My Strange Journey into Sports Fanhood

For the first 30 years of my life, I hated sports.

I don't really need to go into why– if you're reading this, you're probably interested in computers and know the Jock Archetype. Doesn't matter if it's true or not, but yeah. We can skip that.

Instead, we'll start at the fun part.

Wanna join our NFL picking league? 🙃

One early summer night, my wife and I went over to some friends' house for a pizza party. When we got there, the first thing we noticed was a great new TV. One of those fancy ones like right when you walk into Costco.

After a few slices and beverages, we had a conversation that went something like this:

"Sweet TV!"

"Thanks, we normally wouldn't have bought it, but we won the football picking league so we had some extra cash. You should join!"

"No thanks, not really into sports..."

And then there was some talk of non-sports fans winning their college basketball March Madness office pools by choosing who would win in a fight between team mascots (e.g., bulldog vs. badger) or preferred color schemes. For the NFL pool between this group of friends, "Cutest Quarterback" was an eye-roll-inducing metric.

Maybe it was my solid buzz, but I agreed to an offer to hang out and learn more about how the pool worked and tips on choosing teams.

Pool Rules

Our friends' pool was run as a Confidence Pick'em.

Every week of the NFL season has around 15 games, give or take. The pool participant's job is to choose who will win each game, assigning a point value to each: 20 points for the most confident, then 15, 14, etc. down to the lowest number for the least confidence. As the games are played, the points are totaled up with a weekly winner getting a small prize and the top 3 winners splitting the rest of the pot at the end of the season.

Confidence Determination

My friend walked me through the process he took to make his selections each week.

He spent a few hours a week going to various websites looking at what sports journalists and Vegas sportsbooks expected outcomes to be.

When he was done explaining his research process, I had to make sure.

"So you go to this site, and get the numbers from here, here, and here, then you go to this other site site and get numbers from there, there, and there?"

"Yep, I do a few teams at a time on my lunch breaks and by the end of the week I've filled out my spreadsheet."

My wheels were turning.

I Can Automate the Shit out of This

So I agreed to join the pool, and paid in my dues.

I spent a weekend writing a script that navigated to the sites my friend shared, grabbed the numbers, did some number conversions to move from an assigned Las Vegas odd to an implied win probability, took into account projected scores from the talking heads, and ranked team win confidence for me on the "20 to 1" scale.

My script ran in about two minutes.


Spoiler Alert: I won.

Everyone in the pool was a sports fan, and would never pick against their favorite team. Even if they had the lowest confidence in their team winning it would be blasphemous to "want" them to lose.


So I started watching football to see how my picks would fare.

As the season continued, I think the weekly scores I was putting up started to test the team loyalties of my fellow contest entrants.

I won several weeks, and eventually took home the top prize! 🏆

Now, I'm not a very competitive person, but it does feel good to win sometimes (and I did take our friends out to dinner & drinks with the winnings).

What I learned

I learned some unexpected things by entering the football pool.

My non-fanhood was an asset.

On a macro-level, I started to find an appreciation for the strategy of attack and counter-attack. I started to notice when a popular team was favored only for being popular instead of based on merit.

Sports knowledge is social capital.

Another side effect of watching sports was finding myself with something to talk about when should the need arise.

The net of sports fans is cast more widely than that of $SHOW_TITLE, and there won't ever be a "They should have stopped at Season 4 because the rest are terrible".

As I've expanded my sports interests into NCAA basketball and football, I've seen players who work hard and then go pro. It's the hero's journey, but with real people. Sometimes the people are assholes, but that's a given.

But there's one big thing that came out of this experience...

The Unexpected Hobby of Sports Prediction

I would have never expected it, but I found it really fun to write code with the goal of forecasting the outcome of games.

I've sharpened my development skills and written better web scrapers.

I can process data across multiple CSV files without ever opening Excel.

I've even dipped into machine learning a bit.

It's been a long, strange trip, and the seasons won't ever stop.

Might as well have some fun with it.

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