If you have recently visited a local sports bar on Sunday, you’ve undoubtedly seen the guy in the Patriots jersey rooting for the Dolphins to give Ronnie Brown the ball near the goal line. You are experiencing fantasy football. For those that indulge in fantasy sports, you get it. For your girlfriends, let me explain. Fantasy sports is a game of assembling a roster of real, professional players and competing against other team “owners” who have done the same, based on the actual game stats of each player. Fantasy’s popularity should not be surprising; it is the natural evolution of the fan. A true fan will still apply face paint, don the jersey and scream for the home team, but fantasy gives him a reason to yell at the other 12 matches occurring around him. With a stake in multiple games, the season is now exponentially more exciting, especially if you are a Browns supporter. Just as there is a way we men should do bachelor parties, there is an art to Fantasy Football.

Enlist

You cannot play by yourself, so join a league. There are many websites that offer league hosting, for a fee or free, including ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports, etc. Carefully consider the type of league you want to be a part of. You could play with strangers, a random group of fans pitted against each other by the hosting site, or with people you know, coworkers, college buddies, ex-girlfriends. Any assemblage of like minded folk will work, but some are more enjoyable than others. I prefer playing with friends, because the trash talking is the most enjoyable. Fantasy is THE scientific method of proving you are a better fan than your buddy. When you dominate him and your league, the world understands that you are better endowed and more likely to realize your dreams.

What’s in a name?

Perhaps the most oft overlooked part of the game is naming one’s team. As team owner, the responsibility falls on you to produce something clever when establishing your franchise. Offering up a bad name is akin to giving up before the season starts. Say you win the league with your team, “Bob’s Bungalows.” Have you really won? Is that what you want your family to see printed on the championship tro…certificate? Exactly. The ultimate name is one that combines your favorite team/player with sport’s pop culture. For example, this gem of a name, “I’m a Man! I’m Forte…”

Pay Attention

If your friends do not award victories based on your outstanding name, punish them by fielding a great roster. There is literally an endless supply of Fantasy “experts” that will detail strategies for drafting a team, top 5/10/20 lists of players at all positions, etc. You cannot miss these jokers. The key is not to treat them all like the Messiah. It’s more liking mixing a drink. A recipe provides the ingredients, but you like whiskey more than Coke, so you add more Jack, less cola. Find an analyst, or ten, that you enjoying listening to, absorb the information provided, and then make choices based on their opinion and super keen fan-sense. The best “experts” actually admit they don’t know what will happen in the games, they are just trying to give you the best odds of winning. Unless it is Peyton Manning in a prime-time night game; take that to the bank.

Don’t Look Back

By now you have crafted an elite team, filled with superstars and surprise players that your extensive research (18 hours of ESPN) revealed to you and not your foes. Inevitably, a key member of your squad will get injured or suspended or benched. DO NOT CRY ABOUT IT. This is football, it happens, people take hits. No league wants their message board filled with “if only” statements. If only you would quit whining and find a suitable replacement on the waiver wire, we could all get back to playing football. Every team deals with untimely injuries and bye weeks. Check your roster on Friday, make sure you have a full team of players who actually touch the ball, and prepare the sacrifice to the football gods.

Now you understand Fantasy Football is not about winning, it’s about winning well. You are not up for a contract extension. On Monday, you have to return to your desk. You don’t, however, have to do it with an ugly tie or lazily constructed fantasy roster. Play with style and swagger. Ream your opponent when he fails to bench is running back with a bye. Ask him why he let is wife draft, or worse, name, his team. Be the owner all other owners look up to. Know the sleeper pick and hot trends, but think for yourself. Enjoy the beer that much more as it washes down the sweet taste of victory.