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Fantasy? More like a farce

Ten reasons why I detest the fantasy football craze

Posted: Wednesday August 24, 2005 3:01PM; Updated: Thursday August 25, 2005 1:41PM
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Peyton Manning
Who cares if Peyton Manning is a fantasy stud? He's still 0-6 against Tom Brady.
Simon Bruty/SI

Stand back. I'm about to commit treason, heresy and other various forms of slander in the eyes of the nation's rabid NFL fans:

I hate fantasy football. Hate it. Hate it so much that I refuse to capitalize the f's, as if it's a sanctioned league unto itself. And if you're wondering, no, I've never played it. Never wanted to. Never will. Thanks for asking.

Every year about this time, with everyone's fantasy drafts just around the corner, I'm deluged with people wanting to know some inside scoop or tidbit of information that might help them assemble their roster. I try to help. I really do. But my heart's not in it, because I really detest the whole idea of fantasy football.

My standard line is that I have enough trouble keeping track of everything NFL-related in reality, so there's no time for extending my work world into the realm of make-believe. But that's not really the whole story. The truth is there are a lot of reasons why the fantasy game just doesn't appeal to me.

And yes, I realize this rant qualifies as biting the hand that feeds me.

While the NFL has truly been America's favorite pastime for the past 40 years or so, the rise and monstrous popularity of fantasy football in the past two decades has fueled interest in the league to unparalleled heights. It's not a stretch to say the voracious appetite that NFL fans have for information -- a hunger that helps keep me employed -- is at least partly attributable to the fantasy craze.

I know that, and appreciate the paychecks, but I'm still not a fantasy guy. Here are my top 10 reasons why:

1. It changes how you watch a game. We all have some experience with a person who has perfectly illustrated this point from time to time. Being a fantasy player means you can't see the forest for the trees. Rather than watching a game in its context and meaning to the standings, fantasy folks often ignore the big picture, focusing only on how their players are performing around the league.

Every week in press boxes around the NFL during the regular season, I can easily pick out the fantasy players among my fellow reporters. They're the ones who are ticked off that Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis just scored on another 1-yard touchdown run. Not because they're anti-Steelers, but because they started Duce Staley in their backfield and needed the all-important six points in their quest for the final playoff berth.

Point-spread bettors have been doing the same thing for decades, of course, watching a game not for who wins or loses, but for who covers and who doesn't. It's like tuning into NBC Nightly News not to find out what went on in the world that day, but to count the number of times Brian Williams uses the word "Pentagon.'' It elevates the irrelevant to a level of real importance.

For some, staying attuned exclusively to the bottom line isn't enough. But until they start giving out a big shiny silver trophy for point-spread winners and fantasy championships, keeping track of the winning and losing teams is enough for me.

2. It glorifies stat accumulators at the expense of team players. All you need to know about what's wrong with the fantasy game can be summed up in this fact: Because of his superior statistics, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is far more valuable in fantasy football than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Never mind that Manning can't beat Brady in a real game to save his life. Manning is 0-6 head-to-head against Brady in his career, including losses in each of the past two postseasons.

But it doesn't matter in fantasy-land, where some numbers are far more significant than the final score.

3. It makes heroes out of problem children. Randy Moss is a heck of a fantasy player. But that didn't keep the Vikings from deciding he was all-too-expendable this offseason. Fantasy players don't really care if Moss leaves the field with two seconds remaining and a kickoff still to come. They don't care if he sows turmoil in the locker room, becomes a headache for team management, and gives his quarterback nothing but trouble.

Moss wasn't special enough to make the Vikings a Super Bowl team, but he does rack up the fantasy points, and that means all is forgiven by the millions of players who draft him every year.

4. The geek factor. Sorry, but we have a name for people whose primary source of entertainment stems from stuff that didn't really happen. They're called Trekkies.

In the immortal words of William Shatner, playing himself at a Star Trek convention on Saturday Night Live, sometimes I'd like to shake a couple of the fantasy players in my midst and say, "Look at you people. Did you ever kiss a girl?''

5. The death of the NFL offseason. I realize this is a purely selfish one, but I happen to believe that in most things, less is more. I blame fantasy football for the NFL game's current status as a year-round, 24/7 national obsession. If there really is an NFL offseason any more, I don't know when it takes place. Maybe the two or three weeks before training camps open, but even then, there's still something going on that creates a headline or two in Paul Tagliabue's fiefdom.

Whatever happened to the quaint notion that you can't miss something if it never really goes away?