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FILE -Miami Dolphins quarterback great Dan Marino would have accumulated a single-season record-tying 355 fantasy football points during his outstanding 1984 campaign when he threw for 48 touchdown passes.

Fantasy football is a more popular “sport” than most actual sports, with more than 40 million people playing in the United States per a recent study by the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association.

This should come as no surprise to those of us who have spent too much time the past couple of weeks studying up on, oh, the pass-catching merits of Jonnu Smith versus Rob Gronkowski in preparation for our drafts. I went Smith as my TE1, by the way. He’s going to be Mac Jones’s best friend. We’re all experts until we aren’t, right?

Fantasy football – and for our purposes here, I’m referring to the traditional version where you draft a team at the start of the season, rather than the more recent daily kind – has been a familiar companion to the real NFL for so long now that it’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t correspond.

Do you remember the first time you became aware of fantasy football? I do. It was 1998. I wasn’t in a league yet, but my buddy Matt, one of my roommates at the time, was. During his draft, he had all sorts of printouts and stat sheets scattered on his desk. He wasn’t messing around … though I wondered if he was when, in the middle of his draft, he asked me a question:

“Should I take Troy Aikman or Tony Banks?’’ he said. “I need a quarterback.”

Aikman or Banks? The three-time Super Bowl winner for the Cowboys on his way to Canton, or the versatile but erratic Rams quarterback who seemed to chuck incompletions all over Missouri? How is that even a question?

Well, I didn’t know that the obvious decision in the real NFL wasn’t necessarily the right one in fantasy. Aikman, excellent and efficient, didn’t always put up big numbers because he didn’t have to, what with Emmitt Smith always available to take a handoff. Banks wasn’t an especially effective quarterback, but he had a big arm and added plenty of value with his running ability. I can’t remember who Matt took. Probably Banks. It would have been the right pick.

I started playing the next year – I recall I had two rookie running backs, Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams, back when rookies were still overlooked in fantasy – which is right around the time fantasy football went mainstream, with CBS Sports launching its online game in 1997 and Yahoo! soon following with the first free version.

Once I began playing, it was easy to lament that it didn’t come around sooner. How many fantasy points would Dan Marino have had in 1984 when he threw 48 touchdown passes? Or O.J. Simpson in ‘73 when he ran for 2, 003 yards? Or Walter Payton or Earl Campbell in any of his amazing seasons?

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Well, here’s a cool thing: Pro-football-reference.com has figured that out. The indispensable website retroactively calculated players’ fantasy football statistics in a given season by plugging in their real numbers to the various fantasy football scoring system. So, for instance, we can tell that Simpson was actually a more productive fantasy player in the ‘74 season when he totaled 355 points, a single-season record that stood alone until Marino tied it in ‘84. (LaDainian Tomlinson, who racked up more than 2,300 total yards and 31 touchdowns for the 2006 Chargers, holds the record for most fantasy points in a season at 425. Kind of amazing that’s held up for 14 years now.)

I’m not sure when pro-football-reference added this feature, but I stumbled upon it just recently and lost the good part of a workday looking up the fantasy football contributions of past Patriots. Here are the two main Patriots-centric conclusions from digging through the data from 1970, the first season after the NFL/AFL merger, and when I started playing in 1999:

In 1979, Grogan and Morgan were the highest scorers at their positions in fantasy football. Morgan, who had an all-time deep-threat season with 44 catches for 1,002 yards, a league-leading 12 touchdowns, and a 22.8 per catch average, was the sixth-best player overall, finishing behind five running backs – Campbell, Payton, Wilbert Montgomery, Ottis Anderson, and Mike Pruitt.

Grogan, who threw for 3,286 yards and 28 TDs and ran for 368 yards and two more scores, was 11th overall that season, edging out Dallas’s Roger Staubach as the highest-scoring fantasy quarterback. Grogan vs. Staubach is not that far off from the Banks vs. Aikman question.

Morgan was the sixth-best fantasy player again in 1986 and second to Jerry Rice among receivers after catching 84 passes for 1,491 yards and 10 TDs. Rice, Marino, Eric Dickerson, Joe Morris, and Curt Warner were the only players with more points. For more than a decade, he was as reliable as a fantasy football receiver could be, including finishing in the top 35 among all players each year from 1980 to ‘82. It’s not just a shame that his Hall of Fame candidacy never gained much momentum. It’s a shame he’s not in, period.

Grogan had other fantasy seasons of brilliance, too. He was the eighth-rated fantasy player, and second-best quarterback behind the Colts’ Bert Jones, in his superb ‘76 season when he threw for 18 touchdowns and ran for 12 more. And he was 13th overall and third among QBs, after Staubach and Seattle lefty scrambler Jim Zorn, in ‘78. Grogan was a fifth-round pick in real life, stolen by the Patriots out of Kansas State in ‘75. In fantasy, a least for a few seasons, he was worthy of being a first-rounder.

Here are a few other Patriots retroactive fantasy football notables from that 1970-99 span.

1971 – Rookie receiver Randy Vataha, an 11th-round pick who ended up connecting with his Stanford teammate Jim Plunkett with the Patriots after he was let go by the Rams, ranked sixth among all players in fantasy points after making 51 catches for 892 yards and 9 touchdowns. Three receivers were ahead of him: Paul Warfield, Otis Taylor, and Fred Biletnikoff.

1974 – Whenever a small running back makes a big impact with the Patriots, he’s inevitably compared to “Mini” Mack Herron, the 5-foot-5-inch dynamo who totaled 824 rushing yards, 474 receiving yards, 12 TDs, and 12 fumbles in ‘74. He was the sixth-ranked player in fantasy football that year.

1977 – It’s sometimes lost in the tragedy of his story that Darryl Stingley was a hell of a player still coming into his own when he was paralyzed by some Raider whose name we should try to forget in August ‘78. Stingley tallied the 25th-most points in fantasy at age 26 in ‘77 after catching 39 passed for 657 yards and 5 touchdowns. Stingley was more productive than notable receivers Drew Pearson, Ahmad Rashad, Cliff Branch, and Harold Jackson– the latter of whom the Patriots acquired after Stingley’s injury.

1984 – Tony Eason is probably the most maligned quarterback in Patriots history, and let me tell you, he usually deserved it. But the first-round pick, taken 12 spots ahead of that fireballing Marino fella in ‘83, had a few happy Sundays in New England and was legitimately good in ‘84. How good? He threw for 3,228 yards, 23 TDs, and just 8 interceptions, finishing the season 17th overall in fantasy points and fifth among quarterbacks, behind Marino, Neil Lomax, Joe Montana, and Dave Krieg.

1993 – After a couple of lean years of tight end Marv Cook being the Patriots’ best fantasy football option, Big Ben emerged in ‘93 as rookie quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s most trusted target, finishing 16th overall in fantasy points after a 53-catch, 659-yard, 8-TD performance. He was even better the next season, leaping to ninth overall and first at his position with a 96 1,174 7 line. Rob Gronkowski is the greatest tight end in league history. But Ben Coates did a lot of the same extraordinary things. We need to talk about him more. Right after we talk about Stanley Morgan a little more first.

How would past Patriots greats have fared in fantasy football? There’s a website for that.