Fantasy craze hasn't hit Titans locker room

Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 1:00am

Listen closely, because far beneath the Monday morning din of water cooler chatter from an estimated 10 million fantasy football competitors nationwide, there is a lone wolf howling in the distance. The chirping of an intrusion of crickets. A tumbleweed rolling by.

Inside the domain of those who make fantasy reality, the ambivalence toward one of this nation's most pervasive obsessions is deafening.

God's fantasy team
If you were omnipotent, this would be your 2004 fantasy football roster:
QB: Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota, 1,949 yards, 19 TDs
RB: Priest Holmes, Kansas City, 690 ru. yds., 102 re. yds, 11 TDs
RB: Tiki Barber, NY Giants, 647 ru. yds, 342 re. yds, 5 TDs
WR: Terrell Owens, Philadelphia, 596 yards, 8 TDs
WR: Javon Walker, Green Bay 726 yards, 6 TDs
TE: Antonio Gates, San Diego, 483 yards, 3 TDs
K: David Akers, Philadelphia, 15 FGs, 18 XPs
Defense: Baltimore Ravens, 10 INTs, 5TDs, 14.1 ppg allowed

It's not illegal for an NFL player to participate in fantasy football, as long as there is no money involved. But fantasy football to the Tennessee Titans is a bit like a knock on the door from a Jehovah's Witness - you wanna be in charge of your own private Idaho, fine. Just don't expect us to tag along.

"I'd be shocked if one [Titan] is involved in fantasy football," said wide receiver Derrick Mason, one of the few Tennessee players who would be construed as having a productive fantasy year, "because you've got too much to do around here to try to go into the computer every day or every week and change guys and make sure your guys are doing OK. It's kind of time consuming."

Cornerback Andre Dyson goes a step further, pleading ignorance of the whole process. "The only thing I know is my friends are in a basketball one," he said. "I want to get in on that."

As the principals in a diversion that the executive search firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimated cost the nation's businesses $36.7 million daily in lost productivity (according to a Sept. 21 article in the San Francisco Chronicle), the Titans receive only one kickback - an occasional nod from friends or fans who have the most statistically promiscuous players on their teams.

"The only time they came up to me and said anything was when I did good and got them a lot of fantasy football points," running back Chris Brown said. "I really don't care. It does nothing for me.

"It's more of a pain when people call me and ask me, 'Is so-and-so playing?' It does nothing for the game really, except for like gambling on a game."

"I've gotten, 'Aw, I had you guys last week and you guys had all kinds of points,'" Dyson said. "But I've never had, 'Aw, you guys were bad.' I've never had anybody calling me or pressuring me about it."

"People either tell me you did a good job or they need to throw you the ball some more so you can get fantasy points," Mason added. "You get both ends."

Quarterback Steve McNair appears almost exasperated by questions about fantasy football, although he says he is never castigated for his performance. "I don't even deal with fantasy football," he said.

Maybe McNair isn't hanging with the right crowd. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper will likely field some good-natured catcalls despite his team's 20-3 whipping of the Titans. Culpepper threw for just 183 yards and one touchdown, well shy of his 3.6 TD-per-game clip heading into Sunday.

"Everywhere I go, people talk about, 'I've got you as my quarterback. I've got you in there,'" Culpepper said. "I just let it brush off my shoulders. I don't pay a lot of attention to it."

Part phenomenon, part big business, fantasy football is not going away. There's a Fantasy Sports Trade Association, expert seminars on whom should be drafted and when, even grading matrices for selecting that perfect defense on Sunday.

The whirlwind of possibilities forces fans into elegant theoretical dilemmas, i.e. how to pull for the hometown team when one's own fantasy squad would suffer head-to-head. That's what drives Brown crazy.

"They're hoping for Peyton Manning to do good, and for us to do good," Brown said. "It doesn't go together. People care more about stats than anything."

Welcome to the real world, Mr. Brown. "That's basically how it is in this game," Mason, an eighth-year pro, chimed in. "If you're not producing, you're not going to be around."

Who needs fantasy football with reality like that?

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