Has Fantasy Football Become Bigger Than the NFL?

By the time this article goes to digital print, Week One of the NFL season will have already been played. At which point, I can only hope that each of my three fantasy teams are all 1-0. Oh yeah, and I hope that my beloved New York Giants are also 1-0 (and that Dallas, Philly and Washington are all 0-1). But what’s happened here? Do we care, as football fans, more about our fantasy teams than our actual teams?

It is a frightfully scary query and it’s one that I’ve just started to think about. I started playing fantasy football for the first time last season and I was hooked like the worst kind of hard drug junkie. The online trash talking, the draft, the strategy, the blood, sweat and tearsâÂ?¦I loved it all. Through out the whole thing though, I tried really, really hard to keep my newfound appreciation for fantasy football separate from true loveâÂ?¦The Game, The NFL, The Giants, The Competition.

It’s hard for me to admit it, but fantasy football might be killing the best thing the NFL has to offer: the team aspect. What other (American) sport involves so many players working as one for one common goal. Baseball is a series of individual accomplishments disguised as a team game, basketball is only five on five, hockey, well nobody gives a damn about hockey, but footballâÂ?¦ Football is the ultimate American sport because it’s teamwork, it’s war and it’s a stop-everything event, all wrapped into one. Fantasy football is killing this.

Fantasy football is beyond huge. I could go on and on, and give you a ton of stats (i.e., the millions of dollars that businesses lose by fantasy football cutting into their workers’ productivity), but it still wouldn’t do it justice. Everyone, every male between the ages of 16-35 anyway, plays fantasy football. I am not a rich man; actually I’m quite poor, but I’ve got $200 riding on three different leagues (two on Yahoo and one on ESPN). And I have been downright sweating with anticipation for the start of this NFL season. And part of me has started to wonder, is this fervor because my Giants are playing the Colts on the premier of the new Sunday Night Football or because I’m wondering how Dante Culpepper is going to play against the Steelers.

Fantasy football has turned the team game of football and the NFL into a showcase for individual achievement (NOTE: T.O., Chad Johnson, Joe Horn and other receivers are also responsible for this). This is pretty sad if you think about it, but at this point if I had to choose between playing fantasy football and rooting for the Giants, I’m not sure what I’d do. I’d like to think I’d pick the ladder but I’m not sure.

I guess the trick is to find a proverbial “happy balance.” I’ve come up with a few rules to assure that I can do both things.

#1 ALWAYS ROOT FOR YOUR TEAM (IN REALITY)

If, in fantasyland, someone else has your team’s running back and you’re playing that team, you still have to root for that player in reality. Let me put it this way: If I’m playing Dan from accounting this week and he has Tiki BarberâÂ?¦I must root for Tiki Barber and the Giants despite the fact that it might kill me, fantasy wise.

#2 DON’T DRAFT YOUR GUYS UNLESS YOU HAVE TO (IN FANTASY)

If you can help it, always follow this rule. Now, if you’re a big Chargers fan (are there any?) and L.T. is still available at 5, you have to take him. But for the most part, stay away from your rooting team’s players. Only badness can come from this. If they do poorly it will breed contempt, if they do really well you will expect too much from them. On Sunday during your team’s game, do you really want to worry about how many touches players are getting or do you just care about the score?

#3 NEVER DRAFT YOUR TEAMS ARCHENEMIES (FANTASY AND REALITY)

For instance, as a Giants fan, I am not going to draft T.O. or Donovan McNabb. Only some kind of sick asshole would do something like that. How can you watch a game with that going on? Sick.

#4 IN THE END, REALITY TRUMPS FANTASY

No matter what, don’t lose sight of this (and if you’re a true NFL fan, you won’t): The love of your team does not have a pricetag. I don’t care if you’re in a $10,000 league; reality always trumps fantasy. If your team has a chance to do something special, you can’t turn your back on them just because you have some fantasy football concerns to the contrary. That’s bogus.

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