The undefeated Tennessee Titans were mounting a comeback, then boom: Derrick Henry exploded, reviving hope in a game that seemed lost. After squeezing through the hole, he passed the 10, 20, then across midfield and to the 30, the 20, the 10, and then — Touchdown! After that 94-yard run, a certain loss felt like an assured win… on the back of one play.
Twenty-year-old Kevin Gonzalez’s heart raced. “I’d lost all hope and when I saw Derrick Henry make that huge run, I started jumping up and down.
Funny thing, though — Gonzalez is no Titan fan. He loves the Miami Dolphins. But Henry is on his fantasy football team, and that run moved him closer to a win that could earn him some real cash.
“Fantasy football makes my viewing of football much more enjoyable, and added stakes make it easy to get heavily invested,” he said. “Now, it is a welcome distraction from what’s going on.”
With the Fins in the midst of a multi-year rebuild and most people stuck in their homes because of the pandemic, some Dolphins fans have diverted their attention to their fantasy teams.
Fantasy football is more prevalent now than ever — and gambling is more widely accepted in it than in traditional sports. Two companies that host gambling, Draftkings and FanDuel, made $14 million and $10 million in revenue in 2018, according to Shoshanna Delventhal of Investopedia.
Then there is the addictive nature of it. University of Alabama professor Dr. Andrew Billings said “it’s a commitment that can lead to an obsession for many players who get into it.”
One person with an interest in fantasy football is Dolphin fan Ariel Hernandez, 20. He grew an interest in football at a young age. The Cuban-American from a family of baseball players who have no interest in football began watching the sport in 2009 and never looked back. At age 16, he created a viral Twitter thread of historic sports moments that was described in an article on the website Complex Sports, which was written by reporter Adam Caparell.
Hernandez took to fantasy football six years ago as an outlet for his massive sports fandom. Now he plays in four leagues, with a $200 pot available in each one. On Sundays, he constantly switches back and forth between games, monitoring his fantasy players almost as much as the Dolphins. “With money on the line, I am constantly switching on and off from the Dolphins games to “RedZone,” no matter the circumstances,” said Hernandez.
He won about $200 in the 2018 season while recouping the $75 total buy-in of his other three leagues by finishing in second place in all of them.
Life-long Dolphins fan George Milian, 42, recently started playing fantasy football. As a high school journalism teacher with two young children, he never planned to dedicate much time to it. But then he connected with some of his former students and began competing for bragging rights.
Prior to playing fantasy football, he only paid attention to the Dolphins and a few other teams. Now he monitors at least seven games per week, but it can get complicated. “When you have a player on your fantasy football team going against the Dolphins, you want them to do well against your team while still rooting for a [hometown] win.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic and more time on their hands, many players, like Milian, have had more time to play fantasy football and make trade offers, waiver pickups, or even talk smack. He said fantasy sports have kept him in tune with many teams and players he wouldn’t follow otherwise.
For someone with two young children and not much time to watch games, fantasy football is a great way to keep up with what happens in the league and how well players are doing, he said.
Fantasy football players can become obsessive about team management. Kevin Gonzalez has been competing since he was 8 years old. He won $100 in his second year playing as a 9-year old and began to participate in multiple leagues.
Gonzalez is registered in leagues on Yahoo, ESPN, and NFL Fantasy. On Tuesdays, he scours each site for about two hours, studying point projections and expert opinions before making his moves for the week. Then he does about two hours of more research, gleaning information from ESPN and the NFL Network.
While being home for the past six months due to the pandemic, he has sunk further into fantasy football. On Sunday, he spends 10 hours checking his fantasy app and scores throughout the league about 25 times an hour. “I normally spend most of game day on edge… constantly checking and getting emotionally invested in my team,” revealed Gonzalez.
Gonzalez won two of his fantasy leagues last year, and he said this has added fuel to his fixation. He holds a league title belt for winning one of his leagues last season, and said this year he hopes to hold onto the belt.
He said he will be paying as much attention to his fantasy team as he will to the progress of rookie Dolphins quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, as the Dolphins roll with him as the starter for the rest of the season. “I’ll definitely have the Dolphins game and RedZone on my TV and laptop at the same time every week. I can’t abandon either of my teams.”
Fantasy football is a national phenomenon and a welcome distraction for locals when the Dolphins are playing poorly or the pandemic and politics have them down. It is a way for them to gamble and an outlet for their sports interest.
“Fantasy football makes my viewing of football much more enjoyable, and added stakes make it easy to get heavily invested. Now, it is as welcome a distraction to what’s going on,” Gonzalez said.