John Curtis: Confessions of a fantasy sports junkie

John Curtis

The first week of the National Football League exhibition season concluded Monday night with the Cincinnati Bengals beating the Green Bay Packers 20-17. That brings me to the upcoming weekend and something I look forward to every year: the annual fantasy football draft.

I've actually been a little slow this year on getting all of my plans and magazines together I prepare for the draft — although I do have my Sports Illustrated fantasy football list. I may have to change my strategy this year in who to draft.

The last three years, I've drafted Peyton Manning in the first round and Marvin Harrison in the second. It helped me win the title three years ago and again last year — I put banners on my wall for each of my wins — and finished as the regular season champion two other times. Last year, I was the No. 6 team going into the playoffs and beat No. 3, No. 2 and No. 5 to claim my prize.

Yes, I am a fantasy sports junkie — particularly football and baseball, although I have succeeded in hockey and soccer, as well.

I’m not the only one. There are many of us around, and fantasy games have become a part of the American sports genre.

Don’t believe me?

Watch ESPN tonight and look when show the final stats. Many times, they have a “fantasy” breakdown of a particular player or team. Or look at your programming and see one possibly titled “Fantasy Football Live.” I honestly don’t know if that’s a name of a real show; but I know I have seen countless shows about the subject, and it’s a list that grows every year.

Let’s not forget the magazines you can get at the grocery or drug store that tells you who to get and who to avoid for a successful season. There are plenty of media outlets — print, radio and television — that target the fantasy sports fan.

There are so many Web sites that offer different fantasy sports — not just football and baseball. Yahoo, ESPN, The Sporting News, CNNsi.com, and CBSSportsLine.com are among many of the sports Web sites that have some sort of fantasy league.

Along with football and basketball, Yahoo has fantasy basketball, hockey, golf, NASCAR and soccer — and that’s just on the United States site. I’m certain there is rugby on Yahoo Australia or Yahoo England. ESPN has the same sports as Yahoo, plus games involving poker and bass fishing.

Bass fishing? Actually, ESPN have two bass fishing games. Hey, it could be a new idea, maybe, for getting rid of your computer; use it as bait for the catfish out at your local lake.

And then there are what I call “sub-games,” games within a game. For example, in football there is a pro pick’em game, a college pick’em game, a “survival” pick game (you pick one game and if you’re right, you can still win the title; but if you lose, then you’re out of the game). Other Web sites include a “general manager” game where you have to stay at or under a certain amount of “money” as you pick players.

I’ve never been in a league where money was the reward for winning the title and personally have never seen one; but I’m certain there are some out there.

I will give those of you who want to try the mind-numbing sport of fantasy football a little advice. Hey, if chess and spelling bees are considered sports, then so are fantasy football and fantasy baseball (I have three titles in that sport in the last four years).

First, it's not how you start, but how you finish. Like I said, I was the No. 6 team in my league and was 3-8 at one point before finishing the regular season 7-9.

Manning went crazy, as did a few of my other players, I won four of my last five regular season games and then claimed the league title — including a 25-point victory in the league.

Second, you have to come up with a catchy name. The name of our league is "Take This League and Shove It 6" -- after Hank Williams Jr.'s big song -- and it's in its sixth year of existence.

If you want to try to keep up and be the owner of more than one team, then I suggest you use some names that you would help boost your interest. I had four in baseball, and they included the Mandarin Suns 6 (for my time as a youth director at a Chinese church), the Augusta Orioles (obvious reasons), the West Memphis Blue Devils (my high school) and the Dodge City Athletics (for my time back in western Kansas).

But my advice to you if you decide to own more than one team is to not worry about the overall scheme of things. You could have Manning or Ladainian Thompson in one league and could be facing the same player in another. It's a quandary for me, like, do I cheer for or do I jeer that player?

Just have fun; that's the key to playing. It's just more fun to rub your victories in the faces or your vanquished opponents, who used to be your friends before you spanked them on the electronic gridiron.

John Curtis is sports editor at the Augusta (Kan.) Gazette.