Fantasy Football in the 1980s
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 father had the opportunity to join a dynasty league. Two teams had not renewed and there was going to be a draft to divide their players. My dad, my older brother Ben, and I went to his office to do the draft over the phone with the other new owner. The rookies for that year were already drafted, so I remember the grand prize was Vinny Testaverde. The other featured quarterbacks were Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. I know I was nervous because it seemed like the stakes were high. We flipped a coin over the phone that seemed to require an incredible level of trust through the eyes of a 10-year-old. We missed the coin toss and selected 2nd and 3rd. Testaverde went first and we finally got both Moon and Cunningham. It worked well for us and I’ve always had an affinity for Cunningham because of that initial connection to him.
After that draft, the three of us were totally hooked. So much so that we organized another league for that same season so that everyone could manage their own team. It was a league that was redesigned every year. Ben, my dad and I had our own team. I never felt so much responsibility for being in control of my own fantasy team. The first draft took place in our house. My dad advanced our $ 10 or $ 20 purchase. I don’t remember how much, but it seemed like a lot at the time. The other players were all adults except for a boy who brought his two children; the oldest had his own equipment and the youngest shared it with his dad. Clearly, my dad 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 more than 200 pages. It had a solid color for the front and had no flashy images. This book was amazing for me. There was a lot to learn. It was arranged by position and in the different scoring methods. We were the basic scoring method of the game. He awarded 4 points for TD thrown, 6 points for running and receiving TD, 3 points for field goals and 1 point for extra points. That was it. No points were awarded for yards. Now it seems great, but that’s how we played and loved it. The book was organized by position with classifications that had levels. Starting with “The best of the best” and going down from there. I remember thinking this was like a textbook and not to be questioned. I had a resource and I studied it a lot. I remember doing countless mock drafts on my own. We didn’t determine the draft position until draft night, which made preparation infinitely more difficult.
Draft night was always incredibly exciting for me. The first two years were held in our home and then moved to another owner’s business conference room that looked extremely official. The position in the draft was determined by dealing cards from Ace to 9. The drama was incredible. There were pretzel sticks to eat as cigars and this would be the first time I had seen beer in my house. It was a whole new world for me. It was all the fun a pre-teen could handle.
Sundays had a whole new emotion for them. Watching the games was torture, we got 1 maybe two games at noon and of course we didn’t have DVR. So you were on the whim of the ticker at the top of the screen and in the very rare game pause to gauge how you were doing. The halftime recaps were a whirlwind of information to track down. I remember begging the announcers “How did you score the third TD?” This would continue for both the noon and 3:00 games and then we had to wait an agonizing couple of hours until NFL prime time, which also launched in 1987. I have so many memories of one of my fantasy players running. across the screen and listening to Chris. Berman yelling “TOUCHDOWN !!!!” The high was amazing. Somehow I miss those days. With today’s instant information, that anticipation can never unfold like it did back then.
Ben and my dad took over as commissioner. It was a lot of work. They learned how to use a spreadsheet on our Apple IIC green screen. Lineups were called on our home phone on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings and last minute calls came in just before noon. I remember that these calls were very upsetting for my sister, who could not understand their level of importance. The official results had to wait for the cash scores in the Monday morning newspaper. Suddenly I was very excited about the newspaper and very glad I had the delivery in the morning. I was one of the only kids in elementary school who went to the library and ventured out to read the newspaper section. I would spill over the box scores to plan my delivery and sums.
After the Monday night game, the results would be entered into the spreadsheet 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 that even with what now seems like such a crude way of receiving and distributing data, we gladly overlook it to play. Certainly, you had to be more dedicated than to have a league that would last due to the sheer amount of work required.
I have nothing but good memories of playing fantasy football in the 80s and early 90s. I am glad that it has become more accessible to the masses and has reached the popularity it is today. However, there is a small part of me that misses waiting during commercial breaks in hopes of hearing Chris Berman scream like only he can: “Nigerian nightmare makes its way to the end zone.”