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COMMENTARY: Make Fantasy Football Your Reality

Charles E. Sutton | 8/25/2014, noon
As an NFL fan, joining a fantasy league is one of the best decisions I've made — and one you ...
The Washington Redskins defeated the Cleveland Browns, 24-23, in the second game of the preseason on Aug. 18 at FedEx Field in Landover. Photo by John DeFreitas

I've been playing fantasy football for nearly two decades, in the same league and with largely the same participants. With Year 18 on the horizon, I can't help but reflect on what an exciting, joyful and fulfilling experience it has been. As an NFL fan, joining a fantasy league is one of the best decisions I've made — and one you should make, too.

My league is Florida-based, though we have team owners from as far as Chicago and Indianapolis. My team name is Mount Pleasant, after my Mount Pleasant neighborhood in D.C. (I know, not terribly creative. Oh well, maybe next season.)

Having fantasy team owners living in different parts of the country isn't as problematic as it might sound. Technology makes it simple: drafts are often held online and all scoring and player transactions are done electronically as well.

One of the things I like most about fantasy football is that it encourages you to track every team, not just your favorite one. Every squad has players that warrant fantasy consideration. If you don't follow the entire league, you won't be familiar with those players, and you'll miss out. Besides, if you claim to be an NFL fan, you should behave like one. Follow all 32 teams, not just a few.

In fact, it'd be difficult not to become a more knowledgeable fan once you join a league and have a stake in so many different players' performances. You'll find yourself watching games that you wouldn't normally watch. Your interest level will grow across the entire league. As an NFL fan, isn't that what you want?

Not to mention, it'll build camaraderie among the league's participants. I've developed some good friendships within my league, even though most of the team owners live in other cities. We've managed to stay in touch year-round, and from time to time during the offseason, we've gotten together in a selected city to simply have a good time. Join a fantasy league and you can expand your network in the process.

But don't forget, even with all your newfound friendships, it's still a competition. Study your team so that you can make the best adjustments, but also keep an eye on your foes. Make sure you're not influenced by the friendships between the owners. You're playing to win, after all.

And it's not just bragging rights on the line. Most fantasy leagues involve cash prizes for the top three finishers (that's right, actual money). The higher you place in your league, the more money you can win. There have been fantasy league owners who have won four-figure incomes in a single season. Competing for that level of payoff while following the entire league adds up to a really great experience.

And playing can improve in-house relationships, too. For those of you with a spouse or significant other, a fantasy league can be another vehicle through which the two of you can spend time and enjoy each other's company. Fantasy sports have added a positive dimension to many relationships. In some instances, both parties are individual fantasy team owners, and find themselves in healthy competition against each other — emphasis on the word healthy.

Anyone who's been in a fantasy league knows that trash talking is a part of the program. Most leagues have "trash talk boards" on their websites where owners can post messages to needle fellow competitors, but, again, should be done all in good fun.

One last piece of advice: Join one league and one league only. Anything beyond that can quickly get overwhelming. A fantasy team typically has between 15 and 20 players. That's plenty for a beginner.

Both the NFL and fantasy football seasons begin Sept. 4. Enjoy them both, and good luck! When the season ends, drop me line. I'd like to hear how you fared.