Story by Tom Loeffler | Oct 27, 2016

Bringing fans of America’s game together.

There’s a fantasy sweeping America, and it has nothing to do with being the next star on “The Voice,” winning the lottery, or Justin Bieber.

This fantasy plays out on Sundays, on Monday and Thursday nights, and on Thanksgiving Day. This is a seasonal fantasy, starting around Labor Day and ending around New Year’s Day. This fantasy is also the second-biggest sport in America.

The No. 1 sport is football, America’s game. (Baseball is still our national pastime, but the NFL is our passion.) The No. 2 sport, using the term loosely, is fantasy football, which has captured the fancy of an estimated 60 million people.

Call this an art form if you wish, because it’s hardly grounded in science. After all, if we all knew the results, we’d live in Vegas.

“It’s a guessing game — you can never really predict what’s going to happen,” says Lauren Moscato, 26, one of a growing number of females playing the game. “It’s fun to look at how many points [players] have scored in the past, but then say, ‘Mmm, I don’t think they’re going to do well against this team or that team.’ It’s a guessing game for me, a gamble. That’s what I like about it.”

Guessing has never been so fun. “It’s a crap shoot,” Ross Steiner, 31, says. “You’re basically picking your teams off of what happened last year and what’s going to happen this year. You don’t know.”

The roots of fantasy football date back to 1962, but it has exploded in the last twenty years, coinciding with the expansion of the internet. Some fantasy leagues are for money; some are for fun. But all of them are for bragging rights.

The fantasy season starts with a draft, whether it’s in a smoke-filled back room with your buddies or on the internet with friends or folks you’ve never met. “That’s a fun night to get out of the house — it’s like a mini Super Bowl party,” Steiner says. “I always have a good time doing that. I’m less of a statistics guy and more of an eye-test guy . . . if I like the way he plays, or if he keeps his head in the game. So I take more people I like morally, which is probably why I’ve never won the league.”

There are numerous TV shows and magazines dedicated to nothing but fantasy football, and there’s more advice on the internet than you could read in a lifetime. “They’re almost never right, so I pick my own team,” Moscato says. ESPN, CBS, and even the NFL — just to name a few — offer leagues or will help you set up your own league with your buddies.

J. Pfenny's Fantasy Football

There are trades, free-agent moves, and other roster changes throughout the season. Each week, depending on the league you’re in, you can have head-to-head matchups or just play for total points. You have multiple players at the “scoring” positions (touchdowns are an important statistic). Each week, your team will typically feature a quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a kicker, and a team defense.

Steiner is a 2004 graduate of Jefferson City High School, where he was a football standout for the Jays. This is just another game for him to play. “You grow up playing ball, whether it’s Wiffle ball in the backyard or HORSE in the driveway. There’s always competition,” he says. “That’s what this is. It’s just a different kind of competition.”

Steiner takes part in a 12-player league with a cost of $25 per player. That’s not much for three or four months of entertainment. But his league, which is called “4th-and-20,” isn’t about the money at all.

“The banter back and forth, the trash talking, being a smart aleck . . . it’s more fun when you know the people,” he says. “That’s what I like about it: beating your friends and letting them hear about it.”

Moscato has been in leagues for four years but wasn’t a football fan growing up. That is not the case for Ty Noe, who was more than just a fan — she was a player. “I was born with more testosterone in my body than most females . . . I’ve always felt more like a guy than a girl, so I’ve always done guy things,” says Noe, 23, who played softball in high school for the Jefferson City Lady Jays and also played football growing up. “I’m crazy about football.”

And while Moscato is the only female in her eight-player league, Noe’s 50-player league is split right down the middle, 25 males and 25 females, ranging in age from 18 to 50. Is it especially satisfying beating the boys?

“Of course!” Noe says. “Because you know how guys are, and if you can beat a bunch of grown men in this, that’s fabulous!”

There are numerous ways to track your players’ success or failure, especially on Sunday afternoons, when the bulk of NFL games are played. Noe is one of those players able to watch every game on DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, and rest assured: she does. “I’m flipping constantly, like every other play,” she says. “I definitely watch them all.”

Even in fantasy football, there are moments of conflict. Let’s say you have a running back who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers going against your favorite team, the Kansas City Chiefs. It comes down to the end: two seconds left, the Chiefs leading by four, the Steelers with the ball at the one, and your running back gets the handoff. Are you pulling for your guy to score a touchdown or for the Chiefs to win?

“It depends on how I’m doing in my league,” says Kyle Wilde, 31, who’s in “4th-and-20” with Steiner. “If I really need the win, I’ll probably pull for my player, but most of the time, I’ll pull for the Chiefs. But that’s when it can be tough.”

Game on. May all your fantasies come true.