With the NFL season kicking off Thursday night, it's time for The Annual Draft.
And, if you're one of those people who read that and said: "Wait a minute, you dope, the draft was last spring," then you're perusing the wrong column.
The Draft -- the one that, for most real football fans matters most -- is about to take place.
It is time for millions of fantasy football fanatics to hold their annual player draft.
How big a deal is that?
"I've taken graduate courses I didn't put near as much work into as I do our annual draft."
That statement was made to me by Ron Vitale, who, in real life, was a therapist in St. Louis, but, in his fantasy life, was the owner of a fantasy football league franchise in a league with teams throughout the Midwest.
Given his professional expertise, these Vitale comments deserve considerable credence:
"It's compulsive behavior," he said of his avid participation in fantasy football. "It's a chronic, incurable illness. You could try to get it into remission by moving to someplace like Saudi Arabia. Or maybe Detroit. But, once you contract it, you'll have the disease 'til you die."
I, however, am a survivor -- a fact of which I'm somewhat proud, but also rather dismayed.
Because, if I'd stayed with it, I might be rich today.
And not just from the money I won weekly from my overmatched fellow owners in what, back in the day, was known as the WSPFL -- the Writers Semi-Professional Football League.
The writers were the guys who covered the New England Patriots in the 1980s. We also had a few radio guys in there.
If I'd been smarter, I'd have devoted my time to writing about fantasy football and bagged the newspaper business.
To begin with, I wrote the book on fantasy football.
You could look it up.
You can even, much to my amazement, still find it on amazon.com: "The Official Fantasy Football League Manual," first published in 1984, reprinted in 1985.
For the only time in my life, I was ahead of the curve.
Fantasy football was a relatively new phenomenon then, a cult game only beginning to achieve the widespread popularity it now enjoys.
Let me tell you, however, that the guys in the WSPFL enjoyed ourselves immensely.
We first heard about this new game on a road trip to Seattle early in the 1980 season. We immediately embraced it, and then improved upon it.
What Henry Higgins did for Eliza Doolittle in the way of refinement was nothing compared to the lofty levels to which we soon elevated our league, going far beyond the basics of drafting players and then tabulating point totals each week, to the point where we had team logos designed, and also published a weekly press release, written in a style not entirely suitable for reprinting in a family newspaper.
Some sort of diversion was a necessity for anyone then covering the Patriots.
There was little doubt in anyone's mind that he could operate a franchise better than the Pats were being run. Sadly, we never got that chance.
Then we heard about fantasy football and, faster than you can say Peter Piper picked a peck of pathetic Patriots, we all were franchise owners.
Within a couple of years, I'd written a story about the WSPFL for "Pro!," the weekly program published by the NFL. Then, in '84, I wrote the book on fantasy football.
Curious about the origins of the game, I delved into it for an article I wrote for the Sporting News' Pro Football Yearbook.
What I found was that, although fantasy football's roots were obscure, it was believed to have originated in a room in the old Manhattan Hotel in New York City.
It was the product of the fertile imaginations of a bored contingent traveling with the 1962 Oakland Raiders, who were in the midst of a 16-day, eastern swing. Among the co-founders was Scotty Stirling, then a football beat writer for the Oakland Tribune, and later vice-president and general manager of the New York Knicks.
"In those days," Stirling recalled, "the Raiders used to play the Patriots, Bills, and (New York) Titans all on one trip."
To help pass the time on those seemingly endless days, a fellow named Bill Winkenbach, who was a limited partner in the Raiders, dreamed up the game that eventually became known as fantasy football.
"It was based on scoring," Stirling said. "We had a draft in which we picked two players at each of the skill positions. We called the league the GOPPPL -- the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League.
"The GOPPPL became a big thing. Competition was fierce. Friendships were destroyed. There were some divorces. But guys used to try like hell to get in.
"The thing first spread in the Bay Area. Once it got to Montgomery Street, which is to San Francisco what Wall Street is to New York, it spread like wildfire."
If only I'd continued to write about fantasy football, I'd have fared a whole lot better financially than I ever did with my investments in Wall Street.