87-year-old wins fantasy football crown

87-year-old wins fantasy football crown

Published Jan. 10, 2012 7:36 p.m. ET

The little girl listening through the static to Notre Dame, Army and Navy football games on the radio all those years ago would never have dreamed of this.

The woman who entered her office fantasy football pool on a whim about 25 years ago would have been surprised, shocked even.

This season, 87-year-old Pat Hanzlik of Northfield, Minn., and her team, the G-Ma Marauders, won her fantasy football league. After more than two decades of playing what she calls "football fantasy," Pat is a first-time champion, and with that win comes an engraved trophy and a bit of notoriety for the retirement home resident.

But what really matters about Pat's win, beyond the trophy and the phone calls, is what it reveals: a true love of football that's spanned years and generations, one that's evolved from radio to television to the Internet without missing a beat.

"Grandma Pat" began participating in fantasy football out of convenience. Her office had a league, and she was one of the few women who joined. At first, it was a bit of a disaster.

"I didn't do very good at first," Pat said. "I drafted (players) myself. I didn't know anything about anybody or anything. Eventually I got so I knew different players from magazines and from watching TV."

Those first drafts took place before the marriage of computers and fantasy football made it one of the most popular hobbies in America. Back then, Pat got everything she needed for her league -- statistics, results, injury reports -- by scouring the sports pages each week.

But those days are over, and though Pat admittedly struggled to adapt to the Internet, her fantasy league proved enough motivation to learn. Her son, Kevin Hanzlik, set up her online fantasy account and left her instructions on a piece of paper. Not sure how to make a trade? Check the paper. Not sure where to find results? That paper, again.

It's gotten to the point where it's just as easy for her to follow the NFL on the Internet as in the paper, and this year Pat's research and instincts were dead-on. She couldn't make it to her league's draft, so she gave her son six pages of notes dictating exactly whom he should draft for her.

"People ask if I help her, and I say, 'No. She yells at me,'" Kevin said, laughing.

After spending the early part of the season hovering in the top three or four players in her league, Pat began to worry when her quarterback, Houston's Matt Schaub, was injured. But rather than panic, she offered to trade running back Cedric Benson and receiver Victor Cruz to her son, who also plays in the league. In return, she received Cam Newton, and the season fell into place. She went on to defeat that same son in the championship.

"I kind of whomped him a little bit," Pat said.

And though Pat is looking forward to keeping that trophy for a year, she's also eagerly awaiting the Super Bowl, and next season. Because for a woman who claims to have no favorite players, no preferred teams, it's not about the win. It's about the game.

"You should see her when she watches a game," Kevin said. "There are times when she'll literally cover her head when she can't watch it. She'll get mad or upset. She's always had that passion for sports."

She has her Super Bowl picks -- she likes Houston, the Cinderella story of a team that notched its first-ever playoff victory on Saturday -- but she's more excited for some close games.

In fact, Pat is just as content watching those playoff games as she is watching her grandchildren compete at their high schools. She's the consummate fan, the grandmother known by everyone in the stands.

But unlike many other grandmothers, this one really knows her sports.

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