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Friday, August 31, 2001
Some fantasy owners
need a reality check


By Jim Caple
Page 2

Many years ago, two college friends of mine wanted to start a magazine devoted to fantasy football. I had a little experience in the magazine industry at the time and generously shared my knowledge, warning them that the magazine was a terrible idea and would never succeed. I suggested they follow my financial lead and invest all their savings in junk bonds.

Kurt Warner
Who cares whether the Rams beat the 49ers? Just tell me how many touchdown passes Kurt Warner threw.
They went ahead and started their magazine anyway, and this summer they printed their 15th annual edition of Fantasy Football Index (they also ignored my advice to name the magazine Get-A-Life Digest). Even while including the occasional column from me in past years, they have earned so much money from the magazine that they can afford the sort of mansions normally reserved for software billionaires, movie stars and Colombian drug lords. Or at least I think they do. I wasn't able to get past the hounds the last time I visited them.

They aren't alone in their success. If the number of publishers is any indication, you can make more money publishing fantasy draft lists than soft-core pornography. There now are more magazines offering fantasy draft tips than those promising great sex and killer abs. I counted six fantasy football magazines on my last visit to the bookstore, and that's not including the usual annuals devoted to previewing the season.

All that print is geared toward this, the biggest week in the fantasy sports world, the week when fantasy football Get-A-Lifers clean up their Spock ears and clear off the Dungeon and Dragons table for their annual fantasy draft parties.

Fantasy leaguers across the nation are excitedly stocking their basements with Slim Jims, orange soda and Jell-O pudding pops for their drafts. But to me, fantasy leagues are like Adam Sandler movies. While I realize they're extremely popular, I simply don't understand the appeal.

Fans bitch and moan about how money and free agency have ruined sports, and then what do they do? They create their own leagues with constant player turnover and involved salary caps. Thus, we have fantasy football leagues, fantasy baseball leagues, fantasy basketball leagues and fantasy hockey leagues. There are also fantasy soccer leagues, though their popularity is somewhat handicapped by the utter lack of scoring. And so help me, there are even fantasy figure skating leagues.

  To me, fantasy leagues are like Adam Sandler movies. While I realize they're extremely popular, I simply don't understand the appeal. 
   

I'll trade you Michelle Kwan and Todd Eldredge for Maria Butyrskaya, Evgeny Plushenko and an emotionally limited 13-year-old to be named later.

We now live in such a complete world of fantasy sports that the sole reason for the NFL's existence is to provide player statistics for fantasy leagues. Who cares whether the Rams beat the 49ers? Just tell us how many touchdown passes Kurt Warner threw.

All this would be fine if fantasy Get-A-Lifers kept their games to themselves, but instead they insist on pestering friends and co-workers with stories about how their team is in first place thanks to the inspired deals they made as general managers. I shrewdly traded Franco Harris for the future draft rights to Randy Moss right after his mother conceived.

Listening to them is like getting root canal without Novocain. Or listening to a golfer describe his latest round.

I don't know why they think we should be interested, but they do. Hey, we all have our embarrassing little hobbies, but do I stand by the office water cooler showing people my collection of souvenir shot glasses from Graceland?

GET IN THE GAME
It's not too late to sign up for a fantasy football team on ESPN.com. Click here to take a tour of ESPN.com's game, and you can sign up for a team until next Friday.

Fantasy leagues are just another sign of how we're only interested in something if money is involved. There was a time when kids played in the backyard and dreamed of being the next Gale Sayers or Willie Mays. No more. Now everyone plays fantasy leagues and dreams of being the next Al Davis or Jerry Jones. Instead of pretending to hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium to win Game 7, they pretend to blackmail a city into building them a new stadium. It's sad.

Oh, I tried playing in fantasy leagues a time or two but could never get into that strange world of make believe. For me, the real sports were compelling enough.

That, and I could never get my Spock ears to fit straight during our league meetings.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.