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The Early Days of Fantasy Football
by The Prophet
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I hail from an early era of fantasy football … before fantasy football statistics scrolled across your TV screen during games, before the internet offered fantasy football league websites that calculated your fantasy scores for you, before network halftime shows showcased fantasy football injury reports, before automated waiver wires.  I began my fantasy football career during the 1995 NFL season.  My starting lineup included Brett Favre at quarterback, Byron “Bam” Morris & Craig “Iron head” Heyward at the running back position, my
wide receivers were Carl Pickens, Brett Perriman, and Wayne Chrebet, my tight end was Wesley Walls.  At kicker, the venerable Pete Stoyanovich booted field goals for me (when he was still in Miami) and the San Francisco Defense rounded out my starters.  I got close to making the playoffs that year,
but instead found myself in the toilet bowl tourney, which I easily won.  By the end of season I was hooked.  Fantasy Football became a huge part of my fall season lifestyle as I chased that first elusive championship. 

The early days of Fantasy Football were very different than the automated, well-oiled machine it has become in recent years.  Fantasy football was like an underground club.   Not many people knew about it, even fewer knew what it was.  When you said you were going to a fantasy football draft back then, people looked at you like you were going to play dungeons & dragons with the other geeks.  The internet was just coming into its own.  There were a few fantasy football websites, but they mostly showcased cheat sheets and other fantasy football draft aids.  There were no websites that would host your league for you of calculate your weekly point totals.  the internet in those days was strictly a research tool for fantasy football owners. 

Back then fantasy football leagues were on their own to convert NFL statistics to fantasy points every week.  This had to be done by hand since there were no websites that automatically downloaded NFL stats for you.   We had to find an unimpeachable fantasy football statistics resource, so our league had it expressly written in its bylaws that our fantasy football manifesto would be the Monday and Tuesday editions of the USA Today newspaper.  Our commissioner would spend Monday night looking up what players did over the weekend in the newspaper in order to converting their stats into fantasy points.  One player at a time, one team at a time.  This process took hours.  The Fantasy football points were entered into an Excel spread sheet and they werre printed up after the results of Monday night game were in.  If stats were printed incorrectly in USA Today, it did not matter, this newspaper was gospel – it was in the bylaws! 

There was no automated waiver wire system back then, so we had to come up with our own.  Each week at 6:30pm the commissioner would unplug his kitchen phone next to the microwave.  At exactly 7:00pm, he would plug his phone back into the phone jack and the first guy that rang through would get his waiver wire selection processed first.  The next team owner on the line when the commissioner clicked over had his request processed after that and so on.  I used to spend Friday nights redialing the commissioner’s phone number over and over until I finally got through.

Fantasy football has come a long way since I began playing.  The advent of the internet, coupled with some very savvy NFL marketing, has caused fantasy football to explode into the premiere Sunday afternoon experience that it has become in recent years.  It’s been very interesting to me to monitor its growth over the years and watch as fantasy football begins to overtake the popularity of the game itself.  This becomes evident as  one watches any pregame or halftime report on Sunday.  Fantasy football injuries and starter status are beginning to take over discussions about the actual game of football, as in many cases football fans are more concerned about how their fantasy team is doing than their actual hometown football team.  As fantasy football continues to become the NFL’s greatest ambassador for unprecedented product popularity, it will be interesting to see how far it’s tentacles will reach into American homes.  I recently read an article that claims through a study conducted by Chicago-based employment research firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., that employers lose close to $1.1 billion weekly in lost productivity during the NFL football season as employees log on to check on the status of their players or scour the waiver wire for potential backups.  In the same breathe, employers are encouraged not to ban fantasy football from the workplace as it actually encourages workplace camaraderie and the fall out due to lowered employee morale might actually be worse.  It looks as though Fantasy Football is here to stay.



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