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Fantasy football is not only a game, it's a social experience

You've been thinking about playing fantasy football but have yet to take the plunge. Your friends have asked, and you've thought about it, but so far, no dice. Either you think it's too hard or it'll take up too much time. Look, there's a thousand reasons why you should play fantasy football. You can win money. You can rip on your friends after a big win. You can feel like a real General Manager by making trades. All of this isn't new. But it's only part of the reason why fantasy football is the biggest growing aspect of the NFL. In fact, for the rest of this column, I'm going to give you solid reasons why playing fantasy football is a must.

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But get this - I'm not going to talk about fantasy at all. Nope. Not one word about the game, strategy or player rankings. In fact, sometimes the outcome of the league is secondary to just taking part in it.

Wait, what? Trust me. The benefits of playing far outweigh the results on the computer. Here's why.

Your knowledge of the game will increase

Right now, you maybe only really know the star players and have in depth knowledge of your team and the few who make news all the time. That will change within a month of playing fantasy. You'll know every team, every injury, who might be an up and coming star and who might not. And this is not doing anything special. It's just following the game. Just like anything else, when you pay attention to something you get more knowledgable about said topic. You will become a football freakazoid of brainpower. And pretty soon you'll be the one running into the sports bar at 4pm on a Sunday begging the owner to put the Browns/Rams game on one of the little TV's so you can follow your players.

If your favorite team stinks, you still have a rooting interest

Pretty self-explanatory. If your favorite team is 0-4 by the first week of October but your fantasy team is 2-2? Guess what you'll be spending most of your time thinking about? It ain't gonna be "How do we get to the playoffs from 0-4." Instead, it'll be "How do I get to the playoffs from 2-2?" You'll also, through the course of your life, remember big fantasy wins and heartbreaking losses like you do with the NFL team you root for. For instance, if I ever met Dwayne Rudd, I would thank him for the 94-yard fumble return in the final minutes of a 48-22 blowout against the Bears in 1998. My fantasy team's co-owner and I were screaming on the phone with each other as we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

You can keep in touch with old friends and make new ones


Enjoy three days of fantasy football events in New York City, including live tapings of "NFL Fantasy LIVE."

Forget about Facebook. How many more times can you scroll through postings involving Candy Crush requests, quirky sayings like "My therapist says wine makes everything better!" and pictures of every family member except the ones you know because they don't like how they take pictures, so the one person you want to see is never in them? Then there's my personal favorite, the cryptic status update in the vein of "Wow, this is really unbelievable" or "Today is a big day!" with no details about why. You want to keep in real touch with people you like who live far away? Play fantasy football.

You'll find yourself e-mailing more often, as you bond over a common interest. In the last 15 years I think I've moved five times, but I still talk to my same friends all the time during football season. Want to make new friends? You got it. When I lived in Connecticut I played fantasy hockey in 1996 and I only knew a few people in the league. When I moved to Los Angeles, I finally got to meet one of the other owners who lived in L.A. and now he's one of my best friends. Fantasy football is the true social network.

Invite your significant other to play along

My cousin got married about a year ago, and she tells me over and over again the most fun thing she does is when she and her husband both go out to a sports bar on Sunday to watch the games and keep track of their fantasy teams. They bring their iPads so they can keep as close an eye as possible on their matchup. (And if the matchup isn't going well, then hey, there's always on-line shopping while you watch the games unfold!) Fantasy is not the divisive element it used to be - more and more women are playing fantasy football every year. But look at it from your perspective and see how win-win it is: If you invite her to be in your league, she'll be so grateful you wanted to share this part of your life with her. If she says no, she'll never forget you asked her. If she says yes, even better. The rest of the league will think she's easy pickings and will of course allow her in. You'll wonder why you didn't invite her sooner - unless she starts kicking everyone's butt and she's the one getting up out of bed at 11:55pm on Tuesday nights because she forgot to put in for a free agent.

That's why you play.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download his weekly Cover 2 podcast with Steve Wyche at nfl.com. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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