Pure fantasy

DALLAS -- In a previous time, when you happened to find yourself in a foursome with a physician, you would pull him aside between holes and say, "Doc, I got this thing here in my back when I bend over. What do you think?"

Things change.

Now you ask the doctor what he practices and he says, "G.I. But I'll trade you a medical question for a sports question. How's Priest Holmes? Is he going to be OK?"

Well, his hip looked fine in the preseason. Chiefs fan?

"No," says the doctor. "I've got the fifth pick tomorrow. Tomlinson, Ricky, Portis -- they'll all be gone. Faulk, too, I figure. Just don't know if I should play it safe with Shaun Alexander or try to hit a home run with Holmes."


Welcome to the sports world of 2003. Walt Disney had no idea that Fantasyland would look anything like this.

Fantasy football and baseball leagues once were confined to the few, the unproud, the mostly geek (more on that in a minute). Now their numbers are in the millions, and no sports magazine would dare publish a season preview without a tip of the cap to the fantasy players.

Networks covering the NFL compete to see who can deliver the most statistics the quickest, and if you think that's not a specific response to fantasy football leagues, then perhaps you're the one missing the reality.

One night four years ago, I bumped into another golf-course acquaintance at a restaurant. He happened to be an executive in the restaurant business and, according to published reports, had earned roughly 100 times my income the previous year.

But can you guess what excited him?

"Can you believe it?" he said. "I've got Warner and Faulk on my team."

In 1999, a man in full was a man with the Rams backfield and an eight-figure income.

Recently, some learned local media types engaged in vigorous debate as to whether anyone other than geeks played in fantasy leagues. I know doctors, lawyers, former coaches and players who play fantasy football or baseball, so it clearly extends beyond geekdom.


However, if your first impulse when you see Curtis Martin score a touchdown is to shout in a crowded bar, "I just traded him!" then you've got a geek problem.

If you maintain any kind of chart or scoreboard in your home office of other teams' players in your league, then you've got a geek problem.

If at any point you have ever played in two leagues and confided to your wife, "Favre's playing for me and against me Sunday, and I don't know what to do," you've got a geek problem.

If you can't remember your children's birthdays but you've memorized and follow Baseball America's Top 30 White Sox prospects ("Jeremy Reed is on fire!"), you've got a geek problem.

That said, the proliferation of fantasy leagues is perfectly understandable. Players rarely stay with one team for a career, as they did before free agency. They're in it for the money, and so are the fans.

Disloyalty begets disloyalty.

Many fans still cheer for the Eagles and the Bears, but they cheer for themselves, too. For millions, "my team" isn't the Redskins or the Cowboys any more. It's "my team."

So they stay at home and flip from game to game to keep up with the action because "their team" is spread across eight NFL rosters.


Fantasy leagues provide an outlet for the dispossessed fan who still loves the game but finds it harder and harder to love the local team and its revolving-door roster.

If wide receivers can turn every first down into a celebration of "me," who's to question the fan who does the same?

Beyond that, fantasy leagues also offer a safer repository for your money than the local bookmaker. I have known people who were once big-time bettors who have managed to confine their losses to their fantasy league indulgences.

The facts are in, and ours is a fantasy sports world. You can join in or you can pass, but to dispute its presence or relevance is pointless.

So it's not a question of whether or not you're a geek if you participate in these things. Not for me, anyway.

My question is: What's a G-I?

Tim Cowlishaw is a sports columnist with the Dallas Morning News. His column is distributed by Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

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