Announcing the University Press Fantasy League

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, acquisitions editor for Temple University Press’s sports and sociology lists, writes about the University Press Fantasy Football League he began in honor of our forthcoming book on fantasy sports.

In March 2020, Temple University Press will be publishing a book on the sociology of Fantasy Sports, entitled Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, by Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The topic is sociologically interesting because unlike most sports cultures, Fantasy Sports are online games where players should be on relatively equal competitive standing regardless of gender or other embodied inequalities. But, in fact, the authors argue, many male participants in fantasy sports leagues invest their participation with a lot of meaning because it serves them as a place to enact a hegemonic masculinity they feel is denied to them in other aspects of their life, one often bound up with boyhood ideals. This investment leads them to make the online interactive spaces less than welcoming to competitors who do not resemble the identity they are trying to perform. It can also lead them to concentrate on their Fantasy Sports teams at the expense of other priorities in their lives.

Kissane approved_061319My coworkers at Temple are excited about this book, but they are newcomers to the idea of Fantasy Sports. As we launched the forthcoming book into production, we decided one good way to learn about its subject and become better advocates for the project would be to start our own TUP Fantasy Football Team. And as long as we were starting a Press team, we thought it might be fun to compete against our fellow university presses, in a University Press Fantasy League, or UPFL if you will. Hopefully, it would prove a more fun and welcoming environment than some of those described in the forthcoming book and allow us to build some friendly ties with our fellow university presses.

Fantasy Football is an online game in which teams score points each week based on the achievements of real-life players in NFL games throughout the season. Each team maintains a roster of players by drafting, trading, and starting virtual analogs of real players, who earn points each week based on the performance of the real player. In our league, each participating press will maintain one team throughout the season and go up against a different press each week.

FantasyLast week, 13 teams representing our colleagues at different university presses joined Temple University Press in our UPFL. My colleague Ann-Marie Anderson and I crafted an invitation that we sent out to the Association of University Presses e-mail listserv. I was, frankly, taken aback by how much interest there was immediately, with many responses coming in within minutes with the general gist of, “I don’t know how I’m going to work this out with my colleagues but yes, I want to be a part of this.” I had not been sure that there would be enough interested presses for a respectable eight-team league, but we ended up with a fourteen-team league and had to turn people away. Reading Whose Game?, though, I should have expected the interest: many people find fantasy sports a particularly accessible way to compete and connect with others in a sporting culture, even if they may not be athletic themselves. In fact, many nerdy men in particular, turn to fantasy sports as a way of investing their nerdier instincts with associations with hegemonic masculinity from not only sporting cultures, but also from the performance of analytic decisiveness and managerial power. Knowing this, I was glad to see that the fantasy players we’d recruited included a number of female managers.

Screenshot 2019-09-04 17.03.39In my opinion, all participants acquitted themselves well at the League’s draft on Wednesday September 4, on the eve of the NFL season opener, with the arguable exception of Yahoo’s draft servers, which were slow, a feature that consequently stifled in-draft conversation between teams. My colleague Ashley, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, was pleased to see Temple select Steelers running back James Conner with the Press’s first round pick, the ninth of the draft. She was disappointed to see Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster go to Trinity University Press’s team, so she suggested we offer a copy of Temple University Press’s book, The Steelers Encyclopedia, in exchange for Smith-Schuster. After several attempts thwarted by the aforementioned busy Yahoo servers, I threw the offer into the in-draft chat window. Daniel Griffin of Duke University Press astutely pointed out that the fairness of this offer would have been easier to evaluate if I’d included the specifics of the Encyclopedia’s binding and illustration program. At the end of the draft, Temple’s team looked respectable, if skewed somewhat towards players with connections to the Philadelphia Eagles, including Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Nick Foles (the last of whom was unfortunately injured in the season’s first week of action). Colleagues crowded around the computer to see what this game looked like and how players think about it, which will hopefully help as we pitch the book to its audience. I’d like to thank all the fantasy players and presses who are participating, listed below, as well as the players we had to turn away when the league filled up for their interest.

Wishing all a happy season, in publishing and in fantasy.

Participants:

Columbia University Press

Duke University Press

Longleaf Services/UNC Press

LSU Press

Purdue University Press

Temple University Press

Texas Review Press

Trinity University Press

University of Illinois Press

University of New Mexico Press

University of South Carolina Press

University Press of Colorado

UP of Mississippi

Wayne State University Press


Update on our team–1st week’s results: 
Temple University Press won our matchup this past weekend against Duke University Press by a score of 112.14 to 91.76. (Scores in fantasy football with a lineup of this size and standard scoring are typically around 100 points.) Our team saw excellent performances from Indiana running back Marlon Mack (25.4 points) and Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker (17.5 points) and was further aided by our move to take advantage of the Jets matchup against the Bills and start the Jets defense for a week. You may have heard that the Eagles’ wide receiver Desean Jackson also had an excellent week (27.4 fantasy points) but unfortunately I left him on the bench this week, so those points did not contribute to our total. Depending on how he and our other wide receivers do next week, I’ll have to consider moving him into our starting lineup on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, former Eagle and current Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles, who we’ve rostered as a backup quarterback, broke his collarbone on Sunday. So I’ve gone ahead and replaced him with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. I also added San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert, who has an opportunity since San Francisco’s starting running back was hurt last week. He gets the Jets’ roster spot and we’ll go back to our default defense of Houston this week, facing the Foles-less Jaguars.
This week we face off against J Bruce Fuller, managing editor of Texas Review Press. Yahoo projects a close game.
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Another chance to see Tommy and Me

Tommy and Me, the autobiographical play by Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and the forthcoming Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, is getting an encore production at the Media Theater August 8-26. This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post the author/playwright’s blog entry, slightly tweaked from what published last summer after the original production ended its run.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling when Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play, had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night last year we would go in different directions. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

Eagles;Champions_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why it was so hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

Fly, E-A-G-L-E-S, Fly

This week in North Philly Notes, we continue the celebration of the Eagles and Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia.

Ray Didinger, longtime and beloved sportswriter, was remarkably composed when he visited Temple University Press’ offices in the week leading up to Super Bowl LII. But after the Eagles beat the Patriots in the big game, Didinger, who bleeds green, broke down on camera. Check out this video from NBC Sports’ Post Game Live, which shows Didinger getting emotional.

There is another video, “Philadelphia…This is your moment!” which also features Didinger.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smDidinger’s reaction to the Eagles win was also covered in this column by Rob Tornoe that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 5.

 

By Rob Tornoe

NFL Hall of Fame writer and analyst Ray Didinger is generally known for his calm and level-headed analysis of the Eagles on NBC Sports Philadelphia and SportsRadio 94.1 WIP (unless your name is Chip Kelly).

But early Monday morning, after the Eagles stunning 41-33 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the normally stoic Didinger got emotional when Eagles Postgame Livehost Michael Barkann introduced a guest on set — Didinger’s son, David.

David, who works for NFL Films, embraced his father live on air to celebrate the Eagles first Super Bowl win in an emotional moment that reflects the strong generational bond Birds fans have with their team.

“That scene is being repeated in Philadelphia thousands and thousands and thousands of times,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.

“It’s [for] everybody that didn’t have a chance that see this. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, my Uncle Kevin,” David Didinger noted as his father fought back tears. “I’ve waited 44 year and I swear I’d never thought I’d see this day.

Of course, Ray Didinger has waited longer for this moment than his son. The Eagles last championship came in 1960, when Didinger was just 13 years old. As he attempted to dry his eyes, he pointed out that he’s lived in the same house for 30 years, and during that time he’s had pigeons, hawks and even cats climbing on the garage.

On Saturday, Didinger’s wife told him when she woke up, there was an eagle sitting on the garage.

“I don’t believe in mysticism… She said to me ‘That’s either got to be the spirit of your father or your mother.’ And I truly believe that,” an emotional Didinger said. “To be able to share this with my son is beyond special.”

Last week, Didinger reflected on his family’s love of the Eagles, and tried to sum up what it would feel like if the Birds managed to knock off the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

“My parents and my grandparents,” Didinger told Angelo Cataldi on the WIP Morning Show last week. “They’re all gone. But the last time they won this thing in 1960 we were all together in the east stands at Franklin Field watching it happen. If the confetti starts falling on Nick Foles on Sunday night, the first people I’m going to think about are my parents and grandparents. I think that’s true across the city.

“Family is so tied in to what people feel about this team, that everybody is going to feel exactly the same thing, ‘I wish grandpa was here. I was Uncle Bill was here. I wish they could all share in this,’ ” Didinger said. “Or, if they are still here, they’re all gonna share in it together.”

 

Honoring the E-A-G-L-E-S Encyclopedia author on the eve of the Super Bowl​

This week in North Philly Notes, we honor Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia, as the team gets ready to compete in Super Bowl LII.

Below is a photo gallery of Ray Didinger at Philadelphia’s City Hall where Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. introduced a resolution honoring Ray, who was honored for his induction into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame and for his work covering all sports (not just the Eagles).

Ray5

ClarkeEE

Council president Darrell L. Clarke holding up The New Eagles Encyclopedia. Photo by Maria Gallagher.

Ray and Councilman Jones

Ray Didinger (left) with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., sponsor of the resolution honoring Ray. Photo by Maria Gallagher.

Ray at City Hall

Ray1

Ray receiving his honor from Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Ray3

Ray Didinger (left) with his book and his son David.

 

Ray Didinger on “Tommy and Me”

This week in North Philly Notes,  Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and The New Eagles Encyclopedia, recounts bringing his play Tommy and Mebased on his life, to life on stage.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling Sunday night as Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run from August 3 through 14, I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night we would be going in different directions. Joe Canuso, the director, is going back to work on Rizzo, the play he successful staged last year and is reviving at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in September. Matt Pfeiffer, the actor who played me as an adult, is headed to Naples, Florida, to direct a play. Ned Pryce, the actor who played the young Tommy McDonald, is already in rehearsal for a role with the Iron Age Theatre. Tom Teti is rejoining the team at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern. Simon Kiley, who played the 10-year-old me, is getting ready to start sixth grade at Girard Academic Music Program. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why on Sunday night it was hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

Reflections on the AFL and its merger with the NFL

This week in North Philly Notes, Charles Ross, author of Mavericks, Money, and Men, blogs about the AFL and the growth of the NFL.

As I sat watching the NFL draft I couldn’t help but think about the AFL and its merger with the NFL in 1970.  Pro football is clearly the most popular sport in America and that popularity is largely due to the rival leagues calling a truce and becoming one.  The last two teams to win the Super Bowl were original AFL teams–New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, and interestingly they struggled to achieve success as members of the AFL.  They never won an AFL Championship but the Patriots have won four Super Bowls and the Broncos three.  Maybe more importantly Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams probably didn’t anticipate the teams that made up the so called “foolish club,” being valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, when the original franchise fee was $25,000.

Mavericks_smEvery original AFL team including the two expansion teams have played in the Super Bowl, however, there are two NFL teams that have never had that experience, the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. Again the Browns and Lions picked early on Thursday night, both teams since the merger have arguably struggled to field strong teams led by great quarterbacks and solid defenses, the usual ingredients necessary to reach the pinnacle of a successful pro football season.  The draft was virtually parallel to the percentage of African American players in the NFL, in essence the overwhelming majority of players selected were black.

The two universities that I owe much of my professional success had a historic night.  The Ohio State University where I received my Ph.D. had five players selected in the first round and the University of Mississippi where I have spent the last twenty years since leaving OSU, had three players selected in round one for the first time in school history.  Three of the five players from Ohio State were African American and all three from the University of Mississippi, of course having five players selected in round one for perennial power OSU was not necessarily a surprise.  But for the University of Mississippi to have three players chosen was, unfortunately the controversy that surrounded offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil’s fall to the Miami Dolphins because of posts on his social media page dominated the media’s focus and took the spotlight off what both programs had achieved.

Arguably the growth of the NFL since the merger is a real testament to pro football’s marriage to television.  The medium of television helped to increase the value of franchise’s, players contracts, coaches contracts, and profits from owners.  Large amounts of money fuel these relationships and ultimately the same relationships at the collegiate level.  Billy Cannon signed his contract to play for the Houston Oilers instead of the Los Angeles Rams after the Sugar Bowl in 1960, on New Year’s Day.  Cannon had agreed to contracts with both the Rams and the Oilers which was a NCAA violation, and he signed his contract on television under the goalposts when the game ended.  This was great publicity for the AFL and set the tone for the next six year war between the AFL and NFL.  The saga of Tunsil also played out on national television but like Cannon many fans will want to know more about this young man and his ability to be successful on the football field during this upcoming season.  The Miami Dolphins think he will be successful and so do I.

A lot has changed since the merger but one thing has not, the success of teams will be established on the field.  Publicity both positive and negative will continue to characterize aspects of what is now America’s favorite sport, in many ways the NFL has reached a zenith where the only competition is itself.  Pro football is not competing against the NBA or even major league baseball, its chief competition now is its own public perception.

 

Ray Didinger’s recap of the E-A-G-L-E-S season opener

This week in North Philly Notes, Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopediarecaps the Eagle’s season opener against Atlanta. 

A season of high hopes opened with a shocking disappointment as the Philadelphia Eagles dropped a lackluster 26-24 decision to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. The Eagles offense, which was so dynamic in the pre-season, did not show up until the second half and by then coach Chip Kelly’s team was already in a 20-3 hole. They rallied but ultimately fell short.

“We played a lot better in the second half, but we did not come to play in the first half,” Kelly said. “We didn’t play very well in the first half at all.”

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smThe Eagles were a popular pre-season pick to make the NFL playoffs and possibly play their way into Super Bowl 50. They were the highest scoring team in the league in their four exhibition games and with quarterback Sam Bradford making his first regular season start, the Eagles figured to roll against a lightly regarded Atlanta defense. Instead, they couldn’t get anything accomplished early.
The Eagles had only six first downs in the first half compared to 16 for the Falcons and they were outgained almost two to one. The Falcons had 244 yards in the first half to the Eagles 125. In the second half, the Eagles got their offense untracked and Bradford completed 21 of 25 passes for 219 yards as he brought the team back, but in the final minute his pass bounced off the hands of receiver Jordan Matthews and was intercepted by safety Ricardo Allen icing the victory for Atlanta.
“It just felt like we were playing behind the sticks all day,” Bradford said, referring to the numerous penalties the Eagles committed (they had 10 in the game for 88 yards) which forced the team into long yardage situations. “We couldn’t really get anything going on first down. We were in too many second-and-longs.”
DeMarco Murray made his Eagles debut in the defeat. Murray was the NFL’s leading rusher last season playing for Dallas and he scored two touchdowns against the Falcons, but he finished the game with just nine yards on eight carries. Matthews led all receivers with 10 catches for 102 yards.
The Eagles trailed most of the game but they had a chance to pull ahead with three minutes remaining. They trailed 26-24 but they had third-and-one at the Atlanta 26 yard line. Kelly called for a handoff to Ryan Matthews, a running back acquired from San Diego in the off-season. Matthews was stopped for no gain so Kelly had to make a decision. Should he go for it on fourth down or send kicker Cody Parkey into the game to try a 44-yard field goal? A successful kick would have given the Eagles a 27-26 lead. Kelly went for the field goal, but Parkey’s kick was wide to the right.
“The ball was right in the middle of the field,” Kelly said. “I didn’t think it was a tough one. He’s hit those before.”
“It was my fault,” Parkey said. “There’s no rhyme or reason. I’m human and I missed.”
It was a disappointing performance overall by the Eagles marked by sloppy play, poor tackling, dropped balls and mental mistakes. It makes their home opener Sunday against division rival Dallas even more important. If fans are looking for a silver lining, there is this: The last time the Eagles won the NFL championship was 1960 and that year they lost their opener to Cleveland, 41-24. They came back the next week and defeated Dallas 27-25 to start a nine game winning streak.
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