Court Watson, 30, competes in one of those ultra-intense fantasy hockey leagues on Yahoo! Sports.
The 14-team Go Puck Yourself Fantasy Hockey League has a league charter; spreadsheets that track financial and player transactions; a blog that chronicles the daily league results and news; and, of course, The Anze Cup (see it here), a beer stein awarded to the fantasy GM who wins the annual postseason tournament, and named in honor of the amusing similarity between one fantasy owner and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings (see it here).
Watson was in last place in this league when he decided to get aggressive: Trading Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers for rookie Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers. The trade sparked a rally to third-place for his team, the Everett Silvertips, and Watson soon realized Hall would be a keeper for subsequent seasons.
During this run, Watson's best friend Jesse was visiting Edmonton, saying hello to old friend and Oilers defenseman Jim Vandermeer. Since Watson took him to the Masters last year, Jesse figured he owed him one, and texted Watson back in Seattle:
"I'm in Edmonton. Anything you want?"
Watson replied that he'd like a Taylor Hall jersey with an autograph, in honor of his fantasy impact, to hang in his office — but not just any autograph. "I don't want it if it's just some generic 'All the Best.' I want to be able to tell everybody that he acknowledges me at being the best fantasy hockey GM," Watson wrote back.
Any puckhead that's dedicated time, thought and flop-sweat to a hockey pool understands the blurred lines between fantasy and reality. Taylor Hall is trying to get his team into the postseason and win the Calder Trophy; fantasy GMs are dying inside because he doesn't have more power-play assists.
To talk fantasy with a real player is to veer uncomfortably close to Geekville, population Trekkers having Kirk/Picard debates and owners of 20-sided dice. But it was an opportunity Watson wasn't going to waste. And hell, he had a surrogate making the request anyway.
Jesse met Taylor Hall at a team lunch, presenting him with the jersey and the requested autograph. Hall laughed, said it was one of the most unusual requests he had ever received … and promptly signed it:
"Court, You are an awesome GM! Your Keeper, Taylor Hall."
"I was debating whether I wanted him to say, 'You made a great move trading for me' or 'You're an awesome fantasy GM.' But 'you're an awesome fantasy GM' is more an acknowledgment of my superiority over my friends in the league," said Watson, over the phone on Wednesday night. "I kinda felt weird [asking] an 18-year-old kid for an autograph. But the fact that he did it is awesome."
The fact that he did it, Watson said, also makes Hall an untouchable on his fantasy team, which will return next season with eyes on the Anze Cup.
The Cup's inscription: "Awarded to he who demonstrates the acumen and prowess to be the champion of fantasy hockey." And, perhaps, he who has been endorsed by the first overall pick in the draft.