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Jessie Raymond: Back in the game, thanks to fantasy

Thanks to fantasy football, I’ve rediscovered my love for the NFL. No, seriously.
I started watching pro football with my father when I was quite young. He taught me not only the basics of the game but also, inadvertently, how to yell at the TV using a spectacular array of expletives.
What got me hooked, however, wasn’t the excitement of game play or even the camaraderie with my dad. It was seeing a pre-game interview in the fall of 1981 with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark. It wasn’t so much his playing that captivated me as it was his 6-foot-2-inch, hunky build and his dimples (I was 13). After that, you couldn’t tear me away from football, at least when the 49ers were playing.
What a season to develop a crush: The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl that year, and Clark went down in history, along with quarterback Joe Montana, for “The Catch,” the last-minute, game-tying play of the NFC championship game against Dallas. Dwight Clark, it turned out, was not just another pretty face.
My infatuation with this human Ken doll kept me coming back every Sunday. I became a devoted 49ers fan, and eventually grew to love the game of football itself, even after I began to suspect that things would never work out between Dwight and me. (News that he was dating Miss Universe Shawn Weatherly — whom I referred to in my head as “that harlot” — broke my heart but did not end my enjoyment of the game.)
As I got older, however, time-sucking hobbies such as raising a family took precedence over football. I gradually lost interest, and eventually, even when I had the time to watch a game, I didn’t recognize the players and didn’t care who won.
Until fantasy football.
If you aren’t familiar with it, fantasy football is a popular, harmless online pastime (or, alternately, a dangerous gambling addiction) in which you draft your own virtual team of players from across the NFL. Each week, the combined statistics of those players are tallied against those of an opponent to determine the winner.
I had intended to join our office’s new league this year. However, due to a computer error — specifically, that I failed to check my email in a timely fashion — I missed the draft. But by then I was so pumped about playing fantasy I had started wearing a giant foam finger to work. (My typing was atrocious, but my football fever was epic.)
Desperate, I went out on my own and joined a free fantasy league at nfl.com. I like it, except for the lack of a personal connection with the people I play against. But I make up for that by randomly trash-talking my coworkers throughout the day. It’s pretty fun.
The main job of a fantasy team owner is simple: You decide who plays and who rides the bench each week. But it’s hard to get it right: Even if you manage to draft an ideal lineup, odds are at least one of your players will get injured (or possibly arrested).
When your star running back pulls a hamstring and curls up on the Astroturf like a dead spider just two minutes into the game, you don’t get any points for him that week. It’s enough to make you rip your foam finger apart with your teeth.
My mistake at first was putting too much faith in the pundits’ projections. The best game analysts in the world couldn’t have predicted, for instance, that my starting quarterback would break his collarbone in week 2 (I’m looking at you, Tony Romo). So two weeks ago, I gave up on professional opinions and started basing my starting lineups solely on my players’ horoscopes.
I haven’t lost since.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter. The stakes are low. Zero, actually. I have no money riding on these games and no one at the office to trade truly meaningful insults with.
But what I do have this year, for the first time in decades, is an interest in the games in which my players — when not sidelined with compound fractures, jock itch or existential angst — are competing.
I’ve spent the last four Sundays yelling profanities at the TV, and loving it. My dad would be so proud.

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