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Fantasy Football in the 1980’s
I started playing fantasy football in 1987. I started 23 years ago when I was 10 years old. The landscape has changed dramatically since then.
It all started when my dad had the opportunity to join the dynasty league. The two teams did not rebuild and there was supposed to be a draft to share their players. My dad, older brother Ben and I went to his office to do a draft over the phone with the other new owner. The starters for that year had already been drafted, so I remember the big prize was Vinny Testaverde. Other famous KBs were Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. I know I was nervous because the stakes seemed so high. We flipped a coin over the phone which seemed to require an incredible level of trust in the eyes of a ten year old boy. We lost the coin toss and drew 2nd and 3rd.. Testaverde was first and we ended up getting both Moon and Cunningham. We got on well and I always had an affinity for Cunningham because of that early connection with him.
After that draft, the three of us were totally hooked. So much so that we organized another league for the same season so that we could manage our team. It was a league that changed every year. Ben, my dad and I each had our own team. I’ve never felt so much responsibility in being in control of my own fantasy team. The first draft was held in our house. My dad led our $10 or $20 shopping spree. I don’t remember how much, but it seemed like a lot at the time. All the other players were adults except for one guy who brought his two sons; the older one had his own team and the younger one shared with his dad. Clearly, my dad had a lot of faith in me.
To prepare for the draft, my dad bought Cliff Charpentier’s Fantasy Football Digest in 1987. It was a full 200 page book. It had a monochrome front and no flashy pictures. This book was amazing to me. There was so much to learn. It is ranked by position and different scoring methods. We were the primary scoring method. Which awarded 4 points for TDs thrown, 6 points for rushing and receiving TDs, 3 points for field goals and 1 point for extra points. That was it. No points are awarded for yards. It seems barbaric now, but this is how we played and we loved it. The book is arranged by positions with rankings that had levels. Starting with the “Best of the Best” and going down from there. I remember thinking that this was like a textbook and not to be questioned. I had one resource and studied it diligently. I remember doing countless mock drafts myself. We didn’t set a running back position until the night of the draft, which made preparation infinitely more difficult.
Draughty Night has always been incredibly exciting for me. The first few years were spent in our house, and then it moved to the second owner’s business conference room, which seemed extremely official. Draft position was determined by dealing cards from Ace to 9. The drama was incredible. There were pretzel sticks that were eaten like cigars and this would be the first time I saw beer in my house. It was a whole new world for me. It was as much fun as the boy could take.
Sundays were a whole new excitement for them. Watching the games was torture, we had 1 maybe two games at noon and of course we didn’t have a DVR. So you were at the mercy of a tick across the top of the screen and the very rare interruption of the game to assess how you were doing. The halftime recap was a whirlwind of information to follow. I remember begging the announcers “How did they score the third TD?” This would go on for both noon and 3:00 games and then we had to wait an agonizing few hours until NFL Primetime also started in 1987. I have so many memories of one of my fantasy players running across the screen and listening Krisa Berman exclaims “Beating stumbling TOUCHDOWN!!!!” The height was unbelievable. I kind of miss those days. With today’s instantaneous information, anticipation is never able to build like it did back then.
Ben and my dad took over as commissioners. This was a ton of work. They learned to use the spreadsheet on our Apple IIC green screen. The pitches were called to our home phone on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, with last-minute calls coming in just before noon. I remember these calls being very annoying to my sister who couldn’t possibly understand their level of importance. The official results had to wait for the boxed results in Monday’s morning papers. I was suddenly extremely excited about the paper and so glad we had a morning delivery. I was one of the rare children in elementary school who would go to the library and enter the newspaper section. I would pour over the results from the box to plan my drop and add-ons.
After the Monday night game the scores would be tabulated and printed. We would mail them to the rest of the league the next day. It’s a testament to how much fun fantasy football is, even with what now seems like such a crude way of receiving and distributing data that we were happy to wade through to play it. You certainly had to be more dedicated to have a league that lasted because of the effort required.
I have nothing but fond memories of playing fantasy football in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’m glad it became more accessible to the masses and reached the popularity it is today. There’s a small part of me that misses waiting through commercial breaks hoping to hear Chris Berman scream as only he can, “Nigeria’s nightmare is bulldozing its way to the end zone.”
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