The long, painful wait for football finally ends Sunday when the Hall of Fame game kicks off the NFL preseason.
For fantasy football players, this is much more than the start of a monthlong showcase for guys from Fordham and Arkansas-Pine Bluff sporting jersey numbers in the teens.
It's also the time to discipline yourself to ignore those players - and most everything else in exhibition games. The scoring plays, stats, and other things said and done in the preseason are almost always useless in forecasting the regular season.
Let's take a brief journey back to the 2006 preseason to illustrate the point.
Remember Quincy Wilson? Of course not, unless you lived in Cincinnati when he tied for the preseason rushing lead. Or maybe you were in the stands when he logged two carries for both of his regular-season yards.
Certainly you recall Jamaica Rector and Sam Hurd, the Dallas duo who each finished in the top five in preseason receiving yardage. Hurd went on to five real catches. Rector's big regular-season moment was an 8-yard punt return.
Even though fantasy football geeks usually can see through such cumulative preseason stats, we do have trouble ignoring single-game performances.
Who didn't notice Devard Darling's five catches for 121 yards in a Ravens preseason game? Surely somebody proudly shouted ``The Steve McNair Era is here, baby!'' while drafting Darling in the 13th round. (If you're wondering, his regular-season stats were exactly five catches and 121 yards below his totals from that game.)
Not all preseason stats are dopey. The big stars will actually do something. Peyton Manning even had some TD passes in 2006, though preseason buffs will remember he was no Bruce Gradkowski.
When the stars perform, it's crucial to remember they're just running generic plays because they don't want to give away anything to upcoming real opponents. And they're doing it against similarly watered-down defenses.
Preseason games for two star quarterbacks trying to rebound from injury last year were impressive displays of meaninglessness.
Daunte Culpepper got better in each game with Miami, and many of us jumped on the bandwagon. (If I weren't so busy vigorously overrating him last year, I surely would have been doing that arm-rolling deal he used to do when he used to throw touchdowns.)
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer was held out of the first few preseason games, raising questions about whether he'd be able to return at full speed for the season-opener.
Palmer went on to play every real game while piling up 4,035 yards and 28 touchdowns. Culpepper struggled through four games before his season ended.
Other QBs also made some good preseason fakes.
Before leading the NFL in passing yards in the real season, Drew Brees looked like a potentially bad free-agent signing in New Orleans. Coming off a shoulder injury and working in a new system, he led the starters to zero preseason TDs.
Months before he was benched in Dallas, Drew Bledsoe played like there was no way he'd ever get benched. He was efficient and led several preseason scoring drives.
``I don't think he made any bad reads,'' coach Bill Parcells said after one game.
New Dallas receiver Terrell Owens did look like he could be a problem, missing most of the preseason with a sore hamstring before leading the league with 13 TD catches.
There were plenty of other exhibition anomalies.
The Raiders were red hot and 4-0 in the exciting start of Art Shell's second regime, with Aaron Brooks and Randy Moss hooking up for two scores in a game.
``It's going in the right direction,'' Shell said, not even a half year before his firing.
Long before his regular-season benching in Arizona, Kurt Warner was sharp in a preseason win over Pittsburgh. ``We're so much further along from where we were last year,'' he said, not knowing at the time he was comparing two 5-11 seasons.
In Houston, rookie Wali Lundy and Vernand Morency both had big preseason games, but we all figured they didn't mean much because they were just filling in for Domanick Davis. (Not only did Davis not come back, but neither did his name; he now goes by Williams.)
The Texans were even optimistic after the perpetually sacked David Carr went untouched in a preseason game.
``Keeping the quarterback clean, we're going to be able to score points,'' Carr said, months before he was sent packing for not scoring so many points.
He's now backing up Jake Delhomme in Carolina, another QB who had some stellar play in the fake games before some subpar real ones.
In Minnesota, Brad Johnson and Tarvaris Jackson each threw a TD in a preseason win, prompting receiver Troy Williamson to note the team's good fortune of having ``two good quarterbacks.''
Denver rookie Jay Cutler - obviously not a fantasy football player - seemed resigned to regular-season life on the bench behind Jake Plummer.
``I might be chillin' for the rest of the season now,'' he said.
Those examples are funny in retrospect, but they also offer some good lessons to fantasy geeks.
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren put it best after watching the unstoppable trio of Marquis Weeks, Seneca Wallace and David Greene dismantle preseason powerhouse Oakland.
``You shouldn't get too excited or too down about anything that happens in the preseason, unless it's an injury,'' he said.

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