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Mendenhall perspective hits home

By Steve Schwarz, Fantasy Sports Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Rashard Mendenhall announced his retirement on Sunday in his blog. Turns out, he is not just an NFL running back, he is also a thoughtful man.

But we will start with his value as an NFL fantasy asset.

Mendenhall played football for 17 years, starting with pee-wee ball in 1997, and it included six seasons in the NFL for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals.

For three seasons (2009-11), he was a top-flight fantasy running back. Over that span, Mendenhall averaged 1,103 rushing yards, 194 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. That's quality work.

In the 2010 and 2011 fantasy drafts, he was a top-10 running back and a top-20 overall selection.

The last two seasons, however, have been fraught with injuries that took away from his fun and his value to fantasy owners. He rebounded last season despite the aches and pains to produce 687 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

But being a smart man, Mendenhall could see he wasn't going to be a major contributor in the future. Rookie Andre Ellington flashed big-time talent in his work behind the Cardinals' offensive line and going forward he will be the fantasy running back to own in the desert.

So, instead of trying to catch on somewhere else just to bring in a big paycheck, Mendenhall retired.

Many people, including this writer, respect that decision.

In his blog, he noted the difference between the game he knew and loved as a kid, and what it has become.

This is from his well-written Huffington Post piece:

"The culture of football now is very different from the one I grew up with. When I came up, teammates fought together for wins and got respect for the fight. The player who gave the ball to the referee after a touchdown was commended; the one who played through injury was tough; the role of the blocking tight end was acknowledged; running backs who picked up blitzing linebackers showed heart; and the story of the game was told through the tape, and not the stats alone. That was my model of football."

The translation here is simple - it was all about the team.

He goes on, however.

"Today, game-day cameras follow the most popular players on teams; guys who dance after touchdowns are extolled on Dancing With the Starters; games are analyzed and brought to fans without any use of coaches tape; practice non- participants are reported throughout the week for predicted fantasy value; and success and failure for skill players is measured solely in stats and fantasy points. This is a very different model of football than the one I grew up with."

Translation - it is no longer about team, it's about self and self-promotion.

Part of this is about money. Sports are big business. The more fame, the bigger the paycheck. The better statistics, the bigger the paycheck.

But it is also an unfortunate side effect of fantasy sports.

Those who play fantasy sports look at the game slightly differently. We look at the statistics. We analyze the numbers in many different ways. But we only look at the numbers.

The running back who picks of the blitz is noted, but statistically it doesn't help a player's fantasy total, so it is not valued as highly as it should be.

Or as much as the team itself should value the fact that he kept his quarterback upright and healthy.

The fans, and fantasy owners, clamor for the guy who can put up bigger stat lines, whether it is better for the team's future or not.

That's not good for the game of football.

Sometimes I wish I could just root for my favorite team as I did when I was a kid and only one thing mattered - winning.

Today I frequently have to root for my team to give up a lot of points to the opponent, so my fantasy player will do well, and then I hope my team can pull out the win. Almost as an afterthought.

Yes, Rashard, it is a different game than it was when you started out.

And despite the fact that I, and many like me who love playing fantasy sports, it's not necessarily for the better.

03/10 11:45:49 ET


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