'We're trying to make a TV show here': Why directors of 'The Office' dreaded fantasy football season

Excuse the directors of “The Office” if they grew to dread football season.

Nothing disrupted the filming of the acclaimed sitcom more than the obsession the cast and crew had with beating each other in fantasy football.

The fight for bragging rights started anew each July when the men and women of The Office convened in Van Nuys, California, to begin work on a new season of the show. Fantasy league members often devoted as much time to researching draft targets over the next month as they did writing scripts, reciting lines or transporting gear.

Once the NFL season began, the competition picked up. An injury to a key running back would send league members scrambling to the nearest computer to claim his backup. Spirited trade negotiations sometimes caused actors to lose track of time and emerge late from their trailers.

It was even problematic that the computers had Internet access on the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company set. Actors whose desks were in the background of a scene risked a scolding if the camera panned in their direction and caught them perusing NFL news or setting their lineup.

“So many times during football season the directors would say, ‘Guys, you’ve got to turn your screens off,’ ” actor Stephen Saux, a stand-in for eight years on The Office, told Yahoo Sports. “They would get a little upset about fantasy football sometimes. They’d be like, ‘We’re trying to make a TV show here.’ ”

‘The Office’ fantasy football league turns 16

It has been a little more than seven years since TV’s most endearing ode to workplace drudgery ended its nine-season run, but The Office’s fantasy football league has long outlasted the show. More than half of the 12-person league’s founding members will participate in its 16th season this year, a testament to the enduring friendship among the cast and crew.

John Krasinski, who portrayed likable everyman paper salesman Jim Halpert, has been part of the league since its inception. So has Rainn Wilson, who brought to life Halpert’s self-absorbed, socially awkward office rival Dwight Schrute. Also there from day one is Brian Baumgartner, who played Dunder Mifflin’s dimwitted accountant Kevin Malone.

(Moe Haidar/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Moe Haidar/Yahoo Sports illiustration)

The other nine members of the league weren’t on screen as much as that trio but each played a role in The Office’s popularity. There are supporting actors and sound guys, writers and camera operators, production assistants and prop masters.

“The family atmosphere on that show was very special,” Mike Bertolina, a longtime crew member responsible for overseeing the props used on The Office, told Yahoo Sports. “There was tremendous camaraderie across the board in all departments. It felt like everyone really genuinely loved each other. Our fantasy league is obviously one segment of that overall crew, but it keeps that spirit alive.”

Ask the cast and crew of The Office why they became so close, and they’ll often point to two main factors: the threat of cancelation and the fact that when the show started none of them were famous.

No one — not even Steve Carell — had made it big when the show first aired in spring 2005, so there were no egomaniacs on set. The Office also appeared poised for oblivion during its shaky debut season as ratings were low, reviews were tepid and NBC executives were skeptical and impatient.

“We were going to be canceled after six episodes and then we literally packed up and moved our stuff out because we thought we were done after 12,” Baumgartner told Yahoo Sports. “That experience bonded us together. Now we’ve got Jack Ryan and Oscar nominees and everything else, but at the time we were all just nobodies feeling fortunate to have a job.”

It doesn’t take a detective to piece together why starting a fantasy football league appealed to The Office cast and crew. They created the Dunder Mifflin fantasy football league because there were so many passionate NFL fans on set.

Krasinksi is the typical insufferable Boston sports fan and Patriots zealot who revels in needling friends who aren’t fortunate enough to root for perennial title contenders. Wilson is a Seahawks diehard whose allegiance goes back to attending games at the Kingdome during the days of Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. Baumgartner grew up a Falcons fan before befriending Aaron Rodgers as an adult and slowly switching allegiances to the Packers.

Messy drafts and eccentric fantasy team names

The first drafts held by the league sometimes took days to complete. League members would pass around a yellow legal pad, sometimes waiting hours for the next pick while an actor filmed a scene or the writers crafted the ending to an upcoming episode.

“If the next person was gone for the day, it would sit on their desk until the next day and then we would pick it back up,” Baumgartner recalled with a laugh.

Drafts became smoother once league members did it live on Yahoo, but challenges have arisen occasionally now that the cast and crew can no longer draft in person on set. One year, Saux could not get Krasinski to return a phone call or email to confirm he wanted to be part of the league that season.

“He had a pretty good excuse,” joked Saux, the commissioner of the league. “Eventually he gets back to me and says, ‘Hey, I’m filming a movie in the Amazon. I’m probably not going to be able to draft, but I’m going to put it on AutoDraft.’ ”

The team names are as eccentric as you’d expect from the cast and crew of The Office.

“Untrustworthy Bunny” is Krasinski. Nobody seems to know why.

“Frozen Burrito” is writer Lee Kirk, whose wife Jenna Fischer played receptionist Pam Beesly. Again the name’s backstory is a mystery.

“Jadeveon Clown Car” is Wilson. “BB Bombers” is Baumgartner. “Gore No More” is camera operator Chris Workman, a huge 49ers fan. Writer Warren Lieberstein picked “D’Brickashaw,” after former Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Why Ed Helms got the boot

No one remembers the team name chosen by Ed Helms, who played insecure manager Andy Bernard on The Office. League members ousted Helms after just one season because he was not as competitive as everyone else.

“He would have an injured quarterback as his starter for weeks,” Bertolina recalled. “We were like, ‘What are you doing? It’s deteriorating the league! You’ve got to get into it!’ He didn’t care the way the rest of us did.”

Everyone else in the league is hypercompetitive, which maybe helps explain why most longtime members have won at least once. Baumgartner is one of the few still pursuing his first league championship, though he has finished second or third many times.

“I’m the ‘90s Buffalo Bills of The Office fantasy football league,” Baumgartner jokes. “I can’t get over the hump.”

Fantasy trash talk, ‘Office’ style

Trash talk among longtime friends is the most fun part of fantasy football, and The Office league is no exception. The banter occasionally spills off the league’s text thread and onto Twitter, especially when Wilson or Krasinski are involved.

Of course all the bluster masks the bond between friends who care deeply for each other. Take the Secret Santa gift Baumgartner got Saux one year when the show was still on the air. The longtime Saints fan opened a big box to find a game-worn No. 9 jersey with the personalized message from Drew Brees that read, “To Stephen, Go Saints”

“It was supposed to be a $25 maximum gift,” Saux said. “I got someone a gift certificate to In-N-Out or something like that.”

Baumgartner explained that it didn’t cost him anything. He and Brees had golfed together a few times. He asked Brees for a favor and the Saints quarterback mailed the jersey.

It has been eight years since they last annoyed directors by drafting together on the set of The Office, but league members remain as committed as ever to claiming fantasy football bragging rights. If anything, the league is more important to them now that they’re busy with their own projects and don’t see each other daily, the same way former high school or college classmates treasure reconnecting during football season.

On Sunday, they’ll draft together for the 16th consecutive year, this time remotely via Zoom. Baumgartner has the first pick. He’s hoping it’s finally his year.

“It’s about keeping in touch and maintaining that connection,” Baumgartner said. “I can’t ever imagine not doing it. They’re my family.”

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