By Mark Nagi

It finally happened.

After 25 years of playing fantasy football, many of those years playing in more than one league, I can finally put a fantasy football championship on my resume.

My team, “Schiano Sunday,” beat Russell Smith’s “Freshwater Sarks” 115-75 in the finals in the Tennessee Sports Media League. As you’d guess by the name, this is a league for current and former sports media members in the Volunteer state. Smith is the host of “The Drive” on Fox Sports Knoxville.

If you are a regular reader of The Knoxville Focus, you might remember my column from a few weeks ago. In that article, I explained that I hate fantasy football, how I’ve gained nothing but pain and anguish from the experience, and how I have been bred to expect the worst… because the worst always happens.

This year, by the grace of sweet baby Jesus, it didn’t.

This was in my third league (don’t judge). I had a terrific team throughout the season.  I made some great draft picks (Dalvin Cook, Travis Kelce), picked up some key guys on the waiver wire (Jeff Wilson Jr.) and had the mental fortitude to start Mitchell Trubisky of all people at quarterback in the championship game.

But I was waiting for the other shoe to drop at any moment. This is what I had been trained for all these years. I was never going to win… there was going to be some sort of devastating occurrence that took away my hopes and dreams.

This year it looked like it was going to happen against Jesse Smithey’s “Pigskin Spice Latte” in the semifinals.

I led in that game most of the day. ESPN gave me a 99% chance of winning at one point. Then, disaster struck. Deandre Hopkins caught a long touchdown pass against Philadelphia, and he took a 92-90 lead. I still had Kelce playing against the Saints, but that game was in the fourth quarter.

Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid did me a solid, tossing the ball to Kelce on a two-point conversion. That tied the game with Smithey. I had the tiebreaker but got an extra point from Kelce later in the game to pad the lead.

Then, like a lunatic, I paced on my porch, constantly refreshing the Arizona/Philadelphia game status on my phone. I needed that game to end in regulation because Hopkins could still pick up points should the contest go to overtime. I’m like Rain Man when it comes to fantasy football numbers, so I was examining every possibility.

But a Hail Mary was knocked down, and I escaped with a 93-92 victory.

In years past these were the games I always found a way to lose.

But not this year.

I know that many of you play fantasy football.  You probably have stories just like mine, of championships lost because a player slid down before crossing the goal-line, or a 0.1-point loss due to a quarterback end of game kneel down.

Believe me. I feel your pain.

So, keep hope alive. Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars. Keep on keeping on.

There is one more part to this dynamic. When the clock finally struck zero on the Titans/Packers game, and I was mathematically assured of victory, I cracked open a beer and gave a little fist pump that only my dog Bailey saw. I thought I’d feel a lot more happiness… but I didn’t.

I remember Phillip Fulmer (and I’m sure others) saying that the pain of losing is worse than the joy of winning (or something to that effect). And that is totally the case.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy this for the next nine months.

Who wants to hear more about how great I am at fantasy football!

And yes, I say that knowing another 25-year streak is sure to begin in 2021.