Related Article:By Mark Kiszla
Denver Post Sports Columnist
Sept. 28, 2000 - Hello, fantasy football geeks of America. Brian Griese knows you're out there, lurking, agonizing, desperately waiting for a definitive answer. The injured, top-rated quarterback of the Denver Broncos has a valuable piece of advice for all the fantasy leaguers who think they own him:
Get a life!
"I could care less about your fantasy league," Griese growled Wednesday, when asked for the umpteenth time if we geeks can pencil him in the starting lineup for this weekend's game against the New England Patriots.
Please forgive Mr. Griese, for the young quarterback knows not what he does.
An NFL player degrading fantasy leaguers is akin to actor William Shatner ridiculing Trekkies.
Griese is messing with the awesome power of geeks. The invention of fantasy football is more important to the USA's rabid love affair with the NFL than the two-team parlay, the La-Z-Boy recliner or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.
The NFL is just a game. Fantasy football is a cult.
And the cult is stronger than a 250-pound linebacker. Just ask Denver's Terrell Davis, a star running back who has been hurt most of the season. "Oh, yeah," Davis said. "I've ruined some fantasy teams this year."
Strangers on the street get upset at the sight of Davis hobbling on a sprained foot. But it's not sympathy. "The thing people are most upset with is fantasy football," Davis said.
There are 31 teams in the NFL, if you insist on counting the Cincinnati Bengals. But there are more fantasy football franchises in America than Starbucks.
Fantasy football is a relatively simple statistical game that lets Joe or Jane Sixpack play owner, and for a few bucks prove that any idiot knows more about how to put together a winning team than Washington Redskins boss Daniel M. Snyder.
Fantasy football is the revenge of a fan disenfranchised by free agency, allowing any league participant to draft, start, bench or waive the same millionaire players who once broke hearts by dumping the hometown NFL team for bigger bucks in Baltimore.
Fantasy football, according to geeks who were there at the time, was born in a New York City hotel in 1962. It was invented by Wilfred "Bill" Winkenbach, who once was a limited partner with the Oakland Raiders. Too bad he didn't trademark the idea. If Winkenbach had, he would've had more money than Monopoly.
Winkenbach died seven years ago, at age 81. Shortly before he departed for the great fantasy league in the sky, somebody asked Winkenbach if he was stunned how his silly little pastime turned into a nationwide obsession. "Oh, yeah," he replied. "I'm surprised how big it's gotten."
Fantasy football is everywhere, from a Florida sports bar where some geek inexplicably goes nuts every time Jon Kitna throws a touchdown for the Seahawks, to cubbies in the Denver Tech Center, where a computer programmer who's supposed to be working is secretly computing the league standings for the week.
How crazy is it? Do a search on the web. You'll find 3,560 sites dedicated to "world hunger." And 35,100 sites devoted to "fantasy football."
The NFL injury list once was published for the benefit of Las Vegas oddsmakers. Now it's essential information to fantasy leaguers trying to determine a starting lineup. Jim Saccomano, the Broncos' director of media relations, estimates the team is fielding three dozen telephone calls every Friday from geeks wanting to know if Davis and Griese are fit to play.
The power of fantasy football? "It's bigger than I thought," said Davis, who knows his meager 75 yards rushing have been cursed by fantasy leaguers across the nation. The Denver tailback feels their pain. The geeks make sure he does.
"No," Davis said, "I'm not in a league. It's everybody I come across. People will come up and say: 'Man, you need to play this week. I've got you in the lineup.'"
Now that's pressure. Hades hath no fury like a fantasy geek scorned.