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 Donít know if Iíve mentioned this to you yet or not, but in addition to coming up with these silly columns about my life, I work for a national sports magazine in St. Louis. (I wonít reveal the name of it, but weíre the only national sports magazine in St. Louis, and weíre for sale; figure it out.) Working in sports has its advantages - DirecTV for all the NFL games, a plethora of people willing to drink and watch baseball, an inherent imperative to ignore all the important things in life and look at hockey statistics - but it can be too much at times.

Right now, Iím 24 years old, have various personal problems that I need to deal with and should be worrying about: I dunno, my long-term financial security or something. But whatís occupying my mind? Ricky Williamsí right elbow, the problems with the Vikingsí offensive line and the Arizona Cardinalsí tendency to give the ball to Mario Bates on the goal line instead of Adrian Murrell. I have become a fantasy football junkie, and I simply need help.

I try to think about my career, and my mind drifts to Jake Plummerís interception problem. I attempt to come to terms with my irrational fear of gaining weight, and Eddie Georgeís yards-per-carry pops up. The bill man comes by to inform me that if I donít give him some money, heís going to shut off my power, and I ask him if he thinks I should start Tyrone Wheatley or Duce Staley this week.

Iím out of control. I canít concentrate on anything but my fantasy team. My friend Matt is the fantasy football expert for my magazine, and every time he wants to chat about such frivolities like love, hope and the pursuit of nirvana, I keep bothering him about the Chargers defense and whether or not Randy Moss can play like he did last year. My friend Jami, a better writer than me, told me to read White Noise by Don DeLillo. I bought a copy only to set aside while poring over USA Today for box scores. I even sneaked away from a date recently to scan ESPN for updates on Fred Taylorís status for the big Monday night game against the Jets. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to check that information out when I went home alone that evening

One of the reasons Iíve always loved sports is that it allows you to put aside regular mores. Sports makes it possible to anchor your happiness to whether or not your team wins or loses. Itís a wonderfully simple way to escape reality. However, my internal contract with myself firmly states that I would never let it get of hand. But it has. My inner peace has become helplessly entangled with whether or not my fantasy team wins each week.

Like lots of you, Iím in a league with a bunch of friends from work, which has made me into the lowest form of nincompoop: a fantasy football trash-talker. The entire week before I face an opponent, Iím prancing around the office, belittling his/her team and warning him/her that theyíre about to run into the buzzsaw that is the Mattoon Green Wave (my adopted team name, taken from my high schoolís athletic program, which always cut me from its teams). After defeating one co-worker, I actually commanded him to kneel before me and plead for mercy, mercy he would not receive. He was a vanquished foe, and any little slice of victory I can muster, however pathetic, is enough to turn me into a monster.

Sunday was my birthday, and I spent it with a fellow league member watching the St. Louis Rams defeat the San Francisco 49ers and, more important, cheering as Green Wave receiver Isaac Bruce scored four touchdowns. I had a pen and each teamís lineup with me, and I dutifully jotted down point estimations while 65,000 screaming fans did their best to ignore the ninny with the calculator.

In the past, Iíve viewed fantasy football as silly, an excuse for casual football fans to pretend they know what theyíre talking about. Iíve agreed with old-time football gurus like Paul Zimmerman, John Madden and my friend MDS who see fantasy football the way classical music lovers see John Tesh. But recently, Iíve discovered that the self-worth of someone who considers himself just a couple of steps above amoeba is increased exponentially if he can just end up with more fantasy points on Monday morning than some other schmuck. For one week anyway, Iím a winner

The problem is, Iím not very good at fantasy football. Iíve been in a keeper league - this is a fantasy dork term; it means we keep most of our players from season to season - with some old high school friends for about seven years. My team is annually terrible, so much so that I draft O.J. Simpson every year, half as a joke and half because even with that infamous arthritis, heís got to be better than most of the stiffs I have. None of my fellow league members are in sports journalism, so the fact that I, the league patsy, am is of the utmost amusement to them. Yet I trudge on.

I canít be the only one with this problem, can I? Evidently not, considering all the fantasy football sites on the Web and the outrageous popularity of my friend Mattís column, which has about, oh, 100 times the readership of this one (a poor comparison, I know). Of course, Iíd like to think that the rest of you are in fantasy leagues as a supplement to your enjoyment of football, or as a lark, or for money. Itís not a life crutch for you, I bet.

Confession: As I was writing this column, I: a) called Matt for advice about whom to pick up at tight end next week; b) underlined the statistics for each of my next opponentís players; c) made preparations for whom to start during each of my starsí bye weeks; d) glanced over flow charts showing each of my playersí statistical breakdowns against each team in their division; e) made up a team logo for the Mattoon Green Wave; f) talked to no girls.



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