Some things are best left to fantasy. Those who have actually gone through with a threesome only to deal with the awkwardness that's inevitable once the drugs and/or booze wears off know what I'm talking about. Same goes for football. After 30, playing real football leads to sprains, aches and even heart attacks. Fantasy football is a different story.

Do a Google search for "fantasy football" and over 1.7 million websites are the daunting result. Each year, fantasy football continues to grow in popularity. There are magazines devoted to it, ESPN even devotes a few minutes to it and chances are good that you know a few people who might even illegally wager a few hundred bucks on it. In case you're in the dark about this fast-growing phenomenon, fantasy football requires you (as the team owner) to keep a roster of players who get points for receptions, touchdowns, tackles, field goals, rushing yardage and just about every other conceivable thing. In most leagues, you go head-to-head with another owner each week and just like in real football, the team with the most points wins. In no way am I trying to pass myself off as a fantasy football guru, but after playing it four years in a row I've learned a few things that I'm happy to share.

Thing No. 1: You don't have to know squat about football to excel at fantasy football. As long as you're in a league with other people who don't live and breathe fantasy football, it'll be just fine. Be forewarned, though: One geek can ruin the league for everyone. Be on the lookout for the guy who buys multiple fantasy magazines (and I'm not talking about Barely Legal or Crazy Cornholers), wears sweat pants outside the house and has a tattoo of his favorite football team somewhere on his plus-sized body. Don't allow him in the league if at all possible.

Oh, I've gotten ahead of myself. I'm sure a few folks are wondering just how one starts or gets involved with a fantasy football league. There are several exceptional leagues online, but only one of them still allows you to play for free. That's Yahoo. There's no need to spend money on fantasy football just yet, especially if you're a novice. Go check out the other leagues (www.sandbox.com, www.cbssportsline.com, www.espn.com, just to name a few), but realize that signing up with them is going to cost money. I've heard that even in Yahoo leagues, team owners will each chip in 100 bucks or so with the "Superbowl" winner taking the pot, but that would be illegally gambling and I just can't condone that … not in print, anyway.

Thing No. 2: OK, you've decided on a league, but before you start even thinking about your draft, roster or competition, you need to come up with a creative team name. A stellar name can do a lot to strike fear in the hearts of opponents, even before there's a single player on the squad. Last season I went with the Longwood Labias and failed to make it to the playoffs. This season, I can already tell which team is going to dominate in my league: "ICanSmellYourPunt." Sheer genius. If there's a bad Silence of the Lambs joke or reference, I damn sure haven't heard it yet.

Thing No. 3: Now, let's get some players. In some leagues, they do what's called a "live draft." This can either be done on or offline, in someone's rec room or a sports bar. A word to the wise: A live draft will bore the piss out of you and render you completely disinterested in fantasy sports for the rest of your life. Imagine sitting in front of a computer monitor as sports geeks take their entire allotted time wondering who to pick as their third-string backup quarterback! No thanks. In our Yahoo league, we do what's called an "autopick" draft, ranking our players ahead of time and letting the computer pick the order of the draft randomly. Once the draft goes through, the computer puts together a team based on rankings and the draft order. Someone always bitches, but I've learned that bitching is just a part of fantasy football and should be tolerated, if not ignored completely.

If you've never played fantasy ball before, just know that the running back position is your meat and potatoes. It pretty much be a suck-ass team, but if there's a stud or two in the backfield then the team's got a fighting chance. The first two rounds of draft picks should probably be running backs, and if you don't know the elite ones in the NFL then here are five that you'd be proud to "own" (in no particular order): Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis, Priest Holmes, LaDanlian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander.

Do research before the draft to avoidlooking like a complete fool on draft day and be aware that a great many NFL players find themselves on the wrong side of the law. While this may not affect you emotionally (though perhaps it should), Michael Pittman's predilection for spousal abuse and Jamal Lewis' charge of drug racketeering just might affect their playing time due to suspensions. There has also been an abundance of player movement this preseason, so check out guys on new teams with something to prove. One thing to keep in mind: Don't pick a player because you are a fan of his team. Playing with your heart rather than your head is a great way to lose at fantasy football. The Internet is a great tool for finding those "sleeper" players that just might be available in later rounds of the draft, but don't forget that if one person (you) can find sleepers on the Internet, so can lots of other people (your competition).

One very important caveat: Fantasy football is much like the dreaded Cheez Doodle – unappealing on the surface, but once you get one in your mouth you can't stop throwing them down your throat. Sundays that used to be filled with useful and productive activities like yard work or shopping will now be spent in front of the TV and/or computer monitor, salivating over passes, punts and defense. Fantasy football can lead to fantasy baseball, basketball and yes, even golf and NASCAR. Ask yourself if you can handle that type of commitment before you enter the fantasy realm. Same goes for that threesome we discussed earlier.


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