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The lure of fantasy football

– Today’s introductory primer – for those men and women who just can’t grasp its appeal – is fantasy football.

I know, I know. You cringe at the very sound. To you, it’s like press-ons scraping a chalkboard, or as annoying as your weird cousin who grinds his teeth, or any Rick Astley song. It’s why you detest, particularly this time of year when the madness is about to begin, sitting among the three guys at work because that’s all they yammer about.

“Holy (bleep), will you guys give it a REST!”

But that is why I’m writing this today; to assist you in comprehending the allure of fantasy football, particularly from a participant’s perspective. If you can’t beat ’em, at least try to understand ’em.

To confront your fear, let’s say it again: “Fantasy football.”

First, we’ll dissect the brief phrase and carefully examine each word:

We begin with “fantasy.”

Well, um, there’s not much to explain with that one.

The second word is “football.”

This is not to be mistaken for the game that Americans call soccer. Clearly the entire rest of the world is out of step, if you pardon the phrase, by calling it football.

Unlike soccer, in which a referee penalizes a player who has committed a serious offense by showing him a yellow card, “our” football players are shown their own spleens.

By now, and this is to the women who don’t get the fascination, you have noticed both words “fantasy” and “football” elicit much of the same response in your significant male. His eyes glass over, as if he has been overcome by a hypnotic trance. Unless he is driving, be patient. He will snap out of it.

There is also drool. For this, keep a tissue close by.

Quickly, here is how fantasy football works: The game mostly revolves around offensive players, i.e., the quarterback, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. After the NFL season begins, the players’ real statistics on that Sunday afternoon game (or maybe Sunday night, or maybe Monday night, and sometimes Thursday nights, and Saturdays during the playoffs) equate to “fantasy points.”

I know what you are thinking: “How does this relate to my husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend?”

In a few days or weeks prior to the start of the NFL season, which begins a week from tonight when last season’s Super Bowl champion Baltimore plays at Denver, similar types who are in the same “fantasy league” gather for a “fantasy draft.”

In a pre-designated order, each “team owner” chooses an offensive player who he thinks will accumulate the most “fantasy points” in a season. After that player is chosen – Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is the consensus first pick this year – he cannot be selected again.

This process continues until a “fantasy roster” of quarterbacks and running backs and wide receivers and tight ends is filled. Depending on the league, the roster can include as many as 14, 16 or 18 players.

I know what you are thinking: “How do these guys know which players to pick?”

Excellent question, for which I have two questions: Have you seen less of your husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend lately? Have you forgotten that you have a husband/boyfriend, etc.?

If the answer is “yes” to either, it is because he or she has been studying.

With the kind of top-notch research found only in secret underground laboratories, fantasy football owners spend work hour upon work hour on the Internet, poring over players’ statistics from previous seasons.

This also includes their height, weight, age, third-down tendencies, medical history, body mass index, their team’s strength of schedule and whether Indianapolis Colts’ second-year quarterback Andrew Luck is a cat person or Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is a dog person.

By the time draft day arrives, the typical fantasy football player likes to think he or she is as well-prepared for the three-hour event as an attorney presenting a case in a court of law. They can debate with great certitude the strengths and weaknesses of nearly 100 NFL players.

After fantasy teams are filled, owners will designate which players among their stable they want to start in their weekly head-to-head match-ups.

Despite the vast amount of information they accumulate on each player, the predicted weather at the sites where their starters are playing, and the gut instincts of the shrewd owner, his starting running back will have gained 22 yards and sprained an ankle, while his bench-sitting No. 5 tailback, whose points won’t be counted, ran for 417 yards and six touchdowns.

Like real-life general managers and coaches, fantasy team owners can trade, drop, start or sit their players.

According to last year’s figures from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, an estimated 24.3 million played fantasy football. Websites are loaded with fantasy leagues. SiriusXM Radio has a station devoted to fantasy sports. ESPN provides a Sunday morning show geared toward fantasy football. Michael Berry, an ESPN fantasy expert, has a book on the New York Times bestseller list.

Mark St. Amant, a Boston-based author who also has written books on fantasy football and is a long-time fantasy player, tells this story:

“I talked to a guy who said he was on his honeymoon on a cruise ship – literally the day after his wedding night. Sunday morning, he peels back the covers and sneaks out of bed and pretends he’s going off to get a coffee or something, and finds the ship’s computer center to check his fantasy team.

“He goes in there, and the door sort of creaks open, and it’s almost like he disturbs a family of possums. There were about 10 other dudes in there doing the exact same thing. The light hit them and they were afraid it was their wives catching them.”

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.