Fantasy football serious business to fans

Game changes the way participants watch, track their favorite NFL teams and players

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Eric Unglaub's oldest child is named Green Bay Unglaub. His second child is named Brett Favre Unglaub.

Unglaub is a badly addicted football fan. And like millions of football fans from across the nation, that addiction is being further enabled by the phenomena of fantasy football.

"I don't know if I couldn't do it," Unglaub said. "It's become part of my fall season."

Unglaub is a member of seven fantasy football leagues, one with co-workers in the Moffat County School District and six free leagues on the Internet.

For the uninitiated, this is how the game works: League members act as team general managers, drafting players at the beginning of the season, then deciding who will play each week.

Competitors get points for their players' accomplishments, such as scoring touchdowns or running for 100 yards.

The complexity of the point system depends on the league.

Unglaub's league has a simple philosophy, whereas a fantasy football league of employees at Victory Motors is more complex.

But regardless of the specific rules, fantasy football players are fiercely competitive, feeling real pride over how their players perform.

While being interviewed, Izzy Gomez of Victory Motors was subjected to some good-natured trash talk by his co-worker Tony Maneotis.

Although he has no real control of how his players perform on any given Sunday, Gomez says there's plenty of strategy to the game.

Draft for depth, he advised. That way you have strong players to pull from when considering head-to-head matchups.

"There's actually coaching behind this," Gomez said.

Although Gomez has Priest Holmes and Thomas Jones on his team, his other players aren't playing well, and he's in sixth place three weeks into the season in his league.

Having researched the game on the Internet, Unglaub learned fantasy sports began at a cafe in New York. It started as fantasy baseball, a game Unglaub has tried and no longer plays because the 162-game season is overwhelming, requiring huge amounts of time to prepare.

But the game has had a major effect on fans and how they enjoy their sports.

"It really has affected the way people watch football," Unglaub said.

People didn't use to watch football with a laptop beside them so they could see statistics updates on players throughout the league every couple of minutes. Nor did they constantly e-mail and phone their friends to talk trash about how players performed Sunday.

And fans used to be able to cheer for their favorite team with unabashed enthusiasm. But fantasy football messes with allegiances, getting team owners to cheer for players on their fantasy team who are playing against their favorite NFL team.

Say someone's a Broncos fan. Fantasy football puts that person in the awkward position of hoping one of their players who's playing against the Broncos does well, but not so well that it causes the Broncos to lose, said Steve Miller, statistician and defending champ of Unglaub's league.

"It's really confusing for a fan," Miller said.

And it can lead to bad Sundays. Unglaub suffered a double whammy last week when Green Bay lost and his fantasy league players who were competing against Green Bay also played poorly.

Unlike many players, Gomez can go for a Sunday afternoon without seeing the stats for all his players. He processes game meat at his family business Sunday afternoons during hunting season and waits until work is finished to check scores.

Unglaub, by contrast, checks scores constantly, acknowledging the futility of it.

"The stupid thing is it has no impact on how I do," he said, admitting he could go on vacation and everything would turn out the same.

Some football widows become all the more abandoned because of fantasy football, but Gomez, Miller and Unglaub each say their wives are supportive.

Miller's wife criticizes the decisions he makes on players, and he considers her an accountability partner.

Gomez's wife has joined and won Internet leagues previously.

Unglaub's wife has been supportive since he won $200 in a league, which they used to buy a color television.

And as for his children's names, Unglaub says it was his wife who came up with Green Bay.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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