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Draft is ‘Xtremely’ serious business

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Mike Richter, right, of Ripon goes over fantasy football draft info at Stockton’s Midtown Creperie on Saturday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED August 20, 2013 2:05 a.m.

Aaron Rodgers or Adrian Peterson? Crepe or a po’ boy sandwich? Too early for a kicker? Too late for a beer?

So many choices. So many possibilities. Each delicious in their own right.

The Xtreme Fantasy Football League turned Stockton’s Midtown Creperie into an NFL war room on Saturday afternoon, drafting the players to fill what is believed to be one of the area’s largest high-stakes leagues.

Magazines, notepads and laptops collected atop the tables. Draft boards the size of chalk boards hung on the walls. And everywhere you looked, furrowed brows and finger-swipes were eventually replaced with a look that screamed, “Boo-yah!”

The owners in this 16-year-old league appeared ready for the season’s first official games. Some donned caps. Others pulled on their favorite jerseys. All 24 of them wore their game face.

Fantasy football never looked this cultured and sophisticated 16 years ago when Mike Richter was a rookie commissioner, building a league during the dark ages.

 “I didn’t even have a cell phone at the time. That’s how long ago it was,” the Ripon resident and East Union graduate said.

Back then, he pulled lineups and transactions off an answering machine. He’d spend days calculating scores and determining winners.

There were no computers and do-it-all websites to streamline the process, and live drafts were held beneath the dingy light in his garage.

“Everything started with pencils and erasers,” said Sam Johnson, the XFFL’s defending champion and co-commissioner this fall.

“We’d wait for Monday and Tuesday’s papers and get stats and then post everything on Wednesday. Everything was hand written. It took a team of us. … We didn’t have mass Internet. You had to keep up with watching the games and everything going on in the newspapers. If you didn’t keep up, you were way behind.”

• • •

Fantasy sports’ cultural shift

My how the game has changed.

Fantasy sports have enjoyed a cultural shift in the last 16 years, shedding its skin as a “hobby” or “leisurely activity.”  More than 36 million play fantasy sports in the United States and Canada, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, and 72 percent fancy football.

Fantasy sports –particularly fantasy football – are big business, with many leagues offering its winners payouts and other incentives.

The advent of insta-technology and cash prizes, plus football’s growing-by-the-day global appeal has blurred the line between fantasy and reality.

For 24 men, Saturday afternoon’s live draft at the Midtown Creperie (owned by Matt Grizzle, an XFFL owner) was real.  Saturday’s draft was the changing of seasons … from a summer toiling in research to fall kick-offs.

“People take it serious. There are guys that as soon as the summer starts are starting to look up scouting reports and cheat sheets,” said Richter, the XFFL’s creator and co-commissioner.

“They’re more mad when their fantasy team loses than when their favorite team loses. For me, it’s been fun. I’m a Raider fan, so the last 10 years haven’t been great for me. I love them, but they haven’t given me much to cheer about. For our league, for our guys, you have more to watch on Sundays. You’re not just watching your favorite team play. You’re watching your favorite team AND the Red Zone Channel to see how your fantasy players are doing.”

The XFFL features 24 owners, each with deep local ties.

Five of the original eight owners still compete. A large swath went to school with Richter at East Union in the 1990s, and several more work with him at J.R. Simplot. The rest are a collection of friends and family – each with strong fantasy credentials and recommendations.

This is the XFFL’s third season with 24 owners, and Richter says the league could expand to include those waiting for an opening. Saturday’s draft was the first time all 24 owners were the same room together.

“Getting together and doing the draft, that’s one of my best days of the year,” Richter said.  “It’s a lot of work, especially when it was at my house. You know how guys are – they’re talking crap to each other for a couple of hours. The money is nice, but most guys want the bragging rights. Guys want to win. They want the trophy.

“A lot of these guys in this league played football. We’re obviously older now and can’t play ball, so this keeps you involved with football.”

The money is nice, too.

• • •

Time is money; titles won in offseason

On average, fantasy players in North America spend $95 on league-related costs over a 12-month period, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Often times, in pay leagues, that money is funneled back into the league and later bestowed to the league’s top performers.

In the XFFL, the pay-days are sizable.

Each owner commits a $130 registration fee at the start of the season. A $5 transaction fee is assessed anytime a players moves via trade, drop or acquisition. 

Richter keeps a ledger, billing each owner for their transactions at season’s end.

The league is split into two conferences – AFC and NFC – and the conference champions square off in the Super Bowl.

“Think about it,” Richter said. “You have to win a 12-team league just to play for our championship.”

The Super Bowl champion will net a cash prize in excess of $1,600. The runner-up, Richter says, clears $1,000. The league pays down to the eighth place, who essentially wins back their registration fee.

Johnson enters the season wearing the crown – his second since the league’s inception in 1998.

The XFFL is a top-heavy league. Twelve of the 15 Super Bowl trophies have been won by five owners.

Richter has four titles, but hasn’t reached the playoffs since the birth of twin daughters five years ago.

“I’m not blaming them,” he said. “It’s just a coincidence.”

Johnson heads the list of three others with two championships: Original owners Eugene Rawlins and Aaron McKeon, and former Manteca High baseball coach Gene Ballardo.

Like the real thing, dedication is often the difference-maker in the realm of fantasy sports.

Johnson credits his success over the years to the pains of the offseason – research, mock drafts and joining multiple leagues simply to study trends.

At one point, Johnson says he was managing six teams – five of which he used to prepare for the XFFL’s live draft.

“Even though I was using them as stepping stones, they all mattered,” Johnson said. “I’m competitive – period. If I’m involved with something I’m going to try to make it the best I can. What’s the point in doing something if you’re going to half-ass it?”

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