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As the Super Bowl looms on the horizon, The Magazine delves into NFL Nation -- the world's only sports superpower, a society unto itself. Here, Page 2's Sports Guy makes a guest appearance on ESPNMAG.com, lamenting life as an annual taxpayer.

In most countries, The Man pries his levies from a grousing public. In NFL Nation, taxpayers -- a.k.a. fans -- trip over themselves to support the cause. But is it worth it? I'll be the judge:

Game Day: $300. I get to one Patriots game a year. This year, I scalped a pair, sprung for parking and tailgated. It was freezing, so I had to buy gloves. The cost was steep, but the game was fun, and I was drinking by 9:30 a.m. Getting to play the Negotiate Porta-John Hell With Your Eyes Closed game is just a sweet bonus.

NFL Paraphernalia: $0. I haven't sprung for merchandise since I was seduced by that Tony Simmons jersey ($169) in '98.

NFL Sunday Ticket on DirectTV: $149.95. I'd pay $500 for this package for the gambling ramifications alone. Of course, it'd pay for itself if I got a quarter every time my girlfriend said, "If we don't leave for dinner soon, I'm breaking up with you."

Gambling: $500. Yes, a rough year. Still, no other sport lends itself to this fine pursuit like the NFL. The spreads work better than in other sports. Plus, the weekly rhythm is perfect: Ease in with the 1 p.m. games, double your profits on the 4 p.m. starts. Half-empty view: By MNF, it's a bit of a pyramid scheme.

Roto Leagues: $300 (tax credit). My expenses ballooned this season (entry fee, study aides, draft-day pizza and beer, plus long-distance calls to throw trash like, "I'm sorry about Jamal Anderson's ACL"). Can you put a price on such fun? Well, yeah -- I won. So I made money. A rebate!

Picks Pools: $75. So worth it. Come on, unless you're the hardest-core hoops junkie, you care not about 95% of regular-season NBA games. Yet you're riveted to the final minutes of Falcons vs. Bills.

Emotional Dividends: priceless. Nothing fills an entire day like the Sunday Experience. It's a built-in firewall to suggestions like "Wanna go apple picking?" Sorry, can't. And in all other sports, interest flags when your favorite team does, but not in the NFL. Various gambling pursuits account for some of that loyalty. But they can't explain that "I know this game is meaningless, but it's strangely absorbing, and frankly, I don't feel like getting off the sofa yet" phenomenon.

Final tally: $724.95. And that's pre-Super Bowl dollars. With a little help from the gambling gods, I can whittle the figure down.

Have I mentioned I love the NFL?

Bill Simmons is a Page 2 columnist.



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