Pete Garcia, The Sports Guy

There are shots for the flu and a smorgasbord of pills and capsules to stymie even the pettiest of colds. Heck, addicts even rehab, but no one has a remedy, a cure or even a answer for a condition which strikes millions across the country annually around this time.

Football Season Withdrawal Syndrome. That's right, FSWS. It's an ugly condition which sets in immediately after football season, which officially is today immediately after the Pro Bowl.

It occurs when football fans realize their next real football fix won't come until August. They're left empty and reduced to helpless saps looking for something - anything - to fill the void left behind by football season.

FSWS isn't a medically recognized condition, but by my estimation, two out of every three hard-core football fans suffer from it.

While anyone is at risk, it is most common in middle-aged men, mostly because they're too old for a sandlot game of tackle football and still too young to go to bed early and sleep it off.

The symptoms of each stage of FSWS are:

1. Denial - Many who suffer from FSWS often deny it at first. They cover their feelings of emptiness almost immediately by watching arena football, but it's not the same. Then, they try to mask the pain with basketball, which is why the NBA finally gets serious in February and March Madness is such a phenomenon. Then there's baseball, golf and the occasional Saturday night Pay Per View prize fight, but all of it seldom provides the same rush and sensation of even the dullest of football games.

2. Anxiety - After weeks of denial, anxiety sets in. By now (and I'm quoting hiphop's Usher here), "you got it bad." FSWS sufferers can often be heard asking themselves, "What now?" They may become jumpy, edgy and grumpy while searching for anything to occupy the hours and hours once consumed by football. It isn't a coincidence that most lawns are brought back to life and every car and truck is washed every other day between late February and the end of March

3. Withdrawal - it's the ugliest of the 10-letter words and the saddest part of FSWS. Those going through the actual withdrawal stage of FSWS can sometimes be found on Saturday and Sunday afternoons aloof and curled up in a fetal position on a couch. Another symptom of this stage is an aimless stare, similar to what those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder call a 1,000 yard stare. In severe cases, this takes place in front of the same TV used to watch football during the season. These episodes sometimes give way to hours of channel surfing only to find the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel and TLC. It should be noted that those going through this "withdrawal" stage can hit rock bottom and become addicted to Lifetime and episodes of Strong Medicine, or worse - old reruns of The Nanny.

4. Coping - FSWS never really goes away, but most sufferers do learn to cope. TV time is now filled with American Idol, episodes of The George Lopez Show or any of the countless CSI or forensics shows. They are also eventually able to venture out of the house, even if it's only to buy up the out-of-season Cowboys and Texans gear. Think about it… there's a reason why such merchandise is always on the racks at JC Penneys. Later coping can include activities like minor home repairs, gardening, Web surfing and, if they're lucky, fishing.

It's about two months from the Monday following the Pro Bowl to when FSWS finally runs its course. In extreme cases where professional help is required, FSWS can last up to four months.

But the one certainty of this debilitating condition is that once one has it, he or she has it.

That's the thing about FSWS… it never really goes away.

One can only hope to handle it until August. Then sadly afterwards, it all begins again.

pete.garcia@aliceechonews.com