COLUMBIA — During a recent Monday night football game, Tae Cho and Michael Alexander rose casually from the couch and headed to their rooms.
Each of the two roommates, both fantasy football fanatics, wanted to add Cleveland Browns' quarterback Derek Anderson to their rosters.
Alexander got up first.
"I should do some homework," he said.
Cho then slipped out of the room. Seconds later, he was yelling.
Alexander had beaten him to the computer. Derek Anderson was his.
"I couldn't have been more ticked off," Cho said later. "I admittedly went a little ballistic."
It was another intense moment in this long-standing rivalry between close friends.
Cho has been playing fantasy football for six years, Alexander for seven. They are among the 29.9 million people who actively play fantasy football, according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
These guys take fantasy football seriously, and checking their rosters is a daily activity.
"It would probably require two hands to count how many times I check per day," Cho said. "If I could go a day (without it), it would be a great day of discipline for me."
He said he sometimes opts for football over schoolwork, though he has focused more on his studies this semester in order to graduate in December.
"I've watched the Monday night game instead of writing a paper that was due at 6 p.m. the next day," he said.
Fantasy football has been around since the 1960s and was a pencil-and-paper game until it exploded in popularity on the Internet in the late '90s. It is now an $800 million business with a market impact of $4.48 billion through related products, the trade association has reported.
Alexander and Cho, who met two years ago in Campus Crusade for Christ, say interaction with friends is a big reason to play.
"It's a great way to compete with my roommates and to stay in contact," Alexander said. "It's a good source of communication, almost networking."
To get into the game, fantasy football players build a team by drafting any NFL player to be on their rosters for the season. They make trades and add free agents, just as a real NFL team would.
At the beginning of this season, Alexander traded Cardinals' wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and also Anderson, the Cleveland quarterback, to Cho for Redskins' running back Clinton Portis and Packers' wide receiver Donald Driver.
Cho said the deal worked out well for both players; Fitzgerald and Portis have performed well, and Driver and Anderson haven't done much.
Some fantasy football leagues award prizes from money put into a pot at the beginning of the season, and some Web sites, such as CBSSports.com, offer cash to the winners of certain leagues.
"I would love to put some money in the league I'm involved in, but ... most of the friends I play with, simply put, wouldn't want to do that," Cho said. "The payoff is pretty much pride and credibility heading into next season."
Head-to-head leagues, which Cho and Alexander use, mimic a real NFL schedule, with each team matched up against another every week. For scoring, point values are designated to different stats based on the league.
Cho and Alexander each have two teams, and each is the commissioner of one of their leagues. In one league, Alexander is 5-4 and Cho is 6-3; in the other league, Alexander is 6-3 and Cho is 4-5.
Alexander, however, has won the head-to-head match-ups this season, and the competition is more intense when they play against each other.
"The reason Tae and I are such intense rivals is because of our respect for each other's abilities," Alexander said.
"We pay more attention than anyone else in our league. On Sunday and Monday during the games, we definitely become enemies."
This is a typical Sunday for Cho during most football seasons: Come home from church, eat lunch, watch football from 12:30 to 9 p.m.
"On those days, it's very rare to see us doing anything besides watching football," he said.
Another part of the routine is checking stats frequently.
"You're always sitting there trying to figure out how many points your players are getting for you, and at the same time figuring out how your opponent's players are doing and coming up with scenarios for how your players need to do in order (for you) to win that week," Cho said.
Alexander and Cho agreed that losses hurt more than wins satisfy.
"Wins don't last that long. I expect my team to win," Alexander said. "If it's a loss with a close margin, it lasts a day or two. It's just really frustrating."
Cho's frustration sometimes stretches beyond wins and losses.
"I (get) pretty dejected, even stuff like someone getting (a player) ahead of me on waivers," he said.
The emotion and competition are amplified when Alexander and Cho are both actively trying to improve their rosters or are matched up against each other.
"(When) I make a trade, Tae likes to go out and make a better trade," Alexander said. "His great moves agitate me so much because they are good moves and I get frustrated that I didn't make the moves myself."
Although Cho said fantasy football has increased his overall knowledge about players and their stats, he said it sometimes interferes with his enjoyment of NFL games.
Alexander said he roots for his individual players to the point that he gets "up in arms" if another player gets a touchdown instead of his fantasy player.
"It's a double-edged sword," Cho said. "(You're) rooting for your players, but if they aren't doing well, it takes away from the game and it makes it hard to enjoy the game."
Both are St. Louis Rams fans. With the team's slow start and recent resurgence, they struggled to decide if they cared more about the Rams or their fantasy teams this season. Both said frustration with the Rams led them to give their fantasy teams more weight.
"I'd still say fantasy losses are a little bit tougher to take, at least for that day," Cho said.
In the end, he harks back to his biggest reason for playing fantasy football.
"It makes for lots of yelling and celebrating with your buddies who are watching the football games with you," he said. "It's about bragging rights."
For now, those belong to Alexander.
"Let the record note: I did win Tae's league last year," he said.