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With football season upon us, excitement is in the air. High school football has played a game already, college football is nearly here, and the NFL fires up right after that. If you’re a football fan, it’s a glorious time of year.

Many people are busy planning trips to watch games live while others get together with friends and family to watch on somebody’s big screen TV. Another aspect of planning deals with those of us who play fantasy football.

Depending on sources, an estimated 40-50 million people play fantasy football, a game where people pretend they’re general managers and draft a team of players, including quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers, and defenses. Each week, these “managers” choose who to place in their starting lineups in order to earn more points than their opponents.

Leagues vary in their scoring, with some only giving points for touchdowns and field goals, while others, such as the league I’ve been part of, also award points for yardage gained by each player. Sometimes you even have points taken away if your players turn the ball over.

This adds a layer of complexity to watching NFL games. While I will always root for the Minnesota Vikings, if I have a player from the other team, say Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, I might root for Rodgers to have a great game but the Vikings to ultimately win the game. Believe me, this has caused some stress over the years! There are times where a Vikings defensive stand means that I don’t win that week for fantasy and other weeks where a Vikings loss directly contributes to me winning. I will always pull for a Vikings win over a fantasy football win!

I was introduced to fantasy sports my first year of college, in 1992. One guy on our floor started a fantasy basketball league. It sounded like an interesting concept, so I joined in. I was part of that with the same group of guys for five years. I first played fantasy football my senior year at WSU, in 1995. It was fun and I hoped to find a group of people for a league when I moved to New Richland.

However, my first year was so busy trying to figure out what I was doing that I never had a chance. After I met Michelle, she hooked me up with some people she knew at work who played in a league. I will now be in my 19th year in this league! While some of the members have changed, there are still four of us that remain from my first go-around.

The best part of fantasy football is when the league gets together for the draft. We used to need everyone in one place since we did everything by hand. However, as the Internet has grown, we have fewer guys at our annual draft, which is too bad. It’s a great time to trash talk and just hang out.

Looking back, I can see the progression of fantasy sports mirror our league. Fantasy football actually started in Oakland back in 1962. It started to pick up steam in the late ‘80s. As mentioned though, everything was written down. Our commissioner for my first fantasy basketball league would look at USA Today weekly where they would have players’ accumulated statistics and then do some subtraction with the previous week’s stats. When I started playing fantasy football, I’d have a little notebook where I’d write down when one of my players or one of my opponent’s players would score points.

In 1997, fantasy sports started to enter the digital world, and that’s when the popularity exploded. Being able to play online opened up a semi-enclosed world. Our league eventually went online, and now I can sit with my iPad, constantly checking the score of my game for the week, updated to the minute; no need to wait for the scroll on the bottom of the screen or halftime highlights. Sometimes I miss the old ways of doing things, but I’m also a guy who always did my baseball team statistics by hand.

I’ve dabbled in fantasy football, basketball, and baseball over the years, but my league in Owatonna is the one constant. One year I had five baseball leagues online, but it’s started to get a little wearisome. I’m cutting back to nothing else outside of this football league. Once my baseball leagues end in September, I’ll be hanging it up for those, hopefully with a championship in one where I’m currently in first place! Strangely enough, I’ve done the best in fantasy basketball, even though I rarely watch NBA games!

If you see me during the NFL season and ask how I’m doing, you’ll likely either hear me praise or curse Drew Brees and Marshawn Lynch, since they’re on my team this year! Let the fun begin!

And speaking of fun, our NRHEG Panther football will play their home opener this Friday, August 28. I know the boys and the coaches have been working hard, so please join me in filling the stands and cheering them on. If you can’t come to all the games, try to make an effort to attend at least one and cheer on the home team, appreciating the efforts of our student-athletes. That goes for all our Panther sports – Go Panthers!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is exungulate, which means to pare nails or claws, as in, “The football fan unwittingly exungulated himself during the nail-biter of a game.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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