Notebook > Sports

Fall, football, and fantasy


Issue: "Faith-based about-face," Aug. 27, 2005

Right now, millions of football fans are taking their Monday morning quarterbacking seriously-some would say too seriously. What sort of sports obsession is it when football fans, apparently unsatisfied by what the NFL offers, supplement the games on Sunday with games of their own? It's called Fantasy Football, and according to a Harris poll, about 30 million Americans play it.
Using existing NFL rosters, Fantasy Football general managers select players to fill their fantasy squad and use their in-game performances to compete. If your running back gains a lot of yards or your quarterback scores a lot of touchdowns, you have a better likelihood of beating your opponent's fantasy squad.
The game isn't new-records from one early league conceived in 1963 show Hall of Fame running back Frank Gifford was one of the first selections-and the basic concept hasn't changed much. But the implications aren't so simple.
Fantasy Football owner and recent SMU law school graduate Tim Darley says you run into "situations that are really hard." Mr. Darley has been playing Fantasy Football since 1998-four years after he began playing Fantasy Baseball.
One game from last year left him particularly frazzled. His favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, played the rival Philadelphia Eagles. "I've got [Philadelphia quarterback] Donovan McNabb on my team. So I want him to do well, but I don't want the Eagles to win. So I'm trying to figure out [whether] McNabb can do well enough for my team to win, but not his team."
Mr. Darley also had to hope that Mr. McNabb did well without throwing much to his favorite receiver, Terrell Owens, who happened to play for Mr. Darley's fantasy opponent. Any touchdown pass from Mr. McNabb to Mr. Owens would be a wash. "It uses up pretty much all my brain sometimes."
NFL officials haven't just noticed the nation's growing obsession with fantasy sports. They've encouraged it. DirecTV's new Red Zone coverage isn't just for gamblers, but for Fantasy Football players, too. The channel focuses in on the NFL games where one team is near the goal line and about to score, sort of like election-day coverage for football with highlights from multiple contests. Meanwhile, Fantasy Football players mine the NFL's website for juicy stats and shell out the $239 for NFL Sunday Ticket, allowing them to personally monitor each game for fantasy implications.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, fantasy owners have paid $4 billion in league fees, research, and materials. employs 10 Fantasy Football writers and Sports Illustrated even put Fantasy Football on its July 25 cover, where it shared the spotlight with Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. It proves that in sports-perhaps especially in sports-fantasy can still trump reality.

Around The Horn

  • In the end, Allan Houston was an exception to his own rule. Mr. Houston, namesake of the so-called "Allan Houston Rule" that allows NBA teams to make a one-time release of a player to avoid luxury tax implications, is still a New York Knick. Many NBA observers were shocked when the Knicks chose to release Jerome Williams, not Mr. Houston, and save $6 million in luxury taxes. Released players like Mr. Williams still earn their whole contract, but teams won't have to count it as part of their luxury tax figures.
  • It seems the United States has entered into a new golden era in track. The U.S. track team pulled in 25 medals-including 14 golds-at the world track and field championships in Helsinki, Finland. This was supposed to be a time for rebuilding, but apparently a new class of American track stars-led by 400-meter sprinter Jeremy Wariner-has arrived.
  • Trouble continues to follow former Pro Bowl NFL lineman Barret Robbins. The former Oakland Raider, who abandoned his team before the 2003 Super Bowl, was arrested Aug. 14 in San Antonio after a bicycle cop smelled marijuana wafting from his car. This past January in Florida, Mr. Robbins was shot twice in the chest as he allegedly beat three police officers who were responding to a burglary call. He spent weeks in the hospital and survived, but now he faces a drug possession charge to go along with his three counts of attempted murder.

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