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August 22, 2003

by Bill Hogan


On August 16, the hopes and dreams of every Atlanta Flacons fan faded faster than Gary Coleman's political career. This was supposed to be their year. They acquired Peerless Price in the off season - that was the last piece of the puzzle. Because, after all, they had the best quarterback in the NFL; they had Michael Vick.

Best laid plans. Last Saturday, Vick scrambled to his right, took a Ravens tackler head on, and broke his femur. He's done – at least for the next six weeks. Now, the fans, the radio talk show pundits, the sportswriters in Atlanta are grief stricken.


How the heck are the Falcons supposed to win without Michael Vick? The fans finally have a team worth rooting for and the guy that's going to lead them to the Promised Land snaps a bone in his leg in a meaningless exhibition game.

The folks in Atlanta are in virtual mourning. Georgians are weeping because their team's savior will be sidelined for the first month of the season – maybe longer. Then there is the fear that when he returns, he may not be the same Vick that led the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002.

But the thousands of Falcons fans crushed by the loss of Vick pale in comparison to the millions nationwide that are devastated by the dire news. Because whether you love the Falcons, hate them or have absolutely no interest in them, the hoards of Fantasy Football League participants adore Michael Vick.

He can run, he can pass, he can score; he's an FFLer's dream. And for those who were "lucky" enough to land Vick in their FFL Draft, their dream come true quickly turned into a fantasy nightmare. Chuckle if you will – I did. Scoff if you must – I did. But Fantasy Football is a BILLION DOLLAR business.

Falcons fans number in the thousands. FFL participants number in the millions – perhaps even tens of millions. Hundreds of online sports sites offer Fantasy Football Leagues – some are free, some costing as much as $49.99. Hundreds of other websites offer valuable information for FFLers. Player profiles and statistics, Draft Day "Cheat Sheets", injury reports, "expert" analysis and "insider information" – all for one low monthly price.

I joined a Fantasy Football League once. Just once. After a week or two it seemed like too much work to be classified as a hobby or a pastime. The initial amusement of being the "General Manager" of my very own football team quickly waned the first time I failed to remove my star running back from the lineup on the weekend his team had a bye.

I kicked myself for a week. You'd have thought I had forgotten to pay the mortgage, pick up my parents at the airport or return my neighbor's weed whacker. The league, the roster, the stats, the standings consume you. It becomes an obsession.

Waiting at dawn for the magazine stand to open on the day Fantasy Football Insider comes out. Late-night internet surfing to get the updated injury reports. Drifting off at work, wondering if I made the right decision to start Doug Flutie. The pressure was unbearable; I didn't get a decent night sleep until February.

And then there's the ultimate football fan's dilemma. That's when your favorite team is playing against your fantasy team quarterback. For whom do you root? If your "real team" wins, they take over first place in the division. If your fantasy quarterback has a great game, you take over first place in the FFL Acorn division.

A chance for your team to gain home field advantage in the playoffs or a chance to win up to $50 in cash and prizes; it's quite a quandary. And frankly, it gave me too much to think about. On football Sunday, it's all I can do to root for my team, keep the beer cold and decide whether to fire up the grill at halftime or wait until the game is over.

In Atlanta, fans are trying to figure out how their beloved Falcons will survive the first quarter of the season without Michael Vick. In Toledo, Bert can't help but wonder what might have been for his FFL Stallions had Vick not been injured. Who knows, old Bert may have even won himself a free subscription to The SportingNews.

It must be true that there's a fine line between fantasy and reality.


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