In the vast sweep of human history, four monumental inventions have made possible the ideal fantasy experience as we currently understand it. They are as follows, listed here in the order of their debut:
• Beer – Neolithic origins, earliest evidence found in Sumerian writings, 6,000 BC;
• American Football – Evolved in mid-1800s, rules defined by Walter Camp, 1879;
• Television – Developed by Philo Farnsworth and others, 1920s;
• NFL RedZone – Launched by NFL Network, 2009.
If you'd like to make an argument for StatTracker or encased meat, fine, we'll listen. But the four things mentioned above really are the fantasy pillars – and if you don't agree that RedZone belongs in the company of such delights, then we question the depth of your commitment. Without a doubt, it was the greatest fantasy enhancement of 2009.
The RedZone concept is simple yet ambitious: Viewers witness every touchdown in every NFL game. The channel jumps between network broadcasts, focusing on games in which a scoring play appears imminent. Let's say, for example, that the Giants have a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line and you're actively rooting for Brandon Jacobs(notes). RedZone will take you live to the game's next snap on Fox … and to the inevitable Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) touchdown (The channel won't actually fix your fantasy team, we're sorry to report). In the hands of the wrong studio host, RedZone might not seem like such a gift to the fantasy community. But Scott Hanson clearly understands that his audience's connection to most NFL games is statistical, not regional.
If you've ever raged against the tyranny of Sunday Ticket, RedZone is a necessity. The rest of the year's top fantasy stories were tricky to rank, but No. 1 was obvious. Let's go double-box to review the remaining items …
2. Chris Johnson chases Dickerson, Faulk, history: If you owned Titans running back Chris Johnson in 2009, there's a very good chance you won a league title. He's rushed for more than 100 yards in every game since Week 6. Johnson will enter Tennessee's final game just 74 yards shy of Marshall Faulk's(notes) single-season record for yards from scrimmage (2,429); he's also 233 yards away from Eric Dickerson's absurd rushing record (2,105). In all likelihood, he'll be the first player selected in 2010 drafts. Believe it or not, there was once a Johnson-vs.-Slaton debate – and Slaton won, easily.
3. Manny Ramirez(notes) leads this year's PED suspension/admission parade: It's hardly fair to make Manny the face of steroid use in Major League Baseball, because A) he wasn't the only megastar implicated in 2009 and B) maybe the man really was having problems with, um … female infertility. But when Manny drew a 50-game suspension for his hormonal tinkering, the punishment came without warning and his production was impossible to replace. Manny's absence gave Juan Pierre a short-term value boost, but those two don't exactly contribute in the same categories. The suspension cost Manny something like $7.7 million in lost salary; it cost fantasy owners two months of production from their second-round pick.
4. The new Yankee Stadium is a home run buffet: When the Yankees concluded their first six-game homestand in the new ballpark on April 22, a total of 26 homers had been hit and 83 runs had been scored. We knew something was up. By the end of the season, seven different New York regulars had hit at least 20 home runs. Yankee Stadium finished as the most homer-friendly park in baseball, and by a significant margin. Meet the new Coors Field. Set lineups accordingly.
5. The Detroit Red Wings, now with 50 percent less scoring: The Red Wings ranked 23rd in the NHL in goal-scoring as of Dec. 25, and they were just eight goals ahead of the team in last place. Here's where Detroit has ranked in scoring over the past 10 years, beginning with last season: 1st, 3rd, 10th, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 1st and 3rd. It's a long, dramatic fall to 23rd place. The Red Wings were blanked twice in four days by the Chicago Blackhawks just before Christmas. Those who drafted Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and/or Chris Osgood aren't pleased.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) takes a knee, continues disturbing trend: MJD has been a long-time friend to the fantasy community and we've been good to him. It's a symbiotic relationship. He leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns; we feature him on the cover of draft previews. Everyone wins. Well, everyone except those who needed six additional fantasy points from MJD back in Week 10. That's when Jones-Drew pulled a modified Westbrook, taking a knee at the goal line instead of scoring. His decision may have assisted his real-life team, but it doomed many of his imaginary employers.
7. $75 million worth of Mets hits the DL: In your 2009 baseball draft, four of the top 20 picks probably were Mets. By late August, all of them – Jose Reyes, David Wright, Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran – were on the disabled list. So were Carlos Delgado, John Maine and J.J. Putz. So was the organization's top prospect, Fernando Martinez. It was an absolute massacre. The year began with unlimited promise, yet ended with a staggering amount of payroll on the DL.
8. The re-un-retirement of Brett Favre(notes): For a second straight offseason, the Brett Favre Theater of Pain dominated NFL headlines. He waffled and re-waffled, but finally demonstrated the health of his right arm to everyone's satisfaction. Favre went undrafted in virtually all fantasy leagues, but he enters Week 16 with 27 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. In his 17 previous seasons as a starter, Favre has never thrown fewer than 13 picks. If you expected him to have a career year at age 40, congratulations. Most of us did not. Bonus points if you also guessed that he would begin making personnel decisions in the final weeks of the regular season.
9. Kevin Durant vaults into the first round: It's not uncommon for NBA players to make a significant leap from their rookie season to their second. Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised us that Durant improved across the board in 2008-09, establishing himself as an early first-round pick for the foreseeable future. He added 5.0 points per game, 2.1 rebounds and 0.6 3-pointers last year, and his field goal percentage rose from 43.0 to 47.6. The Thunder won only 23 games last season; this year, they were 14-14 following a Dec. 23 victory at Phoenix.
10. Yahoo! live scoring is now free: Realistically, you couldn't expect us not to tout the great StatTracker giveaway of '09. Fantasy users spoke, we listened. Thanks for a terrific year, gamers.