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WRITE A COLUMN ABOUT FANTASY FOOTBALL, THE EDITOR SAID. GIVE US SOME PERSPECTIVE; make it lively. ¶ Well then, I figured, maybe I should write about its history, how the first Fantasy Football Digest was published in 1984 and reviewed by The New York Times as if it were a quirky anthropological artifact, akin to a pet rock. And how 10 years later the nerdy hobby had not only survived, but it had also grown to the point that plenty of people had discovered its inherent marketplace beauty, which could be expressed by the following formula: Football + Legal Form of Sports Gambling + Trying to Fleece Your Friends in Trades = Bankable Male Obsessive Behavior. As Jack Pullman, owner of All-Pro Publishing in Van Nuys, Calif., told The Washington Times in 1993, "Fantasy football owners are the only people I know who will spend $100 to make $10." And I think we can all agree that while Mr. Pullman is on target, his estimate is way too low.
I'd next cover the rise of the Internet and the explosive growth of fantasy. By the early 2000s sports bars on Sundays had turned into the equivalent of stock exchange trading floors, full of men holding paper and shouting at the TVs, only instead of "Buy!" and "Sell!" it was, "Throw the ball to McCardell!" and "Hand it to James!" This angered some people. "Let me be perfectly blunt on this, so there can be no misunderstanding," wrote the syndicated columnist Norman Chad in '03. "Fantasy football is destroying the very fabric of this nation."
Mr. Chad had some good points at the time. After all, fantasy football "freaks," as he called them, could be pretty annoying. They sullied the appreciation of the game, treating players like commodities. They turned a communal viewing experience into an individual one. And they got in the way of authentic, time-tested, totally honorable Sunday rituals, such as ogling cheerleaders, binge drinking and singing along to that catchy Coors Light song: I. Love. Football on TV. Shots of Gina Lee. Hanging with my friends. And...twins! Now that's what football is about.
Moving on, I would cover the eventual world domination of fantasy sports, how they are now played by more than 27 million people and how entire industries have been built on fantasy's back, including the industry of fantasy sports columnists who invoke way too many pop culture references when all you want is for them to tell you who's worth picking up off the waiver wire. That industry is doing way too well.
Going forward, I would cover the spousal backlash. This would include the formation of WAFS—Women Against Fantasy Sports—which is not headquartered in my house, though it sometimes feels that way. WAFS sells T-shirts that read, I THOUGHT I WAS YOUR FANTASY and underwear that reads, CLOSED FOR FANTASY SEASON. Last year its founder, Allison Lodish, explained what her beef is. "Everyone needs an escape, but we need a balance," she told me. "When you're endangering your family's lives because you're driving and checking stats on your cellphone at the same time, maybe it's gone too far." And of course she's right; that's why it's always the best policy to have your wife read off the box scores while you drive.
This would take us up to '08, when the world started to go to hell in a hand-basket, with economies collapsing like the 49ers' pocket on third down. People couldn't afford to think of frivolous things like fantasy sports. For example, take this official comment from then candidate Barack Obama. "I really think we should take Drew Brees," he told ESPN's Rick Reilly last fall while mulling a roster move. "He could have a big week. Oakland's secondary is a wreck." (This is 100% true by the way. The quote, not the strategy.)
Which would bring us to the '09 fantasy football season, when once again estimates are that the American economy is likely to lose over $9 billion in reduced work productivity due to employees' engaging in "fantasy-football-related activities" while at the office. And at this point in the column I'd throw in a sober comment or two about how we could be saving the world, or at least learning Spanish, with all those hours wasted poring over wide receiver depth charts.
Yeah, I could write all that, but it wouldn't do any good. Because let's be honest here, I don't have any advice for you about waiver-wire pickups. And for that I'm truly sorry.