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Dave Roepke, Published November 20 2008

We all win, lose in fantasy leagues

I don’t like sports. I like caring about sports.

The caring, however, has always been hampered by my gladiators of choice: the Chicago Cubs, the Minnesota Vikings and the athletic programs of Iowa State University – a trio of perennial losers.

The woes are well-known with the Vikings and Cubs, and even in ISU’s best sport – wrestling, the hockey of Iowa – there has only been one national championship won in my lifetime.

So my sports-love has always been quarantined to the regular season, usually to its earliest stages. Until this year, that is. I finally will get a taste of postseason glory, a pressurized blast of locker-room champagne to the face.

My fantasy football team is going to the playoffs.

Unfortunately, I am the only human alive excited about the success of Time Destruction Device, my 8-3 team that secured a playoff bid with a win last week over Shark Sandwich. It’s an immutable law of conversation. No one wants to hear about anyone else’s fantasy football team.

For the unfamiliar, football in fantasy form bears little resemblance to the real deal. Owners draft a roster of NFL players, usually just offensive skill positions and the entire defensive units of actual teams. Each week of the season, you’re head-to-head against another fantasy team, with scoring based on what sort of statistics your guys deliver on the field.

This is why fantasy fanatics’ highs and lows come in complete isolation. It’s pretty much the most anti-social way to follow a sport, cheering for a unique set of players to make sure “team” is spelled with an “m” and an “e.” (It’s also the most consistently engrossing, making lopsided games matter all the way down to the kneedowns.)

Fantasy ownership has totally changed the way I watch the NFL. Flipping away from Vikings broadcasts, once unthinkable, is now standard practice simply because most of the games are on Fox, which doesn’t have the ticker including player stats that runs during CBS games. If one of my fantasy studs is on opposite Minnesota, the flipping is more likely to be for checking in on the Vikings.

Even when fantasy and fandom align there are conflicts.

For instance, Time Destruction Device is facing off against the league leader this weekend, which happens to feature both Adrian Peterson and the Vikings defense. Meanwhile, I’ve got Vikings QB Gus Frerotte on my team, not to mention Peterson on a team in another league. And the Vikings are in a three-way tie for the real division lead.

Watching this game will make me feel like Al Gore investing his life savings in oil stock. There is no way to win.

Yes, sometimes I wonder if the brain shelf on which the names of nearly every second-string running-back in the NFL are stored should be holding better inventory. I get it. It’s a pointless exercise that carries more than a whiff of pasty-faced die-tossing, awkwardly wringing the personal out of the universal.

Yet it’s more popular every year. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated in 2006 that there were less than 20 million U.S. fantasy players, compared to

27 million in 2008. I’m not the only one who enjoys having a reason to care about the NFL.

Still, getting sprayed with the bubbly isn’t nearly as fun when you have to point the bottle at your own head.

Forum Reporter Dave Roepke can be reached at (701) 241-5535

or droepke@forumcomm.com