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Dean Rhodes column: Football fans ready for the fantasy

Millions of American wives, and a few husbands (to be politically correct), are preparing for a 19-week break from seeing their spouses every day of the week.

Millions of American wives, and a few husbands (to be politically correct), are preparing for a 19-week break from seeing their spouses every day of the week.

The National Football League season kicked off Thursday and really gets under way tomorrow.

What's worse, many of those wives, and some husbands (to be politically correct), will be living with a football coach the entire time. The spouses will vicariously experience the emotional rollercoaster of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat on the imaginary gridiron.

After almost 10 years as an addict, I entered the 12-Step Fantasy Football League Anonymous program and have been off the fictional sidelines for seven years.

Life is better now, although every August I long for draft day and the thrill of getting the No. 1 pick.

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Back then, not only was I the coach of a fantasy football league team, which involved plunking down $20 to draft 15 players, I was also commissioner, which entailed keeping standings, collecting fees and settling disputes.

When football season arrives every fall, it reminds many women of the old saying, paraphrased here, that men really never grow up; their toys just get bigger.

In the case of fantasy football, men's games become more expensive as real cash replaces Monopoly money. They fork over entry fees and pay additional charges for picking up new players as the inevitable injuries take their toll.

Why, many wives must think, does my husband have to pretend he is in charge of a football team, be glued to the TV set every Sunday and Monday night (and now occasionally on Thursday night) and not care if a team wins or loses, but just who scores? What, exactly, is this madness?

Ultimately, it's a form of play that is important to mental health.

Although there doesn't appear to be a lot of scientific study on the mindset of fantasy football league participants, a July/August 1999 article in Psychology Today, "The Power of Play," says that humans are among the very few animals that play as adults.

Play is an important element in adults, especially males. According to one psychologist, one sign that males may not be dangerous either to females or their children is their willingness to play with them.

In addition, people can be very active within the framework of a game.

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"Play is always a fantasy," the magazine quoted Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith as saying, "but once you get into the frame it is quite real, and everything you do is real. You put acres and acres of ... real belief in it."

That is why you will hear fantasy football league owners talking about their teams and players as if they practice every week at the park around the corner.

When a group of league owners congregate in a bar or another league owner's living room, they'll talk about league happenings as if they were reported that morning in the real sports page.

Ultimately, the Psychology Today article said about adults playing, "Play is an exercise in self-definition; it reveals what we choose to do, not what we have to do."

Many men every fall would love to be on the sideline of their favorite team's stadium, deciding who the quarterback will be handing off to or throwing a post-pattern pass toward.

And these fantasy football team owners are easy to spot, especially on Monday mornings. They have the sports section open to the agate type that summarizes the results of Sunday's games. Usually, there are calculators nearby to tally their score.

And if you often hear sighing or under-the-breath cursing, you can be 100 percent sure you're in the presence of a fantasy Vince Lombardi.

Just remember: They're playing and not particularly dangerous ... unless they start throwing things.

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Dean Rhodes is features editor of The Forum. He can be reached through e-mail at drhodes@forumcomm.com or by calling (701) 241-5524

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