Fantasy football leagues a growing craze

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— Mike Fuller was ahead of his time.

In 1996, while living in Lancaster, a city in Los Angeles County, in southern California, Fuller was already playing a game that has grown steadily in recent years and captured the attention of millions.

Fantasy football.

Back then, the game didn't have the same loyal - and growing - fan base it does today.

"It really has kind of exploded over the last four or five years," said Fuller, a disc jockey at KRAI and a 10-year plus fantasy football veteran. "The Internet did help it out."

Today, estimates on the number of people playing fantasy football vary between 10 million to 15 million. There is enough participation in the sport, according to one study, that it will cost employers $435 million a week during the course of the NFL season.

Fantasy football is a game that - and this could cause Bronco fans to cringe - originated with an idea in 1962 by Bill Winkenbach, a limited owner in the Oakland Raiders. The concept - drafting a team of professional athletes and applying scores and stats to participants' point totals - was originally developed for professional golf.

It then moved to baseball, and later was adapted for professional football.

However, the early years didn't offer the same convenience as today's technological age does. Players can now play in an online leagues - ESPN, CBS Sports and Yahoo are among the biggest providers - or in leagues developed by groups of friends.

The Internet also allows participants easy access to statistics, league news, injury reports and other details critical to compiling a formidable roster.

Fuller has played in both online and friendly leagues. This year, he's entered into a league with local buddies.

"It's another way to enjoy the game," he said. "It lets you root for players, not just the teams, and it gives you a reason to keep up with all the games."

The all-important draft, where participants lay claim to the players they believe will accumulate the most points, is this Sunday for Fuller and other contestants in his league.

Research is critical to the draft process, Fuller said, but you need some luck along the way. Good draft position increases the chances of acquiring the prime-time players - LaDanian Tomlinson or Peyton Manning - are generally among the top two players selected in most leagues.

Naturally, Fuller hopes to land one of those two, or even a stud running back like Stephen Jackson or Larry Johnson. But, he said there are "sleepers" out there that might be primed for a breakout season for fantasy league owners who have them.

He listed quarterbacks like Phillip Rivers and Tony Romo, and running backs Marshawn Lynch and Ronnie Brown as potential dark horse point providers.

Fuller said he hasn't spent much time prepping for his draft, but he plans to use the days leading up to Sunday as a crash course on teams and players.

"I have (researched) more in previous years than this year," Fuller said. "But, I would guess Saturday and Sunday will be nothing but having my nose in a magazine or being on the Internet."

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