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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 got the opportunity to join a dynasty league. Two teams had not renewed and there had to be a repechage to separate their players. My dad, older brother Ben and I went to his office to do the project over the phone with the other new owner. The rookies that year had already been drafted, so I remember the grand prize was Vinny Testaverde. Other notable QBs were Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. I know I felt nervous because the stakes seemed so high. We tossed a coin on the phone, which seemed to require an incredible level of confidence through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. We lost the flip corner and fished out 2nd and 3rd. Testaverde went first and we finally got Moon and Cunningham. It worked well for us and I always had an affinity for Cunningham because of that early connection with him.

After this draft, the three of us were totally hooked. So much so that we organized another league for that same season so that we could each manage our own team. It was a league that reformed every year. Well, my dad and I each had our own team. I have never felt so much responsibility to be in control of my own fantasy team. The first draft took place with us. My dad presented our $10 or $20 buy-in. I don’t remember how many, but it seemed like a lot at the time. The other players were all adults except for one guy who brought his two sons; the oldest of whom had his own team and the youngest shared with his father. Obviously, my father had great confidence in me.

To prepare for the draft, my dad bought Cliff Charpentier’s 1987 Fantasy Football Digest. It was a complete book of over 200 pages. It had a solid color for the front and no flashy imagery. This book has been amazing to me. There was so much to learn. It has been arranged by position and in the different scoring methods. We were the basic scoring method. Who allowed 4 points for TDs thrown, 6 points for TDs rushed and received, 3 points for field goals and 1 point for extra points. That was it. No points were awarded for yards. It sounds barbaric now but that was how we played and we loved it. The book was presented by position with rankings that had levels. Starting with the “Best of the best” and working down from there. I remember thinking it was like a textbook and not to be questioned. I had a resource and I studied it a lot. I remember doing countless drafts on my own. We didn’t determine the draft position until the night of the draft, which made preparation infinitely more difficult.

Draft night has always been incredibly exciting for me. The first two years were spent in our house and then moved to another owner’s conference room, which seemed extremely official. Draft position was determined by dealing Ace cards to 9. The drama was unbelievable. There were pretzel sticks to eat like cigars and it would be the first time I’d ever seen beer in my house. It was a whole new world for me. It was about as much fun as a preteen could handle.

Sundays had a whole new excitement for them. Watching the games was torture, we had 1 maybe two games at noon and of course we had no DVR. So you were at the mercy of the ticker at the top of the screen and the very rare pause in play to assess how you were doing. The halftime recaps were a whirlwind of information to follow. I remember pleading with the announcers “How did they score the third TD?” It would go on for both the noon and 3 a.m. games and then we had to wait a few agonizing hours until NFL Primetime also kicked off in 1987. I have so many memories of one of my fantastic players running on the screen and hearing Chris Berman shout “Rumbling stumbling TOUCHDOWN!!!!” The high was amazing. In some ways, I miss those days. With today’s instant information, that anticipation is never able to build as it did back then.

Ben and my dad took on the commissioner duties. It was a ton of work. They learned how to use a spreadsheet on our Apple IIC green screen. Queues were called on our home phone on Saturday evening or Sunday morning with last minute calls arriving just before noon. I remember these calls were very annoying to my sister who could not understand their level of importance. Official results had to wait for box scores in the Monday morning newspaper. All of a sudden I was extremely excited about the paper and so glad we got the morning delivery. I was one of the only elementary school kids to go to the library and venture into the newspaper section. I would pour over the box scores to plan my drop and additions.

After Monday night’s game, the results would be entered into the spreadsheet and printed. We would mail them out 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 gladly used to play. It certainly took more dedication than to have a league that lasted due to the shear of work required.

I have only fond memories of playing fantasy football in the 80s and early 90s. I’m glad it became more accessible to the masses and reached the popularity it enjoys today. There is, however, a little piece of me that misses waiting during commercial breaks hoping to hear Chris Berman shout as only he can, “The Nigerian nightmare is making its way to the end zone.”

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