Ask Sigmund Bloom who he became a football writer and draft analyst and he’ll tell you that its because he’s a compulsive talker, narcissist, and egomaniac and he found and audience that accepted it. As his colleague at Footballguys.com I can assure you that he’s not a narcissist or an egomaniac. However if you heard last week’s Audible Roundable podcast, you witnessed an impressive feat of compulsive talking when Bloom ran down just about every move made in a free agency period that has been slammed with moves in a compacted period of time. Bloom might be best known as a senior staff writer and podcast host at Footballguys.com but he is also a co-founder of Draftguys.com, a site that was one of the pioneers of using the Internet to broadcast video analysis of players they filmed at all-star practices. Personally, I think the “Bloom 100,” is one of the best quick reference, fantasy-friendly rankings of draftable rookie prospects available. Bloom and I spent an hour discussing when he got the football bug, his love for the machinations of the game, and the role of stats in fantasy analysis.
Waldman: When did you catch the football bug?
Bloom: I was born the year the Steelers won their first Super Bowl. I can remember being inundated with Steelers football as much as anything I can remember from my childhood. The first really big moment for me as a football fan was John Riggins run in the Super Bowl versus Miami. It was a disappointing year as Steelers fan as they got knocked out by the Chargers and I had high hopes for them. But I really grew to love the Smurfs and Riggins and everything about that team. That was a totally electrifying moment. I think when I look back on my life as an NFL fan it was after that when I was totally hooked.
Waldman: I remember that season and Riggins play fondly as well. He had been in the NFL for a while and that year was a great way to wind down his career. I remember in Jim Brown’s autobiography how much respect the all-time great had for Riggins as a running back.
Bloom: On a personal note, any of the true individuals that have been the best at what they do in the NFL are guys like I admire: Riggins, Joe Namath, and other guys who are clearly march to the beat of their own drummer. Another guy we recently talked about before we began this interview was Arian Foster. I like to see those kind of guys make it in the NFL. It was another reason to love that moment.
Waldman: I think your “beat of their own drummer” explanation is a reason I’ve always admired Ricky Williams despite his personal ups and downs during his career. Williams has a very philosophical spirit. Foster was actually a philosophy major. Anyhow, tell me about your transition from Steelers fan to fantasy football fanatic?
Bloom: I had some lean times as a Steelers fan in the late `80s and I really loved Randall Cunningham, Seth Joyner, and the Eagles teams of that era. I was disappointed that they never got over the hump. But fantasy football became a passion for me when I got an office job in 2000. Being in front of the computer all day, I discovered Footballguys.com on the Internet and it was all really blowing up. It was so easy to get lost in that world and I don’t think I’ll ever find my way out of it.
Waldman: I got into fantasy football around 1995, but it was a friend of mine who turned me onto Footballguys.com around 1999. I even wrote a freelance article for them in 2001, but never seriously considered writing about the hobby for another three or four years. How did that transition happen from fan and fantasy owner to writer?
Bloom: I’m a compulsive talker, narcissist, and an egomaniac…
Bloom: …I believe people want to hear me organize my thoughts and put them out there. I’m really fortunate that the kind people in our audiences have accepted it and found something worth their time and attention. I hope it continues. Cecil Lammey and I would talk just to hear the sound of our voices. When I’m writing it’s just a monologue in my own head anyway.
Waldman: Football – especially fantasy football – can become a yearlong grind for people working in the industry. Tell me why you still love the sport and the hobby after all of these years.
Bloom: It’s like an epic tale and the pages are always turning. Every news turn is a cliffhanger and the resolution is often another cliffhanger. The draft is a perfect example. You have an epic tale of these players lives and their collegiate careers that culminates in this one three-day meeting in New York City and their destiny is changed. The entire destiny of teams is changed by the decisions that they make to trade or select players that in a snap moment will have repercussions for years.
Then the questions follow: What’s the next page in the book? How will the player’s career unfold? What will be his fit with the team? How will it effect the veterans at his position? It never ends. Every year is a new iteration. The offseason is a new season for the front office and scouting department of the team. It’s unbelievably fascinating. There’s a huge element of the human drama running through every story. It will never be anything but infinitely fascinating to me.
Waldman: Which storylines in the past decade that have really hooked you?
Bloom: You brought up Ricky Williams. I think Ricky Williams is unbelievably fascinating. Here’s this guy who breaks a record on a Sunday night game and a few hours later he’s just back at his apartment eating a burrito and just hanging out. It’s fascinating to me when someone has the gift and the dedication to be one of the best in the world at what he does, but doesn’t seek the glory, the limelight, the approval, and the attention that comes with it.
Most everything that New England does is interesting. The way they run their organization and what we learn on the outside from what gets revealed in hindsight. It’s such a 21st century approach to running a sports franchise and the results have been second to none. Just this week we see more developments that just show that they get it. Not everything that they do turns out right. A lot of their draft picks miss. They lose in spectacular fashions. But you know that New England is involved in the story and everyone is paying attention.
Waldman: What they are able to do to maximizes their strengths is just incredible.
Bloom: Yeah. They create a strategy in the draft that gives them latitude to miss. When you trade picks this year to get more picks next year and occasionally consolidate to get a player that you want in the draft then you can afford to miss. You can afford to do these either/or propositions. Sure they likely missed on Brandon Tate and Taylor Price, but they gave up a paltry fifth- and sixth-round pick for Chad Ochocinco who will likely be better than either one may ever be at their peak. And the Patriots continue to reproduce these kinds of moves. They are covering their bases and continuing to put down bets that have great odds. If the bet hits they pay off in 10-, 20-, or 30-1 odds and they only need one of those to hit while they continue to lay down five of those at a time.
Waldman: If someone gave you a chance to be a part of the NFL in any capacity what role would you take?
Bloom: I would love to be in the war room during the draft. Isn’t that what we love about fantasy football, the war room mentality in the draft? I think this free agency period we had really highlighted those same qualities of the draft. I like the idea of having to make split-second decisions, gauging what your competitors are doing, anticipating what cards are they holding – just like poker – how are they going to play them and then you try to extrapolate their actions and come up with a strategy. Just like in he draft when a pick falls into place and you use that information to try to figure out what might happen next and then act on it. With free agency its about who gets signed, seeing the numbers involved, and gauging what the marke now is for other players at his position. I love that moving target scenario where it takes having clarity and strong decisions. This includes the on-field aspects of play calling and adjustments at half-time. Being in the moment and taking strong stances and backing them up.
Waldman: I see that approach with what you write about, which leads to my next question. Fantasy football as a whole has two distinct camps of analysts: observer types and numbers types. I think there is a place for both approaches and a lot of good work comes from these separate camps. However, I think the best work comes from people who combine both approaches using relevant stats and relevant on-field observations into a cogent analysis. Tell us about your philosophy as a fantasy writer and your approach with stats and observation.
Bloom: I’m going to have to bring up a quote by the great Mark Twain: “People commonly use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost; for support rather than illumination.”
If we lived on Mars and couldn’t watch the game and all we got was the data then I would very much lap up all of the stat-driven approaches. Otherwise, what I see is people selectively picking statistics to back up what they believe. I want to know why they believe what they believe anyway and not the stats that you can find to back it up. Otherwise, I just believe that the sample size is too small and there are too many variables and to truly create any predictive indicators or formulas.
You’re throwing a bunch of disparate cases together to find commonalties and observations without actually looking at the game. I think watching the players is always how we’re going to come up with the true hot takes to help you win your league. Something else I would love to point out is that fantasy football analysis is not about finding the cases that adhere to the rule. Everybody can do that.
Bloom: …The stats are never going to tell you anything significant like Arian Foster’s breakout last year. The stats are never going to tell you that Chris Johnson will run for 2000 yards in a season. The stats are never going to say that Hakeem Nicks can do what he did last year. I actually saw the fact that Hakeem Nicks was so productive on so few catches in his rookie year as an argument against him in his second year because he’d actually have to regress to the mean! So I just think there is a certain point where you just have to trust your eye and that’s how you’ll have success in fantasy football.