A Fantasy-Football League Unafraid to Commit to the Bit

WENJIA TANG

Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.

This week she talks with five representatives of a 12-person fantasy-football league called Raccoon Nation. Their commitment to the league has led to an elaborate infrastructure of regulations and statistics, a trophy for the winners, punishments for the losers, and even merch. They discuss the inner workings of Raccoon Nation, and how it’s ultimately more about the friendship than the football.

The Friends:

Spencer Carr, a 28-year-old environmental scientist who lives in Morrisville, North Carolina. He is the league secretary, and his team’s name this season is the Carr Football Team. “Like the Washington Football Team,” he says.
Marcus Crotts, a 28-year-old sales rep who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the league historian, and his team’s name is Beercules.
Roy Jacobs, a 27-year-old attorney who lives in Hampstead, North Carolina. He is league counsel, and his team’s name is Bush Did Spygate.
Kyle McMahan, a 28-year-old marketing manager who lives in Charlotte. He is the league “media manager” (he reached out to me nominating this friendship), and his team’s name is the Humongous Melonheads.
Matt Powell, a 28-year-old software consultant who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the league statistician, and his team’s name is Tres Leches.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Julie Beck: Give me the Wikipedia summary of Raccoon Nation.

Kyle McMahan: We’re 12 guys who have formed our bond around fantasy football. The league started in 2012, when we were in college. We’re now in year nine.

Matt Powell: It formed mostly because of NC State housing decisions. Me and my freshman roommate, Jacob, are from the same hometown, and we lived together in college. Spencer and Marcus were from different places, but they lived in the same suite as us. We all were a door or two down from each other.

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Marcus Crotts: The name goes back to freshman year. Me, Matt, and [our friends] Jacob and Karthik were doing stupid stuff like 19-year-olds do, trying to make each other laugh. Matt said, “Hey, Karthik, what if when you took your exam tomorrow and you went to grab a pencil, you accidentally grabbed a raccoon?” It just spiraled from there; it became an inside joke. My mom thinks it’s funny. She made me a raccoon mask.

Roy Jacobs: Everyone in Raccoon Nation either went to North Carolina State University or Mooresville Senior High School [in Mooresville, North Carolina]. I fall in the latter [category].

Kyle: When a league member dropped out, we had a lot of interest. We didn’t have lazy members; we took it pretty seriously. So we decided to open it up and say, “You have to make a league submission, and we’ll vote on it.” Which is how Roy got in.

Raccon Nation members attend an NC State football game in 2019. Spencer is second from the left, Roy fourth from the right, Kyle third from the right, and Matt is on the far right. (Courtesy of Kyle McMahan)

Beck: Roy, did you know someone in the league when you applied?

Roy: I went to high school and was friends with two members, Trent and Michael. I would visit them [at NC State], so I knew everybody, but I wasn’t friends with them until after I joined. I had a really good time writing my application letter, and I think I got in by one vote. It was tight; it wasn’t a landslide.

Kyle: We were fresh out of high school, so the college-application process was on our minds. We said, “You have to write some sort of letter, and possibly have references.”

Roy: I was applying to a lot of jobs and law schools. So I just used a cover-letter template that I had, and filled it in with stuff about how I had won a Fantasy League before. I name-dropped all the people in the league I knew and made my case.

Beck: Did Roy get the votes of everyone that is on this call? What criteria did you use in making your votes?

Kyle: I think I voted for Roy.

Spencer Carr: I was impressed with how seriously he took the process and that he won a league before. That’s why he got my vote.

Marcus: I knew him better than I knew the other person. Certain people in the league who didn’t vote for him, we always bring that up around them to make it as uncomfortable as possible.

Matt: The person he’s talking about is me. I didn’t really know Roy that well, but I’m glad he got in, obviously.

Beck: It seems like your league has a pretty complex organizational structure. Was it this way from the beginning, or did it have more humble origins? Do you think there’s something unique about this group of friends that has led to people being so committed?

Kyle: It has snowballed. Everybody is looking for their place in the league and how they can contribute. Spencer gave everyone a branded koozie on our trip.

Spencer: My girlfriend got me a Raccoon Nation koozie, because she’s into the league. I’ve been trying to get a Real Housewives of Raccoon Nation started. I was like, “You know what? This would be a great gift for the rest of the league.”

Kyle: Once you see the level of commitment that everybody is putting in, it makes you want to go above and beyond what you would for a normal fantasy league.

Marcus: Back in college, we did a combine. If you’re a college player going to the NFL, they measure your 40 [yard dash] time, your bench press, all that. We’re planning on doing that again for our 10-year anniversary.

Matt: One of our members also does a weekly podcast where he has one of us on. We talk about fantasy; he breaks down everything that happened in the week, with some friendship stuff sprinkled in. It’s not on iTunes or anything. He records it and sends it out to us.

Spencer: Kyle made a PowerPoint presentation for a package of rule changes he wants to make in the league, called Amendment One. That inspired me later when I wanted to make a rule change. I made my own PowerPoint presentation. Unfortunately Kyle’s rule didn’t pass, but mine did.

Marcus: That kind of enthusiasm is definitely contagious. We all feel so invested and committed—not only to the fantasy-football aspect, but also to the friendship. And it’s just fun, honestly. I’m sure that didn’t feel like work for them to put together those PowerPoints.

Roy: We’ve certainly matured. Now we do presentations, but it was chaotic at the beginning—when we just had a Facebook page and we would get into several different argument threads.

Beck: Are there major controversies from over the years that stand out to you? I’m seeing nods.

Roy: Oh, definitely.

Marcus: We’re a keeper league. You pick two players that you keep for the next season, to keep some continuity from season to season. We’ve argued about that a lot.

Kyle: Let’s just say if there was going to be a civil war within this league, it would be based around having keepers or not.

The Raccoon Nation league trophy and flag. (Courtesy of Kyle McMahan

Beck: Walk me through a season in Raccoon Nation, from beginning to end.

Spencer: We kick things off with the owners meetings. The purpose of them is just to promote fellowship. In the early years, we went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. All 12 of us were in a 900-square-foot condo, just on top of each other. When we were closer geographically, we would always draft together as well during the weekend. Since people have spread out across the country, we draft virtually now.

Matt: The owners meeting has definitely turned into more of a vacation. I currently don’t live in North Carolina, where most everyone else lives. So I don’t get to see my friends as much anymore.

Roy: If everyone can be [at the owners meeting], the trophy officially gets exchanged to the winner from the previous champion.

Kyle: After we have the draft, the season obviously parallels the NFL season. But throughout that, there’s a bunch of transactions, trades between teams, and so on. Then we go to a six-team playoff and crown a champion. This is what the trophy looks like. [Holds the trophy up to the camera.]

Beck: Oh wow, is that a flex? Are you the current champion?

[Laughter]

Marcus: The zero-time champion.

Kyle: Julie, you really just set up an alley-oop there. I am stewarding the trophy right now. I actually think I have the second-worst record in the league.

Roy: The current champion, Jacob, is not on this call.

Kyle: So the winner gets the trophy, and the loser has a specific punishment. They might have to sit inside a Waffle House for 24 hours, or dress up in a tutu and stand on the side of the road holding up a sign saying I suck at Fantasy Football.

Spencer: As part of finishing in last place you have to retire your team name permanently.

Beck: But you also have these other creative punishments? How are those decided?

Kyle: We have an email address, and submissions are voted on by the league.

Beck: Any other standout memories from your trips over the years?

Kyle: Well… I’m just trying to think of an appropriate one.

We have a flag that we fly. We have a portable flagpole. We were flying it on our beach spot, and this group of guys came over and asked, “How much for your flag?” And we were like, “No, no, no. We’re not going to sell it to you. It literally would mean nothing to you, and it’s our league flag.” They challenged Marcus and I to a cornhole competition for it. And thankfully we won.

League members raise the Raccoon Nation flag on the beach in Charleston, South Carolina. (Courtesy of Kyle McMahan)

Spencer: The flag’s logo kind of looks like the United States flag, because there’s stars and stripes on there, and it’s red, white, and blue. On that same trip, we were trying to take a picture for Instagram, planting it like the Marines on Iwo Jima. And this lady came by and asked, “Are you guys Army veterans?” And we had to say, “No, we’re just a fantasy-football league.”

Beck: Did you change any of your procedures for the pandemic season?

Roy: Our owners meeting happened over Zoom. We weren’t sure if the NFL season would actually happen, or if it would actually finish. So we picked a cutoff date. If the season lasted at least that long, whoever was in first place that week we would make a champion.

Beck: Matt, you’re the statistician—what do you track?

Matt: God, I’m so happy you just asked that question.

[Matt opens and screen-shares an enormous Excel document on the Zoom call.]

Matt: I keep track of everyone’s wins and losses. We have some league records; we have how well teams perform in the playoffs. I keep track of how well we play one another in one-on-one situations. Spencer and I have a pretty good rivalry, because the record is pretty close. However, Kyle has not beaten me but one time in the past nine years.

A screenshot of Matt’s Raccoon Nation statistics spreadsheet (Courtesy of Matt Powell)

Beck: In his email, Kyle referred to this as a fantasy-football league that turned into a support group. Was there a turning point at which something that’s a group hobby became a deeper part of your lives?

Roy: Obviously we were friends—but now as time goes on, we’re all reaching these big life milestones. One of my big regrets is that not all of Raccoon Nation was invited to my wedding. And I’m the only person to not invite the whole league; big mistake by me.

Matt: Big of you to get out in front of that, Roy.

Marcus: I’m an only child, so I don’t have a very big family. I would call Raccoon Nation my family. That sounds really cheesy, but it’s true. So a few years ago I moved from Raleigh to Charlotte to be closer to Kyle and [league member] Michael, who lives here as well. Matt will also be moving up here in a couple of weeks.

Beck: Matt, what are you moving for? To be close to friends?

Matt: I spent about six years in Atlanta, and I’ve loved it. But since then, a lot of my friends have moved away, and spending a COVID year in Atlanta has kind of opened up the question of, “Do I really want to be here? Do I want to make a change?” Personal reasons.

Kyle: Do you want to talk about Trent, guys?

Roy: Trent is my best friend who was the best man at my wedding, and he’s also in the league. We were all on a Zoom right when the pandemic started and it was still novel to do a Zoom happy hour. We were all having a good time, and then unfortunately, Trent announced that he had testicular cancer. That shocked all of us.

It wasn’t like we could go out and support him. During COVID, he’s more prone to get sick. But I texted everyone. The question wasn’t “Does anybody want to do something to help Trent?” It was “What are we going to do?” Matt put together a spreadsheet, and we sent Trent a giant care package.

Kyle: We sent him a bunch of DoorDash gift cards and video-game gift cards and a pillow with a bunch of pictures of us on it.

Roy: His mom reached out to me afterward about how much it meant to him, thinking it was just me. I was really happy to say, “No. It wasn’t me; it was all of us.”


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