No one likes the graveyard shift. No one. You’re working while the world sleeps. You’re sleeping while the world works. It’s the shift you don’t want.
Unless, of course, you’re working for NASA and a member of H-Town Shodown, a Fantasy Football league that’s been playing together for a decade and a half. In that case, the graveyard shift isn’t so bad, because on your breaks it gives you several hours advantage on your peers when it comes to the waiver wire. Or at least it used to.
“After a few years we were like, ‘We gotta fix this,’ longtime H-Town Shodown member Marc Spicer said. “Working graveyards, it definitely was an advantage at times.”
It’s just a small glimpse into how dedicated the members of H-Town Shodown — a league started by NASA workers at the Johnson Space Station in Houston — are to their craft. Work, of course, comes first, but fantasy dominates the banter outside of the office.
“I wasn’t a huge football fan (before the league started),” Steve Rosenbaum said, “but I like numbers and stats, and fantasy was a way to have competitive fun with that.”
And so a league was formed in 2002, and H-Town Shodown formally started in 2005. And since 2008, it’s been the same 14 owners battling for the title.
This year, though, Fantasy Football took on a new meaning — and a backseat — for the group. With Hurricane Harvey devastating Houston, the aftermath has been dedicated to piecing peoples’ lives back together.
“Like the rest of Houston, we have all turned our focus towards meeting the immediate needs of our communities and neighbors,” Rosenbaum said in an email. “Every neighborhood has been affected differently and we all live in different places around Houston, so outside of keeping tabs of each other through Facebook posts, we really haven’t had much communication with each other during this time.”
And as with all natural disasters, the people affected are eager to respond and come back stronger.
This fantasy league remains as close as ever, backed by an inclusive and tradition-heavy environment: Every year, the group convenes to think about how the next campaign can be even better. “We add little things every year — I try to think of five things the league can vote on to add,” Rosenbaum said.
“The Bobble” was one of those additions, brought in by Aaron McDonald by 2004 and first awarded to the league champ in 2005. It’s gone through several iterations, growing bigger and more impressive as the years have gone on.
“It really is the ultimate bragging right,” 2015 champ Marc Spicer said. “When I got it I actually brought it into work for a short while so I could get the plates on it when we expanded it. Because I work in a different area than the rest of the guys, I had streams of people coming over like ‘Hey so what’s this thing?’ I spent so much time that day explaining what the trophy was and explaining our league to people.”
And while a lot of leagues will give a trophy to the champ Stanley Cup-style — returned at the end of each year for the next — H-Town Shodown doesn’t stop there. Each champ also gets a stein to keep forever along with a membership in “The Brotherhood of the Bobble.” And there are other awards, too, like Best of the Rest (for fifth place, one spot out of the playoffs), Bottom Dweller (a toilet seat for 14th place), Limp Leg (given to the player who gets the fewest points out of his kicker), and Nostradamus (given to the player who has the lowest score by leaving points on the bench).
On top of organizing get-togethers throughout and after the season, Spicer and Paul Gramm help come up with the awards every year.
“We’ll come with some ideas. We have some standard awards. But then we also try to think of ‘did someone make some silly mistake?’ There are some obvious things we can make fun of somebody about. It’s really once we start talking, we start feeding off each other so much that by the end we’ve got a ton and we have to figure out which ones we actually want to do.”
Many of the awards are meant to be half-honors and half-jokes, and all are an easy tool for either sparking trash talk or being on the end of it. Rosenbaum has kept an Extensive League History to make sure past accomplishments and past failures are never forgotten.
“I’m a data guy so I like keeping the data,” Rosenbaum said. “It’s something fun. Everyone loves looking through it because it holds memories. We look at it and say ‘Wow we’ve been doing this for so long.’ It’s all the little things.”
“The history is great because it’s such a great source for ribbing each other,” said Joe Kitchen, the league’s Stats Stiff. “We’ll go back sometimes. I do the stats during the year and I’ll usually send out the stats every week, usually try to give a little summary, and I’ll oftentimes go grab one of those old awards just to remind somebody of it.”
H-Town Shodown’s success has come from a group of owners who have bought into having fun and sticking together. Every year, there are new wrinkles, new traditions and new opportunities for glory — or embarrassment.
“Everybody has kind of done their own part to bring something to the league,” Spicer said. “Everybody feels a piece of ownership.”
“I think we stay together because we have built so many traditions, and we respect that,” Rosenbaum echoed. “Leaving that would be losing that.”
It’s been a tragic year for Houston. The damage done cannot be rectified in days or weeks or months. Many peoples’ lives will never be the same. But rallying together in the face of adversity is one thing H-Town Shodown has been able to do. If the league can provide any solace whatsoever, it’s doing its job.
“One of the biggest things we all value about our fantasy league is the sense of community,” Rosenbaum said in an email. “There is not a more effective way of building that sense of community then selflessly giving your time and energy to helping your neighbors, which is happening all over Houston since Harvey. I am proud of all the Houstonians who are out helping each other in so many different ways, making a difference and strengthening community bonds.”
If you would like to donate to Hurricane Harvey disaster relief, here’s how you can help.