Fantasy football in the 1980s

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

It all started when my father had the opportunity to join a dynasty league. Two teams had not renewed and there had to be a plan to divide their players. My father, my older brother Ben and I went to his office to conduct the draft over the phone with the other new owner. The rookies for that year had already been chosen, so I remember that the big prize was Vinny Testaverde. The other notable QBs were Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. I know I was feeling nervous because the stakes seemed so high. We did a coin toss on the phone that seemed to require an incredible level of confidence through the eyes of a 10 year old. We missed the coin flip and chose the 2nd and 3rd. Testaverde went first and in the end we got both Moon and Cunningham. It worked well for us and I’ve always had an affinity with Cunningham because of that first connection with him.

After that draft, the three of us were totally hooked. So much so that we have organized another championship for that same season so that we can each manage their own team. It was a championship that was reformulated every year. Ben, my dad and I each had our own team. I have never felt so much responsibility in being in control of my fantasy team. The first draft was held in our home. My dad advanced our buy-in by $ 10 or $ 20. I don’t remember how much, but at the time it seemed like a lot. The other players were all adults except one boy who brought his two children; the eldest of which had his own team and the youngest shared with his father. Clearly, my father had a lot of faith in me.

To prepare for the draft, my father bought Cliff Charpentier’s 1987 Fantasy Football Digest. It was a complete book of over 200 pages. It had solid color for the front and no flashy photos. This book was incredible for me. There was so much to learn. It was structured by position and by the various scoring methods. We were the basic scoring method of the game. Which awarded 4 points for the thrown TDs, 6 points for the running and received TDs, 3 points for the field baskets and 1 point for the extra points. It was like this. No points were awarded for yards. It sounds barbaric now, but that was how we played and we loved it. The book was structured by position with rankings that had levels. Starting with the “Best of the best” and going down from there. I remember thinking it was like a textbook and not to be questioned. I had an asset and I studied it hard. I remember doing countless fake drafts on my own. We didn’t determine the location of the project until project night which made preparation infinitely more difficult.

Draft night has always been incredibly exciting for me. The first two years were taken to our home and then moved to another owner’s business conference room that looked extremely official. Position in the draft was determined by dealing cards from Ace to 9. The drama was incredible. There were some pretzel sticks to eat like cigars and this would have been the first time I’d ever seen beer in my house. It was a whole new world for me. It was as funny as a preteen boy could handle.

Sundays had a whole new excitement for them. Watching the games was torture, we had 1 maybe two games at noon and obviously we didn’t have the DVR. So you were at the whim of the ticker at the top of the screen and the very rare game break to gauge how you were doing. The interval summaries were a whirlwind of information to keep track of. I remember begging the announcers “How did they score the third TD?” This would go on for both the noon and 3:00 matches and then we had to wait the agonizing couple of hours until NFL Primetime, also launched in 1987. I have so many memories of one of my fictional players. running across the screen listening to Chris Berman shouting “Rumbling Trip TOUCHDOWN !!!!” The high was incredible. Somehow I miss those days. With today’s instant information, that anticipation is never as capable of building as it was then.

Ben and my father took over as commissioner. This was a lot of work. They learned how to use a spreadsheet on our Apple IIC green screen. The formations were called to our home phone on Saturday evening or Sunday morning with last minute calls arriving just before noon. I remember that these calls were very annoying to my sister who could not possibly understand their level of importance. The official results had to wait for the box scores in the Monday morning paper. I was suddenly extremely excited about the newspaper and so happy to have received the morning delivery. I was one of the few elementary school kids who would go to the library and venture to the newspaper section. I would like to pour over the box scores to plan my drop and add.

After Monday night’s game, the results were entered into the spreadsheet and printed. We would ship them to the rest of the league the next day. It’s a testament to how much fun fantasy football is and even with what now seems like such a crude way of receiving and distributing data that we happily went through it to play. Surely you had to be more dedicated then to have a league that resisted due to too much fatigue required.

I have nothing but fond memories of the game of fantasy football in the 1980s and early 1990s. I am glad that it has become more accessible to the masses and has achieved the popularity it has today. There is a small piece of me though that fails to wait during commercial breaks hoping to hear Chris Berman scream as only he can, “The Nigerian Nightmare makes its way to the end zone.”

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