return skills.) But Joe Ketarkus, in his infinite wisdom, wouldn’t budge. He had paid the $22 Fancy Pants Tax—levied on the owner who finishes last each season—and he wasn’t going to let go its only benefit: drafting first overall.
He chose wisely, selecting rookie running back Darren McFadden with the top pick. My guy was still available. In rapid succession Antonio Gates went number two, tailbacks Laurence Maroney and Larry Johnson third and fourth, respectively. Miraculously the one who I wanted all along made it all the way to fifth: Calvin Johnson. Stunned I’m immediately clicked ‘draft’ and did a happy dance to forever end all happy dances. (With a loaded squad led by Tom Brady and featuring Brian Westbrook and Frank Gore in the backfield and Marques Colston split out wide, Matt Allord chose not to keep Megatron after his rookie season.)
Later in that draft I secured the second piece of the championship puzzle snagging then virtually unknown Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson in the fourth round. When the season ended my triumphant team looked like this:
After planting the seeds for the delicious fruit I would enjoy for the next five seasons, I went back to the business of competing for championships on a yearly basis. In subsequent seasons, I finished third in 2009 and 2010 followed by two unseemly quarterfinal losses. But those early playoff exits were not for naught as in each I made sage trades that set the stage for a memorable 2013.
In 2011 it was for Jamaal Charles. His season ended with a devastating knee injury, on Nov. 22 I acquired him from Bill Yazbec for Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee and a 2012 11th round pick in exchange for running back Maurice Morris, wideout Kenny Britt, tight end Brent Celek, and a first round selection in next year’s draft.
Exactly 53 weeks later I sent tailbacks Alfred Morris and Beanie Wells plus a second round selection to Andy Meier in exchange for Matt Forte, Ahmad Bradshaw, and a sixth round pick. (Interestingly in the same draft that I snagged Chris Johnson in the fourth round, the aforementioned Matt Allord drafted Forte in round number two.)
Then, before the 2013 campaign got officially underway, I traded Reggie Wayne, Antonio Brown, and Ahmad Bradshaw to Aaron Million for his second (21st overall) and fourth (45th) round selections. That trade recovered my lost second round pick (though now three picks lower than before; Cecil Shorts III v. Jermichael Finley as it turned out with Hakeem Nicks and Tony Gonzalez sandwiched in between) and added a second fourth round selection to the mix. So entering the draft I had a first, second, and third rounder; two fourths, a fifth, two sixths, a seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th round picks. My four keepers were Charles, Forte, Johnson & Johnson.
Yahoo! awarded me an ‘A’ for my draft. Certainly that grade reflected both my expert selections and the bevy of additional picks I had acquired. Looking back on it now, though, it wasn’t my drafting that was most responsible for my fifth championship. Similar to five years earlier, in the first round I got exactly who I wanted: St. Louis Rams speedster Tavon Austin. Like Reggie Bush, he is an all-purpose threat ideal for the Lambeau Field scoring system.
In doing so I passed on Peyton Manning, knowing that I’d either get Colin Kaepernick or—preferably given I also owned the Detroit Lions best receiver and I don’t trust the San Francisco QB in fantasy—Matthew Stafford. Amazingly no one had still picked a quarterback by my next selection so the dichotomy remained unchanged: wait on picking a signal caller. Ergo in the second round I went for Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.
Nate Meier had the second selection in the third round and I crossed my fingers that he would choose Kaepernick over Stafford. He did. Darren McFadden (how the mighty have fallen!), DeSean Jackson, Michael Floyd, and Golden Tate then came off the board paving the way for Matthew Stafford’s return (I didn’t keep him in the offseason) to the Green Bay Gamblers. In subsequent rounds I drafted Stevie Johnson, Shane Vereen, Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook, Danny Woodhead, a triumvirate of defenses—Chicago, Houston, and Green Bay (none of whom performed as well as expected)—and then finishing my night in the 10th round with New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Of those 12 players only Stafford, Vereen, Woodhead, and Gostkowski exceeded my expectations. Jermichael Finley’s scary neck injury ruined a potentially fantastic season.
Other Fun Facts:
- The Green Bay Gamblers are undefeated, 5-0, in championship tilts
- In each of the five title games they have defeated different opponents
- No other owner has won more than one championship
- The 146.64-131.28 title game was by far the highest scoring in league history
- In only three of the 11 years has the Green Bay Gamblers failed to finish at least third at season’s end
- Alternate titles for this blog: ‘Anatomy of a Championship’ and ‘One for the Thumb’
Team Name: Green Bay Gamblers
Record: 10-4 (1 of 12)
Points: 1,648.26 (1 of 12)
Playoff Results: Quarterfinal victory, 158.96-93.64; semifinal win, 119.61-111.31; championship victory, 146.64-131.28!
History: Eleventh season
Championships: Four (2008, 2006, 2004, 2003)
(Other) Top 3 Finishes: Third Place (2010, 2009, 2005)
Previous Year Results: Sixth in 2012, fifth in 2011, and fifth in 2007
Keepers (4): Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, and Calvin Johnson
|The Curse of Shawn Bryson|
|*1||Green Bay Gamblers||10-4-0||3-3-0||1648.26||1520.31||W-2||30|
|*3||Iron Balls McGinty||7-7-0||4-2-0||1419.56||1429.53||W-4||12|
|*2||Corn on the Schaub||7-7-0||2-4-0||1422.05||1451.24||L-1||15|
|11||Ford Field Fools||4-10-0||2-4-0||1356.85||1451.19||L-2||6|
|1||Sterling||Loss||105.29 – 125.96||Recap|
|2||Iron Balls McGinty||Win||146.96 – 105.94||Recap|
|3||Corn on the Schaub||Win||135.64 – 123.95||Recap|
|4||Free Wins||Win||89.63 – 87.33||Recap|
|5||Iron Balls McGinty||Loss||77.30 – 130.62||Recap|
|6||Ford Field Fools||Win||126.31 – 121.97||Recap|
|7||The Menace||Win||151.65 – 65.71||Recap|
|8||McLovin||Win||117.94 – 113.32||Recap|
|9||Dire Squirrels||Win||130.28 – 95.96||Recap|
|10||Srellor Retawteews||Win||106.33 – 85.63||Recap|
|11 *||Don Cheadle||Loss||97.36 – 131.30||Recap|
|12||Sterling||Loss||115.93 – 122.66||Recap|
|13||Rodgers Hood||Win||115.64 – 87.00||Recap|
|14||Srellor Retawteews||Win||132.00 – 122.96||Recap|
|* = Rivalry Week|
Draft Results (Yahoo! Grade: A):
|1.||(7)||Calvin Johnson-Keeper (Det – WR)|
|2.||(18)||Jamaal Charles-Keeper (KC – RB)|
|3.||(31)||Matt Forte-Keeper (Chi – RB)|
|4.||(42)||Chris Johnson-Keeper (Ten – RB)|
|5.||(55)||Tavon Austin (StL – WR)|
|6.||(69)||Jermichael Finley (GB – TE)|
|7.||(79)||Matthew Stafford (Det – QB)|
|8.||(90)||Stevie Johnson (Buf – WR)|
|9.||(93)||Shane Vereen (NE – RB)|
|10.||(103)||Michael Crabtree (SF – WR)|
|11.||(114)||Jared Cook (StL – TE)|
|12.||(120)||Danny Woodhead (SD – RB)|
|13.||(127)||Chicago (Chi – DEF)|
|14.||(138)||Houston (Hou – DEF)|
|15.||(151)||Green Bay (GB – DEF)|
|16.||(162)||Stephen Gostkowski (NE – K)|
Smartest Move: No question: Picking up Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles as a free agent on October 30. In his first start he threw seven touchdown passes and eventually earned the starting job, allowing me to trade Stafford away for Denver Broncos stud receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Dumbest Move: Overreacting to the loss of Jermichael Finley for the season by trading impressive San Diego Chargers rookie wideout Keenan Allen to Dave Yazbec for Washington tight end Jordan Reed
Best Value: Believe it or not I’m going with a kicker here. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski was chosen with the 162nd overall selection and finished as the top placekicker and 46th overall in points, behind three defenses—Seattle, Carolina, and Kansas City—but ahead of such fantasy studs as Eddie Lacy and Adrian Peterson.
Worst Value: I hate to say it because I really was drafting for the future as well as this year but it has to be Tavon Austin. I’m still sure he’ll be a star but he just couldn’t compete at the highest level this season.
Unsung Hero: Consistency. Only three times did I score fewer than one hundred points. During the regular season I averaged 117.73 points; in the playoffs I upped that to that an incredible 141.74. I won my division, finished first overall and scored the most points. And, most importantly, I played my best when it mattered most, taking home my fifth championship in Lambeau Field.
Trades: Three: Jordan Reed for Keenan Allen (10/22); Matthew Stafford, Danny Woodhead, and Stevie Johnson for Demaryius Thomas and Matt Ryan (11/21); and Green Bay defense and a fourth round pick in 2014 for Seattle’s defense and a ninth round selection in next year’s draft (11/28).
Total Money Earned: $433 ($400 for the championship, $44 for most points, and $44 for winning my division minus the $55 entry fee)
Turning Point: Trading for the Seattle Seahawks defense on Thanksgiving Day. In the lineup for the Green Bay Gamblers’ last five weeks of the season they produced 13, 5, 34, 11, and 16 points, averaging 15.8 points per game including a dominant—and clutch—20.33 points per postseason matchup. In that one deal I turned my most glaring weakness into my biggest strength.