NEW ULM - By now, you probably know someone with the fantasy football addiction.
It's an addiction that can consume a person's whole day on Sunday or one that could be worse, taking precious time on weekday mornings or nights and in some cases costing people a lot of money.
The internet has made the addiction of fantasy football for men and women across the county grow tremendously. And, beginning in early September and in some cases going all the way to the Super Bowl, fantasy football manages to take even the most casual fan of the sport and turns them into a self-proclaimed expert and stat geek.
Photo by Steve Muscatello
A few of the tools used by fantasy football players include sports magazines an d personal computers.
For those who don't know, Fantasy Football is a game in which participants (called owners) are arranged into a league. The person who creates the league is called the commissioner, and that person invites other owners into his/her league. Each team drafts or acquires via auction a team of real-life football players and then scores points based on those players' statistical on-the-field performances each week.
A typical fantasy league will have players from a single football league, such as the NFL. Leagues can be arranged in which the winner is the team with the most total points at the end of the season, or in a head-to-head format in which each team plays against a single opponent each week. At the end of the year, win-loss records determine league rankings or qualification into a playoff bracket. Most leagues set aside the last weeks of the regular season for their own playoffs. CBS, Yahoo, ESPN, and several other web sites offer free leagues for fans of all levels, and there are also leagues that will offer prizes for the league champion.
Before the season begins, a draft order is determined, and the players select real football players for their team, managing their playing time just like in the NFL. On any given week, a fantasy football player can look at his or her roster of NFL players and choose which ones to "start" and which ones to "bench." Starting a player means they will play for you that week and accumulate points, and bench players are not eligible to score points for that week.
On any given week, a team's starting lineup consists of a quarterback, two or three running backs (depending on league settings), two or three wide receivers (depending on league settings), a tight end, a kicker and a team defense.
At the end of the week, the points from all of the players on a persons roster are added up to determine winners and losers. In head to head formats, the winning team is the team that scores more than the opponent, just like in real football. From there, standings of wins and losses are kept throughout the regular season, usually lasting 12-14 weeks.
After that, playoffs are determined based on the regular season's performance, and eventually a league champion is crowned, giving that person bragging rights for the whole offseason.
A team is not necessarily stuck with the roster that they draft in the preseason. Trades and free agent pickups are allowed in almost all leagues, allowing the owners to act more like real NFL General Managers.
A brief history
Fantasy football first began in 1962 from an idea of Bill Winkenbach, then a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders. The idea emerged during a three-week road trip the Raiders took out east. Winkenbach and some others thought of the idea during the trip, and upon their return, formed the first fantasy football league, the GOPPPL [Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League].
Thanks to personal computers and the Internet in the late 1990s, the participation in and popularity of fantasy football increased to the level of prominence it holds today.
There are a few types of leagues for fantasy footballers, and each league can be set up to have different scoring options, depending on how the commissioner sets up the league.
Locally, there are leagues all over New Ulm that participants take part in. Dan Esser and Eric Schmidt are two local fantasy football enthusiasts who could be called diehards. They both have been involved with fantasy football for a long time, and it would be hard to imagine an NFL season without taking part in at least one fantasy football league for both of them.
The Commissioner of New Ulm Football League, Esser has been in charge of the league for about 10 years and been a member of the league since the mid 80s. Over the years, Esser has seen fantasy football go from reading box scores in the morning paper and figuring out players point totals to watching live scoring on the internet, a much faster and usually very accurate way of figuring out a team's point total right up to the minute.
The league itself has been around for more than 30 years, kicking off in the mid 1970s. Since then, it's changed with the times and the league is 14 teams strong this year.
The New Ulm Football League uses a standard scoring system, a league that doesn't award points for yardage accumulated by a player on the roster [except in bonus yardage situations, where a player must reach a certain amount of yardage to get individual points].
The league uses Fanball.com and the site keeps track of league standings, individual points, and many other features that make the game of fantasy football more accessible.
Esser says fantasy football has changed dramatically over the years. Now, those who are unprepared for the draft can just go to one of the many sites that offer fantasy football, print off a cheat sheet of the Top 150 or so players, and be on their way to the draft.
"The main thing is the online service," he said. "Every sports site - yahoo, Fanball, ESPN, and there's oodles of other ones. Before all of this, you'd have guys who, if you didn't study up, they were at a tremendous disadvantage. You really had to do all the research back then.
"Now, there are mock drafts and cheat sheets out there rating the quarterbacks and running backs," he said.
In fantasy football, often times the participant is consumed with all of the players that are on his or her team. So every Sunday of the football season and Monday nights, fantasy footballers are watching both the television and the internet live scoring from the first kickoff at noon Sunday until the final tackle is made late Sunday night.
This is no different for Esser, who has a family and must try to find time for them the other six days of the week.
"She knows that pretty much during the 17 weeks of the NFL season, I pretty much do one thing - watch football," he said. "She knows it, but it doesn't always go over real well."
Another local fantasy sports fanatic is Eric Schmidt. Schmidt hasn't been doing the fantasy competition as long as Esser has, but there's not going to be a Sunday in the fall that doesn't see him plopped in front of a television set or a laptop nearby displaying his up-to-the-minute results.
Schmidt first got involved with fantasy sports eight years ago while in college. He's become hooked, also getting involved with fantasy baseball and basketball during those seasons also.
This year Schmidt is just trying to do one fantasy football league because it can be a problem with whom to root for. Often times, when participants have two or more teams, they end up having a player on one team that they are rooting for to do well. But when two or more teams are involved, they may not have that person on their team in another league, and that athlete may be playing for his or her opponent in another league. This causes frustration across the board for fantasy owners.
"I'm trying to do just one [football] league this year. I have done two, one with a friend's league and another just with some random people across the country. But I hate cross people. If you have one guy in this league do something, and you're playing another guy in another league with him - I just wanna eliminate that."
Schmidt has his own Sunday routine before the games. About an hour or so before kickoff, he goes online to check his roster of players. There, he checks the injury report, paying careful detail not to play anyone who will be sitting out or may just be banged up with injuries, therefore making them less successful.
After that, he checks the match-ups his players will be facing that particular weekend, and if there's a favorable match-up for his player against a weak opponent, that particular player will most likely start for Schmidt's team.
The whole process can take about an hour or so, so he's careful to get his line-ups submitted on time before the deadline, which is usually about five minutes before kickoff in most leagues.
Aside from having fun competing in his league, Schmidt said the normal trash-talking takes place on a weekly basis, and since the participants are acting as owners or General Managers of their team, trade talk is another topic amongst fantasy owners.
And the biggest joy of all isn't just playing the game, but winning of course. Schmidt himself has won nine league titles altogether in fantasy football, baseball and basketball, something he's proud of because it involves bragging rights to his friends.
And as far as having that significant other being neglected?
"My girlfriend actually likes it because then I don't annoy her that day," Schmidt said while laughing. "She'll go out to her parents and chill out."
Jeremy Behnke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org