Jim Souhan
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I have seen the light, and it is not an LED.

I have glimpsed freedom, and it looks like a blank screen.

I no longer care who the backup tight end in Jacksonville is, or whether Philip Rivers’ sore right pinkie might keep him from gripping the ball on deep throws.

The last few years, I played fantasy football. This year, I quit. That decision changed my life far more than I could have imagined, and confirmed my suspicion about the National Football League as an entertainment provider.

Having covered the NFL since 1989, I have witnessed its rise from Mom & Pop-operated striving sports league to North American colossus. In 1989, I could walk up to Jerry Jones’ office, ask his secretary if he was in, and she’d yell back, “Jerry, got a minute?’’ If he was free, he’d invite me in and a half-hour later I’d have to make an excuse to leave.

That was the setup at Winter Park, as well. If you wanted to talk to Mike Lynn or Jerry Burns, you walked down the hall.

Now the NFL acts like the big business it is, but there is one truth about the league that has remained constant: Most of the games stink.

The NFL made its greatest leap in popularity by persuading fans that they should watch not only their local team but teams from other markets, and on Thursdays and Sunday nights and sometimes Saturdays, as well as the traditional time slots of Sunday afternoon and Monday night.

How did the NFL turn itself into a weeklong obsession? Not by improving the quality of play. Thursday night football is frequently a crime against the sport, and with games spread over a wider calendar, the Sunday afternoon offerings are often mediocre.

The NFL has increased its popularity in two ways: By attracting female fans, and giving people a reason to watch other than the quality of play.

Gambling and fantasy football, which is a socially acceptable form of gambling, are the keys.

If you are a competitive person and you play fantasy football, you will seek competitive advantages. You do so by watching as much NFL as possible. You monitor your players, your opponents’ players, and any players who may become available or desirable because of injuries and lineup changes.

Information is king, and is available across multiple networks over a five-day period.

You can even watch entire shows devoted to fantasy football. These might be the worst offerings on television — people who pretend they are celebrities or reporters because they are capable of reading real reporters’ coverage and passing on tips.

And if you are a competitive person, fantasy football will frequently annoy or infuriate you. In this way, fantasy football is far too much like traditional gambling.

When I covered baseball in the 1990s, I noticed that a prominent figure on a prominent team acted as moodily as a toddler. One day, he would walk through the clubhouse slapping backs. The next, he might cuss at anyone who came close to him.

I asked around, and the consensus was that he loved betting on horses and dogs. Whether he won or lost determined his mood for the day.

This is why I am relieved to be done with fantasy football. Humans should neither be thrilled because a wide receiver stretches the ball over the goal line or angry because the play was called back by a penalty.

Now I watch football based on merit. I remain fascinated by the Vikings, because every week they write a story in which I and my friends and family are invested. I am perpetually fascinated by the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, because of proximity and his greatness.

I’m often interested in the New England Patriots, although their unsightly game at Tampa on Thursday night proved to be a waste of time.

Now that I’m no longer playing fantasy football, I no longer find myself switching to Jacksonville-Tennessee. There is a better way to spend time: Doing almost anything else.

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com