September 20, 2000
by Dave Sabo
How do you maintain interest in the NFL season when the scumbag owner of your hometown team up and moves it to Possum Holler? Why, you get yourself involved in a fantasy football league! Or maybe two or three. Or six.
I was first exposed to fantasy football while reading the Point After feature in a 1982 issue of Sports Illustrated. The article laid out the concept and rules of the game, described the process of buying into a league and explained how winnings were distributed every week. The article also mentioned that playing fantasy football for money was illegal. So, of course, I wanted to begin playing immediately. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my friends thought the whole idea was stupid or balked at the $15 franchise fee (that was a hefty chunk o’ change for a 14-year old in 1982). I eventually managed to convince two friends and one of their kid brothers to play. We drafted some teams and off we went.
Back in the early days of fantasy football, scoring was based solely on your players actually getting the ball into the end zone or kicking it through the uprights. There was none of this one point for every 10 yards rushing or 25 yards passing. Your guys either scored or they didn’t. Touchdown runs, passes and receptions of 39 yards or less were worth 4 points and those of 40 yards or more were worth six. Field goals were worth two, three or four points depending on their distance. PAT’s were worth one point. Kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns were worth 6 points (and we drafted kick returners) as were all defensive touchdowns. Safeties were worth 2 points.
There was no head-to-head play. Each week’s point totals were tallied. Whoever had the most points that week was the winner and for every point that they were outscored by, the losers paid him a nickel. At the end of the season, ALL the points were totaled and the franchise fees were divided amongst the top three finishers: twenty-five dollars for first, fifteen for second and five for third. I figured I’d make a mint. I lost about $50.
I didn’t play for awhile after that. In high school, I was too busy being a knucklehead and my college years were spent at Sam Houston State University, the campus of which was inhabited by huge numbers of Dallas Cryboy fans. Unfortunately, fantasy football required NFL knowledge far beyond that of the average passenger on “America’s Bandwagon.”
I was reacquainted with fantasy football in 1991. I’d joined the Army straight out of college and was stationed overseas in Heidelberg, Germany. The only football we got over there was the weekly Armed Forces Network (AFN) broadcast of Monday Night Football. AFN broadcast the games live, which meant that an 8:00 PM Central Standard Time kickoff went off at something like 2 or 3 AM Central European Time. I saw VERY little football in Germany. To make up for the lack of televised football, EVERYBODY played fantasy. It was a little different than I remembered. Points were given for rushing, passing and receiving yardage and defenses were credited with sacks and turnovers. After securing the third overall pick in my office fantasy league draft and armed with my “draft high scorers” mentality, I chose Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood. Yup, I blew the third pick overall on a kicker. Of course, the pick becomes even more foolish when you take into consideration the fact Norwood had retired after shanking the winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV and wasn’t even in the league that year.
I’ve played and enjoyed fantasy fanatically ever since. By 1997, with the Oilers gone, fantasy football was the only reason to watch the NFL. I was involved in six different leagues, ensuring that at any given moment, I would have NO idea who I had on what roster. Bye weeks alone required a spreadsheet. I lived in sports bars with satellite dishes on the weekends. Man, it was great!
In the past three years, however, work and domestic responsibilities have conspired to pare my collection of teams down to two. I’ve settled into an ESPN league with a bunch of guys and this year, we finally got everybody together at the same time for a real “live” draft for a parallel league that we’re running ourselves. If you’ve never participated in a live draft, I highly recommend it. It’s way more fun than list drafts or the e-mail drafts that last a week. Just clear out the basement, get yourself a dry erase board and a stopwatch, break out the nachos and beer, order up some pizza and “SHAZAM” you’re a GM! If you’ve got about a billion dollars to blow on an actual NFL team and choose to treat it as the world’s most expensive fantasy team, “SHAZAM!” you’re Li’l Danny Snyder!
The beauty of the live draft is that it stimulates draft day trades (I myself made two, trading Peyton Manning, Curtis Martin and a fifth round pick for Steve Beurlein, Eddie George and Wesley Walls) and makes for lots of smack running. And I guarantee somebody will make a pick or a trade offer that rivals “Norwood-with-the-third-pick-overall” for stupidity. This year, for instance, a guy in our league, needing a backup quarterback, chose 49ers rookie and third-stringer, Giovanni Carmazzi. With San Francisco’s starter (Jeff Garcia) and backup (Rick Mirer) still available. He’s still hearing about that one.
I’m feeling pretty good about both my teams. One of them is 2-1 and the other is 2-0-1. Both lead their respective divisions. While winning is always the obvious goal, I’ve found that the most satisfying aspect of fantasy football is that it gives me a reason to watch otherwise unwatchable games. Honestly, who outside of Green Bay or Arizona has the incentive to watch this week’s Packers Cardinals game? I’ll tell you who — the 4 million or so fantasy players that are starting Packers’ QB Brett Favre or Arizona rookie running back Thomas Jones on their fantasy team.
Whoa! I really hate to cut this short, but I just realized that Buffalo, Minnesota and Carolina all have a bye this week and my “Fatboys of the Beltway League” team (The Fightin’ Horny Toads) boasts Eric Moulds, Robert Smith, Steve Beurlein, Muhsin Muhammad and Wesley Walls as starters. Looks like it’s going to be 4,00,001 fantasy players watching Green Bay Arizona on Sunday. I took Jones in the seventh round.
Dave Sabo is a native Houstonian and lifelong Oilers fan living in exile in Laurel, MD. He currently has Titans running back, Eddie George, on the trading block. Feel free to make him an offer.