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 drastically since then.

It all started when my dad got the chance 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 draft over the phone with the other new owner. The rookies that year were already in the draft so I remember the big prize was Vinny Testaverde. The other QBs of note were Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. I know I felt nervous because the stakes were high. We did a coin toss over the phone that seemed to require an incredible level of trust through the eyes of a 10-year-old. We lost the coin toss and selected 2nd and 3rd. Testaverde went first and we finally got Moon and Cunningham. It worked out well for us and I’ve always had an affinity with 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 that same season so that each of us could manage our own team. It was a league that redesigned every year. Well, my dad and I each had our own team. I’ve never felt so much responsibility being in control of my own fantasy team. The first draft was held in our house. My dad advanced our entry $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 boy who brought his two children; the oldest of whom had his own equipment and the youngest shared it with his father. Clearly, my dad had a lot of faith in me.

To prepare for the draft, my father bought Cliff Charpentier’s Fantasy Football Digest 1987. It was a complete book of more than 200 pages. It had a solid color for the front and no flashy images. This book was amazing to 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. Which awarded 4 points for TD thrown, 6 points for TD carrying and receiving, 3 points for field goals and 1 point for extra points. That was it. No points were awarded for yards. Now it seems barbaric, but that’s how we played and we loved it. The book was presented by position with ratings 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 shouldn’t be questioned. I had a resource and I studied it a lot. I remember 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 it was moved to a different owner’s business conference room that seemed extremely official. Draft position was determined by dealing cards ace through nine. The drama was incredible. There were pretzel sticks to eat 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 about as much fun as a pre-teen kid could handle.

Sundays had a whole new excitement for them. Watching the games was torture, we got one or two games in the middle of the day and of course we had no DVR. So you were at the whim of the ticker at the top of the screen and the very rare game break to assess 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 go on through the noon and 3:00 games and then we had to wait an agonizing couple of hours until the NFL prime time which also launched in 1987. I have so many memories of one of my fantasy players running around the screen and listening to Chris. Berman yelling “Rumbling stubble TOUCHDOWN!!!!” The high was amazing. Somehow I miss those days. With today’s instant information, that anticipation can never build like it did back then.

Ben and my dad took on the duties of the commissioner. This was a lot of work. They learned how to use a spreadsheet on our Apple IIC green screen. Queues were called to our home phone on a Saturday night or Sunday morning with the last minute calls coming in just before noon. I remember that these calls were very annoying to my sister, who could not possibly understand the level of importance of her. Official results had to wait for box scores in the Monday morning paper. Suddenly she was very excited about the paper and very happy that we had delivery in the morning. I was one of the only kids in elementary school who went to the library and ventured into the newspaper section. I would review the box scores to plan my drops and additions.

After Monday night’s 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 the fun of fantasy football that, even with what now seems like such a crude way of receiving and distributing data, we still have a blast playing it. You certainly had to be more dedicated than having a lasting league due to the sheer amount of work required.

I have nothing but fond memories of playing fantasy football in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’m glad it has become more accessible to the masses and has reached the popularity it has today. However, there is a small part of me that misses waiting during commercial breaks hoping to hear Chris Berman yell like only he can: “The Nigerian Nightmare fights its way to the end zone.”

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