Fantasy football allows would-be team owners to play out gridiron-based dreams

The room is quiet, except for the shuffling of papers. It's hot. It's humid. And everyone is just waiting "¦ waiting "¦ waiting.

Finally, the silence is broken.

"I'll, uh "¦ I'll take Rudi Johnson."


Suddenly, the room is alive with the sound of pens scribbling and keyboards clacking. The guy on iChat asks who was picked, so he can write the results down from his home in Chicago.

Fall is here, and with it, fantasy football.

Whether they're former athletes desperately clinging for a connection to the game they played, statistic junkies getting revved up over the numbers game or just fans looking to find another reason to watch, the dramatic rise of fantasy football cannot be ignored.

In fact, just this year a new online player entered the game, as social-networking behemoth Facebook jumped into the fray with an exclusive Facebook-only league to try and capture a piece of the estimated 30 million people playing the game worldwide.

Andrew Gilman " owner, Lucky Strikes and All-Valley Champs
But in the beginning, there was the box score. Gilman, Central Oklahoma editor of VYPE High School Sports Magazine, remembers getting the Monday morning newspaper, cracking open the sports section and doing a lot of math.

"I know it sounds crazy, but I've been doing fantasy football since 1984. Obviously, we didn't use the Internet back then, because Al Gore hadn't come around yet," he said.

Gilman, 35, started up a league with friends when he was 12 years old. The game that's become so popular now used to require lengthy explanations, he said.

"I specifically remember explaining it to people, going over the rules, and people looked at me like I was crazy," he said. "Now you say 'fantasy football' and people know exactly what you mean."

Oklahoma, while known for football, isn't exactly a haven for NFL fans. Gilman said fantasy football is a way for people with no geographic connection to a team to take greater ownership of the sport.

Travis Summers " owner, Team Summers
Summers, 24, was a Dallas Cowboys fan growing up. Now he roots for Team Summers.

"When you're watching college football, you have your team, OU or OSU, and you root for that one team really hard," he said. "I was for the Cowboys growing up. I've seen them play live six or seven times, but with fantasy football, I have my guys that I root for. I'm more interested in them than any one team."

Working for Element Fusion, a Web development company in Oklahoma City, Summers is definitely an Internet kind of guy when it comes to the game.

"I've only ever done it online. It's just so much easier to do it that way," he said. "Plus, I've got friends from all over the country in my league, so we just set a time, meet up online and draft from there."

The online world also keeps him connected to the games with minute-by-minute scoring, which is extremely tough, when you see your lead dwindle.

"I had a tough loss this week," he said. "One point. I lost by one point because Jay Cutler decided to have a career night."

Eli Gynther " managing partner, Fox & Hound Pub & Grille
Career nights mean career days for Gynther, who works at Fox & Hound, 3031 W. Memorial. Football season means big money to local restaurants, he said.

"When the NFL isn't playing, from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays, we probably do $300 to $400," he said. "(When the) NFL starts, we make $4,000."

And for those online fans that like to watch the games and watch their fantasy scores, Fox & Hound added Wi-Fi access this year.

Game days are good, but with drafts becoming social situations, there's money to be made before the whistle blows, too.

"Having Wi-Fi probably doubled the amount of fantasy drafts we did this year," Gynther said. "We hosted about 25 fantasy drafts, but the funny thing was, you'd start to see the same people here, because they're in three or four leagues."

Ken Pletz Jr. " owner, El Gato Pollo Loco (The CrazyCat Chickens) and The Edmond Fitzgeralds
Pletz is taking it easy this year. He's only caretaker for four fantasy leagues, down from his all-time high of eight.

"I have been playing since 2001," he said. "I actually got into it with some other people in my unit in the Marines and just kept going just about every year since."

But even though he's in four leagues " one with members of his church, one with members of a message board he frequents, one with someone from his fantasy baseball league and one public league full of strangers " he's actually watching less football.

A Lions fan, Pletz can't find his team represented very often in Oklahoma and his wife doesn't care for sports so much.

"I'm usually doing other things," he said. "Good thing I have the Internet to check on scores, eh?"

Matt Allen " owner, The Penny Traitors
On the other end is 27-year-old attorney Allen, now in his fifth year playing fantasy football. He came to the game because his favorites from OU were going to the NFL and he wanted to follow along.

He used to catch a few NFL games, but things change.

"By orders of magnitude," he said.

The addictive nature of the leagues has him devouring content " and not just games.

Allen does a lot of online research, spending $50 a year just on the tools to sharpen his teams' chances to win. But while the quest for bragging rights is fine, the real prize is having a shared interaction with his friends.

And, as an OU fan, he was happy with another prize.

"I was happy when my draft spot fell such that the best player on the board was Adrian Peterson," he said.

Matt Davenport " owner, The Dugout Bar and Grill
Watching the hometown hero is good business for The Dugout, 10909 N. May, Davenport said.

"We got extra people in here to watch the Broncos game and the Vikings game," he said.

Whether that's because of Peterson or just because the Sunday night game started early, he didn't know.

One thing that is sure is as a sports bar owner, Davenport looks forward to fall, when Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons are packed with customers who can't wait to see their team " either real or fantasy " take the field. "Greg Elwell

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