The World Association Football League (WAFL) of Sacramento, California, is about as old-school a league as you’ll find. Touchdown only, they still keep scores and standings by hand. Ron Andre is the commissioner and, with an exception here or there, has the exact same group of folks in the league from when they started.
44 years ago.
Ron has a son, Ron Andre Jr. Inspired by his father, he started a league. The Association World Football League (AWFL) of Pleasanton, California, was created in 1999 by Ron and includes his brother Eric and his high school teammate (and later, college roommate) Peter Lehmann. As Peter wrote me recently, the league is also an “archaic, aggravating, yet life-inspiring touchdown-only league. We still email lineups back and forth, scoring is done by hand. And although we all keep track, we eagerly wait for the commissioner to send out the official weekly results after Monday Night Football.” Peter lives in North Carolina these days, but every year he makes the trip over Labor Day weekend for their live draft, where, as that league entered its 18th season this past September, a great time was had by all — good food, beer and ball-busting the entire way.
Ron Andre Jr. has a son, Joe. And so, inspired by his grandfather’s and father’s leagues, he, too, started a fantasy football league (The AWFL WAFL, pronounced “Awful Waffle”) with his cousins and relatives, including his sister Claire, in 2014 — when Joe was 10.
The three generations of football leagues all draft over Labor Day weekend and have an annual tradition of getting together every Sept. 4, on Ron Sr.’s birthday, and comparing all the draft boards and debating which teams are the strongest.
As you might suspect, family bonds are tight with the Andre clan, drawn even closer thanks to fantasy football. So you can imagine how all the leagues felt when they heard about Joe.
It was fall 2016, and Joe was a typical teenage kid. Happy, healthy and a sports nut, he played in another fantasy football league (The Soggy Crouton league) with his school friends, two different fantasy baseball leagues and was an All-Star pitcher for his local Little League team.
Then, one day, he started to have headaches. Was this just puberty-related, his father wondered? But the headaches led to dizziness, and then Joe, normally a very good athlete, suddenly couldn’t hit anything at the plate.
Because, it turns out, he couldn’t actually see the ball.
On Sept. 26, 2016, Joe had an MRI. The reason he wasn’t able to see the ball sadly became clear. Thirteen-year-old Joe had a tumor. Brain cancer.
All of the leagues, the entire family, everyone was devastated. Life suddenly was turned upside down for a lot of people and, as Ron remembers, “My heart sank. Just a total kick in the gut.” It soon became a whirlwind. Three days after receiving his diagnosis, Joe was scheduled for surgery. And as he was checked into the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland the night before surgery, he was brave but scared.
But you knew these leagues — this family — weren’t going to let him go through this alone. They all piled into his hospital room, including his cousins and all the members of Joe’s AWFL WAFL league. “Hey, dude! There’s a game tomorrow night. We need your lineup for the week!”
Joe perked up at the question and verbally gave his lineup for the week (remember, they keep it all by hand), a lineup that included starting Andy Dalton, who was playing that Thursday night, the same day as the surgery.
Joe went under that Thursday, and the surgery lasted 18 hours. You read that right. Eighteen hours. “The doctors had discussed all the possibilities with me. When he came out of it, there was a chance he wouldn’t ever be able to speak. There was a chance he would never eat again.”
There were a lot of possible outcomes after the surgery and, well, not all of them were great.
Joe didn’t wake up until sometime late Friday afternoon. Ron looked at his son, hopeful, holding his hand. And Joe slowly turned to his father.
“How many did Dalton get?”
His father broke out into a wide grin. “I never thought I’d be so happy to discuss Andy Dalton. It was the fourth-happiest day of my life, after my three kids being born. Andy Dalton will always have a special place in my heart.”
“How awesome is that?” Peter (Ron’s college roommate) wrote me about the moment. “When we are faced with personal tragedy, often we hold on to whatever normalcy we have. For those few days in the hospital it was fantasy football, and thank God for that. Long live the Fantasy Life.”
If you’re wondering, Dalton went 22-for-31 with 296 yards and a score that night in a 22-7 win over Miami.
The doctors believe they got all of the tumor, but it has still been a long road to recovery for Joe. To the surprise of no one who knows him, Joe is still hanging tough. He has already received six weeks of proton beam radiation at the Scripps Proton Center in San Diego and is currently getting chemotherapy at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. When I spoke with him Wednesday, he had just finished his 24th chemo treatment. He is able to go to school about three times a week, and other times he does his schoolwork at home.
Joe tells me how important fantasy football has been for him throughout this entire ordeal. “It’s a great distraction for me. It takes my mind off other things.” And focus on fantasy football he has. Joe is the two-time defending champ of the AWFL WAFL league, and “I’ve got a good lead this year.” He is also in second place in the Soggy Crouton league after a second-place finish there last season. Just so you all know, when I’m ready to retire, Joe gets my job.
Ron Jr. works for himself in insurance, so he is able to set his own hours to be there with his son when he needs to or to help with his other kids as his wife, Nancy, goes with Joe. His classmates, his school and the entire community have been nothing short of terrific, Ron says, offering tons of support. Joe got to go to a San Francisco Giants game this summer, and he met Buster Posey, who gave him lots of words of encouragement.
As a father myself, I cannot even imagine what it must be like to hear that kind of news about your child. There are no words. I asked Ron how he and his family have dealt with this.
“Well, we are a pretty spiritual family, so we’ve kept the faith. And, well, I’ve made a lot of bargains with God, so I’m gonna need to be a better man going forward.”
I think you’re doing just fine, Ron.
Ron was quick to give credit to the rest of his family, all of the leagues, his community and all the doctors, hospitals and organizations they’ve worked with, telling me how amazing and supportive everyone has been. But mostly, he said, it was all Joe.
“He’s a strong kid and keeps weathering the storm,” he said, and I could hear the pride and love in his voice. When the family found out Joe had to go through a total of 27 chemo treatments, they told him it’s just like being on the mound.
“He needs to get 27 outs. We just finished treatment number 24. It’s the bottom of the eighth. He’s gonna go close out the ninth. And by the new year, he’ll be done.”
Joe had to give up baseball last year, of course. But he has already signed up for 2018, and come Opening Day, he expects to be on the mound.
I know he’ll be there. And it’ll be a helluva crowd there to cheer him on.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a #companyman, but while I am proud of many things ESPN does, I have to say the best thing we do, without question, is supporting the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
It’s Jimmy V Week, an initiative that extends across all ESPN platforms and programs to help drive awareness and generate donations for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. One hundred percent of all donations go directly toward cancer research.
Fighting cancer is important to me because it’s important to everyone. There’s literally no one in the world who has not been affected by cancer in one way, shape or form. I’ve lost family members; I’ve lost dear friends; I’ve lost colleagues. So I like to do what I can to help.
As has become my own personal tradition, I am once again offering to unblock anyone on social media who I have blocked or muted. I’ve been on a crazy muting spree lately. If you’re wondering if you’re muted or not, you probably are. All you have to do to get unblocked or unmuted is make a donation of any kind to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Last year, we raised thousands of dollars with this program. I am hoping we can beat that number this year.
Here’s what you do:
1. Go to v.org/v and make a donation of any amount. We can all afford different amounts — give what you can.
2. You’ll be sent an electronic receipt. Send it, along with your Twitter (or Facebook or Instagram) handle that you want unblocked, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it. Now, it may take a bit of time to get through everything, but rest assured that if you do that, you will be unblocked. Realize that this doesn’t give you carte blanche to act like a jerk again. You can be blocked or muted again. But it does wipe the slate clean, as it were.
For those of you who haven’t been blocked by me on Twitter, well, first, thank you for being polite on social media (or if you’re not, congrats on not getting caught), and whether you follow me or not, it’s still a great excuse to donate. Over the years, many people used this as an excuse to donate. And if you don’t care about my social feeds but would still like to donate, why not check out RunFieldRun.com? My podcast co-host Field Yates and his girlfriend, Chapin Duke, are running the Boston Marathon this year on behalf of Jimmy V, and you can donate specifically to their run at that link.
I will tweet at and in some cases retweet every single person who donates to the V Foundation and sends a copy of the receipt to email@example.com. And I will also go one step further.
Have you been blocked by someone else at ESPN? Maybe you and I are good, but you mouthed off to someone else? Maybe I can help.
I want to be clear here: I can’t promise anything. The only thing I control is my own feeds. But I am friendly with almost all of my ESPN colleagues, and if you follow the steps above (donate, send receipt and your handle to firstname.lastname@example.org) and mention you’ve been blocked by an ESPN personality, I will personally reach out to that person and say, “Hey, so-and-so made a donation to the V Foundation. Would you mind unblocking them for Jimmy V? Pretty please?” Knowing how generous most of my colleagues are and how important this is to all of us, I bet most of them will say yes. Last year, all but one person unblocked folks — and given how angry social media can get, I understood why that person didn’t want to.
Whether you donate or not, I urge you to watch Jimmy V’s speech from the 1993 ESPYs. It’ll be the best 11 minutes you’ll spend all week.
Don’t give up.
Don’t ever give up.
That’s not just great life advice, but as we enter Week 13 of the fantasy football season, it seems to apply here as well. Let’s get to it.
Last week’s format of more names with shorter analysis seemed to work for most folks, so that’s what we’ll do. Thanks, as always, to Kyle Soppe and Jacob Nitzberg for their help at various points in this column.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 13
Kirk Cousins, Redskins: Seems to always crush the Cowboys — double-digit fantasy points in every game against Dallas in his career — and tonight should be no different. During the past four weeks, the Cowboys have allowed the third-highest completion percentage in the league, third-most passing yards and third-most passing touchdowns. Cousins has at least two touchdowns in each of his past three games, so you can expect another strong game from him tonight.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: He’s the sixth-best quarterback in fantasy over the past three weeks, so expect another good game from Rivers against a Browns team that has allowed multiple touchdown passes in eight of 11 games this season, stopping only Jacoby Brissett (he ran for two scores), Blake Bortles and, of course, Marcus Mariota.
Case Keenum, Vikings: At some point, you have to believe. Keenum has now thrown for at least 280 yards and at least one touchdown in four straight games. It’s the longest active streak in the league, and here’s the entire list of quarterbacks who have more such games this season: Tom Brady. That’s the list. Keenum is the eighth-best QB in fantasy since Week 3, and he gets a Falcons defense that is improving but just gave up 283 yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick. As of this writing, Desmond Trufant is in the concussion protocol, which, should he miss the game, would also bolster Keenum’s chances. This game has sneaky shootout potential. I have Keenum as a borderline top-10 play.
Others receiving votes: Josh McCown has accounted for multiple touchdowns in six of his past seven games and is the sixth-best QB in fantasy since Week 6. He’s at home this week against a Chiefs defense that has struggled in the secondary all year long. McCown is very much on the streamer radar. … I’m not the biggest Derek Carr fan, and his top two wideouts will likely be missing here, but you know what? After all the drama with Eli Manning being benched this week, I don’t see a Giants defense that is 25th against the pass the past four weeks and just lost Janoris Jenkins suddenly gearing up and playing tough after a cross-country flight to Oakland. Carr is inside my top 12. … If you are in a superdeep league, a 2-QB league, are truly desperate or want a cheap DFS option, I will say I thought Brett Hundley played pretty well on the road against Pittsburgh last week. Now at home against a banged-up Tampa Bay defense that is allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks since Week 3, I have Hundley as a top-20 play this week.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 13
Matthew Stafford, Lions: He’s nursing an ankle injury and now has to face the Ravens in Baltimore. Opposing QBs have just four passing touchdowns (vs. nine interceptions) and are averaging 200 passing yards per game in Baltimore this season. Ben Roethlisberger (10.54 points) is the only visiting QB to reach double-digit fantasy points in a game in Baltimore this season. Stafford is merely a midtier QB2 this week.
Alex Smith, Chiefs: Just no idea how could you start him this week after his recent play. Back to his dink-and-dunk ways, Smith has been held without one completion 25 yards or more downfield in three of the past four games, and he didn’t even attempt such a pass last week against Buffalo. He has scored fewer than 14 fantasy points in three of his past four, so I just can’t see trusting him in a critical Week 13 on the road against a Jets team that, believe it or not, is fourth against the pass the past four weeks. Some of that is due to matchups, and some of that is due to QBs such as Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor running against them, but still. This is a must-win week for many, and I just don’t see how you can trust him as anything more than a midtier QB2.
Running backs I love in Week 13
Jordan Howard, Bears: I know, I know, last week was brutal. But the volume will still be there; prior to last week, only Le’Veon Bell had more carries. Howard had at least 15 carries in each of his previous eight games, and he should see the rock quite a bit Sunday. So far this season, there have been only two instances when a team has failed to get at least 20 running back fantasy points against the 49ers: Seattle in Week 2 and Seattle in Week 12. The Seahawks don’t want to run the ball, but the Bears do. I have Howard as a top-five play this week, highest among my fellow rankers.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers: The Panthers are starting to use McCaffrey more in the ground game — he has 27 carries for 151 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns in the past three games — and you already know what he can do as a pass-catcher. On the turf in New Orleans, expect the Panthers to try to get McCaffrey in space quite a bit against a defense that has allowed the sixth-most running back receiving yards and 11th-most running back yards per catch this season. I have McCaffrey as a top-10 play.
Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, Patriots: It used to be you couldn’t figure out a Patriots running back. It would appear those days are over. Lewis now has five straight games with at least 14 touches, and since the Patriots’ Week 9 bye, Burkhead leads the Patriots running backs in targets, catches and scores. I blame the Chiefs’ offensive line and playcalling last week for Kareem Hunt‘s poor performance much more than I credit the Bills’ run defense, which, even after last week, still allows opposing RBs to average 5.13 yards per carry over the past four games, second most in the league. Both Lewis and Burkhead are viable top-20 plays this week.
Others receiving votes: You know the volume will be there for Samaje Perine (47 carries in his past two games), and I’d expect that volume to be effective, as the Cowboys are just 23rd against the run during the past four weeks. … Speaking of volume, Kenyan Drake should get plenty of it with Damien Williams hurt. I’m not scared of the matchup with Denver, either, as the Broncos have allowed seven RBs to score double-digit fantasy points in just the past four weeks alone. … Speaking of Denver, Devontae Booker has now out-snapped C.J. Anderson in four straight weeks and is worth flex consideration against a Miami team that, since Week 5, is coughing up a league-high 4.81 yards per carry to opposing RBs and the third-most running back rushing yards per game (116.6). … For those who have Jerick McKinnon on their roster, I know it has been frustrating to watch Latavius Murray go nuts recently, but I do like McKinnon this week as a flex against a Falcons team that is allowing a league-high 6.5 running back receptions per game this season.
Running backs I hate in Week 13
DeMarco Murray, Titans: He’s averaging 1.86 yards per carry (not a misprint) the past four games, and he has been outgained by Derrick Henry both overall and on a per-carry basis in each of those past four games. Murray is a better pass-catcher and pass-protector, which keeps him on the field, but for our purposes, given the state of the Titans’ offense these days, you’re really gonna need Murray to score for him to pan out. And hey, the Texans did give up two rushing scores on Monday night. But even with that, Houston has still allowed only three rushing scores to running backs this season, tied for fewest in the NFL. With less than 20 rushing yards in three of his past four, I just can’t see trusting Murray in a critical Week 13 matchup.
LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Eagles: Philly’s offense has been nothing short of fantastic this season, and the Eagles have a very good offensive line. But if the carries continue to be split up (and Corey Clement will get some work as well), it doesn’t bode well for lots of fantasy success this week against a Seahawks team that has given up just 2.48 yards per carry to opposing running backs the past four weeks. Since Week 4, no running back has eclipsed 54 yards in a game against the Seahawks, so you’re really hoping for a touchdown here from one of these guys if you start them. Someone will likely score, but I don’t feel confident in saying whom it’ll be, considering the time-share.
Wide receivers I love in Week 13
Davante Adams, Packers: In his past four games, all with Brett Hundley at quarterback, Adams is top six in the NFL in receptions and yards, and has scored three times. In fact, since Week 10, Adams is the sixth-best WR in fantasy, ahead of guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green. You already know I kind of like Hundley in this matchup, so it stands to reason Adams makes this list as well against a Tampa Bay defense that has now given up 73 more fantasy points to WRs than any other team this season.
Jamison Crowder, Redskins: Yes, this is going to be a tough Friday morning for me if the Redskins don’t show up, but I’m on Crowder as a top-20 play this week. Among the areas in which Dallas has struggled all season is defending the slot receiver. The Cowboys have allowed the third-most receptions and fourth-most receiving yards to opposing WRs lined up in the slot this season. And with no Jordan Reed, I once again expect a heavy target share for Crowder. Since Week 8, only DeAndre Hopkins is averaging more targets per game than Crowder’s 10.5. In that span, Crowder is averaging 103.0 receiving yards per game.
Robby Anderson, Jets: With a touchdown in five straight games, there may not be a receiver hotter than Anderson. It’s not just scoring. In the past five games, Anderson is a top-five receiver in terms of (all per game): deep receptions, deep receiving yards and deep TDs. And that lines up nicely with the Chiefs, who have allowed a league-high 11 superdeep completions (30-plus air yards). My expectation is Anderson will move around enough to avoid Marcus Peters, who doesn’t shadow, and really, with Anderson, all you need is one play. Expect Josh McCown to take enough shots to him for one to land. Anderson is locked in as a top-20 play this week facing a K.C. squad that has allowed the third-most WR points this season.
Others receiving votes: With Patrick Peterson expected to shadow Sammy Watkins this week, you knew my little Cooper Kupp was making the list for PPR leagues, especially against a Cardinals team that has allowed the most slot receptions in the league. … Did you know Ted Ginn Jr. has caught at least six passes (on a total of 17 targets) in each of his past two games? It’s a #revengegame for Ginn at home against his former team, a Panthers squad that is 29th against the pass the past four weeks. I like his chances of getting deep for one here. … In a week where you shouldn’t get cute, I will say that if you are desperate or need to swing for the fences, I do like Seth Roberts on Sunday with both Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper expected to miss the game. Since Week 6, the Giants allow third-most fantasy points to WRs and, as mentioned before, they just lost Janoris Jenkins for the season.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 13
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: Pick a stat, any stat. He’s been held under 30, I repeat, 30 yards in five of his past six games. He’s had FEWER THAN THREE catches in five of his past six games. And now he’s on the road to face Jacksonville? The Jags has given up the fewest receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns (just two!) and fantasy points to opposing WRs this season. No, thank you.
Sammy Watkins, Rams: Insert wide receiver facing Patrick Peterson here. Yes, Watkins had his moments last week, but he’s also been inconsistent all season, and now he’s facing the best corner in the league. Don’t get cute.
Josh Gordon, Browns: There’s lots of talk and excitement to see what he can do in his return to the NFL, but while it’s a great story and I am rooting for him, he’s not getting anywhere near my lineup. Could I see him getting one big play? Of course. And I know Hue Jackson says he has “big plans” for Gordon, but until we see it on the field, you can’t trust that in a critical fantasy week like this one, especially against a very good Chargers team that has limited production to outside receivers as of late. The Bolts have not allowed a receiving score to a WR lined up out wide since Week 5 (six straight games).
Tight ends I love in Week 13
Hunter Henry, Chargers: Death, taxes, start your tight ends against the Browns. With a 93-33 snap advantage over Antonio Gates in the past two weeks, the Chargers finally have realized Henry is by far their best tight end. With five or more targets in five of his past seven games, Henry should be a low-end TE1 against a Browns team that has allowed a TE to reach double-digit fantasy points in 10 of 11 games this season, including eight straight, and has coughed up the most receptions and second-most receiving touchdowns to opposing TEs this season.
Others receiving votes: Given the lack of weapons familiar to Derek Carr and the Giants’ well-documented struggles against tight ends, I could see Jared Cook having a nice game. Understand, however, that Cook drives me nuts and that the few times in my life I have actually bought in and recommended him, he has always been awful, so you’ve been warned. … Given Dak Prescott‘s and Dez Bryant‘s recent struggles, I could see more work Thursday night for Jason Witten against a Redskins defense that has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Witten is a TE2 with upside. … In case you were wondering — and I know he has been bad for two weeks and his QB is now Geno Smith — if I have Evan Engram on my roster, I’m starting him.
Tight ends I hate in Week 13
Greg Olsen, Panthers: I’m not even sure he plays in this game, but if he’s active, it’d be tough to throw him back in your lineup until we’ve seen him get through a game healthy. Especially considering the Saints have allowed the third-fewest tight end points since Week 3. He’s merely a risk/reward TE2 this week.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jets: Not a great matchup here, as the Chiefs allow the third-fewest receptions and are tied for the fewest receiving scores allowed to opposing tight ends this season. Plus, even if he did catch a touchdown, it’d probably be overturned by review anyway. ASJ has less than 30 yards in four of his past five, so he’s a risky TE2 this week.
Defenses to stream in Week 13
Tennessee Titans (56 percent available, vs. Texans)
Chicago Bears (65 percent available, vs. 49ers)
New England Patriots (39 percent available, at Bills)
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, reminds you, Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.