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Fantasy Fervor

Fantasy football is scoring with millions of obsessive NFL fans competing for bragging rights and more
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

Terrell Owens let down the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but he completely screwed me.

Like millions of other American men, I squandered a precious early-round draft pick to grab Owens as my premier wide receiver for the 2005 fantasy football season. Choking back my natural disdain for the man—I'm a New York Giants fan and Owens is a Giants killer—I smiled with pride each Sunday as I basked in the glow of his gaudy numbers. Thanks in large part to him, I sat comfortably in first place.

Then Owens opened his big yapper and got himself suspended, leaving me with a hole in my roster that I couldn't plug. At the same time, stud running back Priest Holmes went out with a season-ending injury, leaving me in fantasy football hell. My team sank all the way to sixth, out of the money and square in the middle of Loserville.

Welcome to fantasy football, where each year an estimated 12 million to 15 million fans of the game take their passion to new levels: drafting a team of star players, choosing whom to play and whom to bench, and vying for the bragging rights of best fantasy football coach in the neighborhood, office or corner of the Internet. It's a hobby that turns casual fans into students of the game and serious fans into fanatics.

It's an often-strange world where team loyalty must take a backseat to individual performance if a participant hopes to succeed. A Dallas fan might find himself drafting a Redskin, a Raiders lover could high-five a friend when a Kansas City Chief gets in the end zone, and a man sitting in a Boston apartment might even find himself rooting for a player wearing the letters "NY" on his helmet.

The universe of fantasy football players has doubled over the past five years. "It's just exploded," says Joe Bryant, co-owner of, a Web site brimming with statistics, news and analysis for die-hard fantasy football fans. "When I first started, fantasy football was sort of this Dungeons & Dragons thing for stat geeks. Three to four years ago, the tide turned."

Technology is helping to drive the growth. Today, Web sites such as Yahoo, CBS Sportsline, ESPN, Fox Sports and others provide detailed information on players and keep track of every stat. By the end of a game, most free sites will have updated information, and for a fee (perhaps $10 a year) players can track their scores in real time during the game. For more money, some sites will sweeten the pot with cash prizes.

In the old days, it wasn't easy to find, maintain and sort fantasy stats. League administrators (who hold the fancy title of commissioner) had to scour newspapers for information and add up myriad statistics themselves.

"Everything we did, we did by hand," says a former Major League outfielder and now a big-league scout, who wishes to remain anonymous because of professional baseball's stance on gambling. He's been playing fantasy football since 1993. "You had to use USA Today. People in the league didn't get the full stats for the week until Thursday." The baseball pro got his start in fantasy football playing with teammates, and the results would be posted on the locker-room bulletin board. Bryant, who played in a more geographically spread-out league, would get his stats mailed to him in the early days.

For every man—about 90 percent of fantasy football players are male—playing in one league, there's a guy who plays in two. Or more. The Major League scout played in four leagues one year. Brandon Funston, product manger of fantasy sports content for Yahoo, has been playing fantasy football for 22 years. "It depends on the year, but generally my tally runs between eight and 12 leagues," he says. Yahoo has three million to four million participants alone, according to Funston, who spends each Sunday during football season at a local bar so he can view as many games as possible at one time. "Sundays weren't the healthiest day for me this past year," he says.

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Comments   2 comment(s)

Leslie Love May 26, 2011 12:58pm ET

I won a Fantasy Baseball competition one and I want more than bragging rights! I want some award plaques. Something tangible to back up my bragging.

David Savona May 26, 2011 4:36pm ET

Fair enough! I have a few trophies of my own, so I understand completely. Our league also began a jacket ceremony similar to The Masters. Only the jacket is the most garish thing imaginable.

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