I have the absolute worst fantasy league football partner. Just try to get the guy to return a call. Or a text. You need a damn court order.
He's Barack Obama. And, yeah, I guess he's busy, but why was I the one who had to fly to Dayton, get frisked and have bomb dogs drool on my bags just so I could meet him getting off his tricked-out, chartered 757? He can't meet a guy halfway?
I asked each candidate to be my running mate for one week in a fantasy league, just to see what kind of president he'd make—how he'd handle decisions under pressure and balance a budget. (On ESPN.com's Gridiron Challenge, you get a mystical $50M to spend on a team.) Only Obama bit. We settled on the Week 6 games.
Still, you talk about bossy. I thought he'd let the professional sportswriter do most of the picking while the wonk occasionally looked up from some Pakistan brief and nodded. Yeah, not exactly. When I got on his campaign bus, all three flat screens were tuned to ESPN. Obama was sitting in a black leather swivel chair, reading the paper. "Hey, man, I'll be with you in a second," he said. "I'm poring over the latest economic news." It was the USA Today NFL stats page.
He is taller, grayer and quicker to laugh than I expected. Moves sort of like an athlete—cool and smooth. "Now, you're the expert," he began. "And I'll gladly be the junior partner in this, but I really think we should take Drew Brees. He could have a big week. Oakland's secondary is a wreck."
Ohhhh, so that's how it's going to be. "Well, I like Carson Palmer," I said. "He's due for a big week, plus he plays in Ohio and I figure that's a state you need, so …"
He looked at me like I'd stuck my elbow in his soup. "Man, this is more important than politics!" he insisted. "This is football!"
This is a man who could potentially audit me forever. We paid $7.3M for Brees.
He wanted Clinton Portis. I wanted Adrian Peterson. We took Portis ($6.6M). He wanted Brandon Marshall. I wanted Bernard Berrian. We took Marshall ($5.7M).
Doesn't work well with others. Check.
Have to admit, though, he knows his stuff. Turns out, he played a little. He was a tight end in ninth grade until a coach told him to "trample" an opponent's back. He gave up football for hoops. In 2004, when Mike Ditka considered running against him for Senate, Obama—remembering how Ditka let William Perry score a Super Bowl TD instead of Walter Payton—said that "anybody who would give the ball to Refrigerator Perry instead of Sweetness doesn't have very good judgment." Ditka didn't run. "Too bad," Obama says. "We were hoping he would."
Likes to bait Hall of Famers. Check.
It took us 30 minutes to pick nine slots. The man was into it. I said I'd need to talk to him the following week about how we did.
"Cool," he said. "How's Tuesday?"
"Sorry," I said. "Getting married Tuesday."
He looked stunned. "Who'd marry you?"
Wise guy. Check.
We wound up in a dark tunnel under Fifth Third Field in Dayton for a campaign event. He was telling me a story about throwing out a first pitch when suddenly I heard over the PA system, "… the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!" He looked at me, said "Gotta go!" and sprinted up some steps to a thunderclap of a roar.
Afterward, while signing books, he asked if I thought we'd win. "Win?" I said. "There's like a gazillion teams in this thing!"
He glared a hole in me. "You think we're just messing around?"
Then Sunday came. Man, did he get lucky. The guys he made us choose—Brees and Portis—went nuts. The guys I wanted, not so much. We finished 32,190th for the week. But wait! That put us in the 81.2 percentile, which means we beat four out of five teams!
Of course, he already knew. Because, like so many Americans, he was checking the fantasy stats all day, even while he was supposed to be prepping for his final debate. He e-mailed to say he wished he had followed my advice on Berrian (who smoked Marshall), but he was "pumped up" about our numbers. And he congratulated the newlyweds.
I e-mailed back and said that if he wins this election, the ambassadorship to Tahiti would make a nice wedding present.
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