Ryan Chartrand

So the football nation is in the midst of the playoffs. Well, most of it, anyway.

Some people may be stuck in the past, when the other playoffs – the fantasy football playoffs – happened a few weeks ago.

Symptoms of this keyboard-locked affliction continue to be exhibited: gleefully counting winnings or cursing statistical outcomes, bragging about fifth-round gems no one else believed in, compulsively checking the waiver wire, and so on.

“YES!” they shout right in the middle of an actual game, not in response to anything physically taking place in the realm of reality, but for numbers about to run through a calculator. “I have him on my fantasy team!”

These days, before the start of the NFL season – the existing NFL season, that is – more fantasy football magazines can be found at bookstores than magazines devoted to simply analyzing the tangible season.

This plague of phantasm has even infiltrated TV venues for analysis of the genuine article; fantasy “experts” are paid to proclaim to the audience “sleepers” and players to pick up or bench that particular week.

Some of the loudest talking heads paid to dissect the impact of players’ injuries nowadays are these pigskin-inclined mathematicians who are perfectly happy discussing how Thomas Jones’ ding will affect his fantasy outlook rather than the Jets’ playoff hopes.

So infectious now is this chimerical shenanigan, that it is beginning to supplant discourse about the authentic season at the proverbial water cooler.

Is the real thing so boring to some fans – and there are wonderful fans of the real thing who entertain fantasy – that they feel the need to build, and zombily participate in, such intricate systems of equations?

What has resulted is an annual tarnishing and squandering of the true NFL season.

Of all that time spent fawning over figments of the imagination, how much could’ve been spent appreciating the game itself or debating its all-time great teams and players, and which of the current crop belong among them?

Tom Brady or Joe Montana? (Yes, it is an increasingly legitimate question.) Would a Vince Lombardi-helmed current incarnation of the Patriots do better or worse than Bill Belichick’s? Just how good could Adrian Peterson be?

The possibilities are endless.

And they’re certainly more grounded in reality than Matt Hasselbeck teaming up with Antonio Gates and the Texans defense, all in the name of winning a cool $100 or message-board bragging rights from a mix-and-match, hodgepodge hustle of a computerized swap meet.

Of course, there have always been those who put too much stock in statistics: people who will argue Lynn Swann shouldn’t be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he didn’t catch 350 passes, or Joe Namath was overrated because he threw more interceptions than touchdowns during an era when receivers were allowed to be maimed.

But this fictitious folly has descended matters to an entirely new, distorted basin of thinking.

Jon Kitna passed for more yards this season than Peyton Manning. Earnest Graham rushed for more touchdowns than Brian Westbrook and Willie Parker combined. Bobby Engram finished with more receiving yards than Steve Smith.

Surely none of the former hot commodities are better players than their latter counterparts, but it’s a safe bet that somewhere a fantasy geek is arguing such.

It’s also likely this hallucinatory obsession has fed into the flavor-of-the-month grinder exalting flashes-in-the-pan but blindfolding the masses to a Fred Taylor, for example, a consistently great player over the past decade, albeit one who was never voted into the Pro Bowl, perhaps because he was never a fantasy godsend.

Yet the most vomitory consequence of this counterfeit craze is when Jets fans draft Brady, Bears fans draft Brett Favre or Raiders fans draft LaDainian Tomlinson.

This auctioning of loyalty to real-life teams of choice, and the childhood allure that drew an interest to begin with, cheapens the very game they love in favor of a pretended one.

Sure, it can be a fun indulgence on the side.

Just don’t live in a fantasy world.

Donovan Aird is the Mustang Daily sports editor and a journalism junior.

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