Fantasy football changes how fans see games

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Marcus Worthen has a dilemma.

He bleeds Kansas City Chiefs' red and doesn't believe in starting a player that might hurt the Chiefs' chances for victory just so he can score big-time fantasy football points.

Well, maybe until today.

Bengals running back Rudi Johnson isn't a flashy running back, but he is one of Worthen's best in the backfield, so Worthen may start Johnson against the Chiefs. He wants Kansas City to win, of course, but he wants to win his fantasy football league as well, and if a Bengals player can help him, so be it.

People talk about how free agency changed the NFL with regard to parity and team loyalty. But fantasy football has dramatically changed the way most people watch pro football, and why they watch it.

Sundays at Slopeside Grill are a perfect example. Depending on where a person sits, he or she can watch up to four televisions at one time. And most fantasy football teams are comprised of players from all different teams, so each game is of some importance to at least one patron in the restaurant.

And unlike other fantasy leagues, the football league is one game per week for its players, so there's more time to research injuries, stats and matchups. But having control of a team wasn't the popular answer to why so many people take part in fantasy leagues.

"It's legalized gambling," Worthen said.

The point spreads, the relatively few number of games and the popularity of football in general lend the game to bet placing. Instead of wagering on individual games, however, fantasy football "owners" pay a league entrance fee up front with the hopes of collecting at the end of the season.

There also are fantasy football leagues where no money is involved.

"I can spend $100 for the entire season and have something to watch for the entire year," fantasy football player Kevin King said. "Every game, you are watching something."

King serves as the commissioner for a 12-team league that includes he and Worthen, among others.

While most gambling is just that -- a gamble on the uncertain -- there is a certain level of knowledge and work that goes into having a successful fantasy football team.

First, a fantasy "owner" must draft his or her team, and fantasy teams are built on yards and touchdowns, so the popular picks are elite running backs such as the Chiefs' Priest Holmes and dual-threat quarterbacks such as the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper.

Second, an owner must stay abreast of his or her players' injuries and be aware of when certain teams have bye weeks and don't play. Starting players not playing is an almost certain loss.

Third, an owner must decide -- when he or she has all healthy players -- which receivers, running backs, etc., should start based upon the opponent. Owners also can negotiate trades with other owners, cut players and claim players off of waivers.

"Fantasy football is based on matchups," King said.

The strategy of fantasy football through trades or drafts makes it an appealing way to follow the entire NFL instead of just one team.

"My Sundays are dedicated to football," said Lynn Essig, a rookie owner. "I watch football with the guys every Sunday anyway, so why not get more out of all the games?"

Long-time fantasy football player John Withey wasn't sure how many fantasy football players or leagues there are in Steamboat, but he has turned friends away from his league for lack of space.

"There is limited turnover in the league, and I know people around town are looking to get into fantasy leagues," Withey said.

Withey is one of those rare owners who hasn't had a losing season in the seven-plus years he has played fantasy football. He drafts a team and rarely touches it with regard to trades.

"There's only so much research you can do," he said.

Just as Worthen feels a certain amount of loyalty to the Chiefs, Withey has a soft spot for the New Orleans Saints.

But therein lies another reason why fantasy football is appealing to so many people. For every Chiefs' fan reveling in the delight of his or her team's 9-0 record heading into today's game, there is a disheartened Falcons fan or Raiders fan because those teams are 2-7.

At least in fantasy football, you can play the best players on your own team even if your favorite team doesn't have any good ones left on the roster.

--To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdlsey@steamboatpilot.com

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