Fantasy Football in the 1980’s

I started playing Fantasy Football in 1987 I started 23 years ago when I was 10. The landscape has changed dramatically since then.

It all started when my dad had the opportunity to join a dynasty league. Two teams had not renewed and there was to be a draft to split up their players. My dad, older brother Ben and myself went to his office to conduct the draft over the phone with the other new owner. The rookies for that year had already been drafted so I remember the big prize was Vinny Testaverde. The other QB’s of note were Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. I know I felt nervous because the stakes seemed so high. We did a coin flip over the phone which seemed to require an incredible level of trust through the eyes of a 10 year old boy. We lost the coin flip and drafted 2nd and 3rd. Testaverde went first and we eventually got both Moon and Cunningham. It worked out well for us and I have always had an affinity for Cunningham because of that early connection to him.

After that draft the three of us were totally hooked. So much so we organized another league for that same season so we could each manage our own team. It was a league that redrafted every year. Ben, my Dad and I each had our own team. I never felt so much responsibility having control of my own fantasy team. The first draft was held at our house. My dad fronted our buy in of $10 or $20. I don’t remember how much 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 older of which had his own team and the younger 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 1987. It was a full 200+page book. It had a solid color for the front and no flashy pictures. This book was incredible to me. There was so much to learn. It was laid out by position and in the various scoring methods. We were the playing basic scoring method. Which awarded 4 points for thrown TD’s, 6 points for rushing and receiving TDs, 3 points for field goals and 1 point for extra points. That was it. No points were awarded for yards. It seems barbaric now but this was how we played and we loved it. The book was laid out by position with rankings that had tiers. Starting with the “Best of the best” and going down from there. I remember thinking this was like a text book and not to be questioned. I had one resource and I studied it hard. I remember doing countless mock drafts on my own. We did not determine draft position until the night of the draft which made preparing infinitely more difficult.

The night of the drafts were always incredibly exciting for me. The first couple years were conducted at our house and then it moved to a different owner’s business conference room which seemed extremely official. Draft position was determined by dealing cards Ace through 9. The drama was incredible. There were pretzel sticks to be eaten like cigars and this would be the first time I had ever seen beer in my house. It was whole new world to me. It was about as much fun as preteen boy could handle.

Sundays had a whole new excitement to them. Watching the games was torture, we got 1 maybe two games at noon and of course we had no DVR. So you were at the whim of the ticker across the top of the screen and the very rare game break to gauge how you were doing. The halftime recaps were a whirlwind of information to track. I can remember begging the announcers “How did they score the third TD?” This would go on for both the Noon and 3:00 games and then we had to wait the agonizing couple hours until NFL Primetime which also launched in 1987. I have so many memories of one of my fantasy players running across the screen and hearing Chris Berman shouting “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 like it did back then.

Ben and my dad took on the duties of commissioner. This was a ton of work. They learned to use a spreadsheet on our green screen Apple IIC. Lineups were called in to our house phone Saturday nights or Sunday morning with last minute calls coming in just before noon. I do remember these calls being highly annoying to my sister who could not possibly comprehend their level of importance. Official results had to wait for the box scores in the Monday morning paper. All of the sudden I was extremely excited about the newspaper and so glad we had morning delivery. I was one of the only kids in grade school who would go to the library and venture over the newspaper section. I would pour over the box scores to plan my drop and adds.

After Monday night’s game the results would be entered in the spreadsheet and printed off. We would mail them out to the rest of the league the following day. It is a testament to how much fun fantasy football is that even with what now seems like such a crude way of receiving and distributing data that we gladly went through it to play. You certainly had to be more dedicated then to have a league that endured due to the shear about of work required.

I have nothing but fond memories of playing fantasy football in the 80’s and early 90’s. I am glad it has become more accessible to the masses and has reached the popularity it is at today. There is a little piece of me though that misses waiting through the commercial breaks hoping to hear Chris Berman scream like only he can, “The Nigerian Nightmare bulldozes his way to the end zone”.

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