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August 25, 2011

sports

by Grant Hutchinson

What’s Your Fantasy? Will Chris Johnson’s contract holdout affect his play? Can Michael Vick stay healthy for a full season? Does Peyton Hillis really have what it takes to be a top-tier running back? Ten years ago, sports analysts, agents and coaches would be the only ones concerning themselves with these questions. But the rise of fantasy football has changed everything. Now everyone’s a player. Barstool experts espouse intricate strategies while recalling last week’s player stats with frightening accuracy. College students bombard message boards with insults and braggadocio. Players everywhere attack the waiver wire, jousting over the hot up-and-comers. Pensacola is no stranger to the fun. There are thousands of fantasy owners in the area, and local business owners have begun to adopt special promotions and events to accommodate them. Pensacola Beach’s The Break and The Islander began hosting fantasy drafts about five years ago. “We found that most leagues struggle with finding a good spot to hold their drafts and jumped at the chance to have them here at no cost,” says Break owner Dave Kelly. Kelly opens rooms at The Break and The Islander for draft parties of 12 to 20 people, most of which last three to four hours. Food and drink specials are a natural fit, usually $1 drafts, shot specials, and free wings and pizza. Kelly says that the promotion has been a big success and has given a lot of leagues an ideal draft location. “I suppose very few wives and girlfriends want 16 guys in their homes talking football and drinking beer for four hours at a time.” While many wives and girlfriends might agree with Kelly, some local women are more likely to join in on the fantasy fun.

“We had a vote and a lot of dialogue on whether we would each contribute gift cards or cash for the winnings. There really wasn't too much trash talk, and when there was, it was extremely mild and usually ended with encouragement.” As fantasy football crosses boundaries, gender and otherwise, the sport or game or whatever you want to call it seems to have impacted nearly every aspect of the game. But that transition did not happen overnight. Fantasy football’s origins trace back to 1988, when Gary Chiappetta and David Mcnamara became engaged in an argument over who was better—Randall Cunningham or Jim Everett. Chiapetta and Mcnamara began tracking the players’ performances. They later added more players, each forming his own team. Soon their friends wanted to join the fun, and the men created a full league with official rules.

A few years ago, Pensacola resident Shannon Preston joined a league with her husband. Preston says that, while she initially wasn’t very enthusiastic about fantasy football, she found herself becoming obsessed with it as the weeks went on. This burgeoning enthusiasm inspired her to create a new kind of fantasy league. “I wanted to introduce my girlfriends to this newfound fun, but I figured many of them would be intimidated to play against guys who

"There really wasn't too much trash talk, and when there was, it was extremely mild and usually ended with encouragement.”

have been involved in (fantasy football) for years,” says Preston. “So…I started an all-girls league.” Preston says that while the league is very competitive, her husband often teases her about the “girly” aspects of all-girl fantasy football.

Shannon Preston

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Fantasy football’s popularity grew steadily before exploding with the emergence of the Internet. Today, it’s estimated that over 18 million people compete in fantasy leagues across the country. {in}

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