The First Draft
The event was scheduled for just after Midnight as that was the only possible way that all six of us could arrange to be in the same place at the same time. None of us are aware that the seeds planted that warm September night will sprout into the towering oak we now refer to as “The League.” Jim Petrusky, Steve Tolbert (roommate), Dan Butler (former roommate and neighbor), Troy Vidal (Dan’s roommate), John Evans (Steve’s buddy), and myself. We didn’t even have team names and the roll of a die determined who would select first.
With the first pick in the 1996 draft, I selected. . .
Brett Favre. That’s right, Brett freaking Favre. Obviously, I didn’t know any better but neither did anybody else for that matter. Of course, Favre threw 39 touchdowns and won the MVP that year so it worked out for me. In fact, while I’m sure Jim won’t remember, or at least claim he doesn’t remember, I won that first six team league in true dominating style..
The scoring system was very simple, 6 points per touchdown. Nobody had heard of performance scoring yet and it was an easy way to work. There was no such thing as live scoring, scores were determined by combing through the box scores in the tuesday morning USA Today.
The only other rule was that your line-up had better be recorded on my answering machine before 1PM on Sunday. Waivers? Once again, the answering machine; first guy to leave a message on my machine gets his man.
Poor Dan didn’t even watch football and couldn’t have explained the difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3. Dan based his entire draft on a Getsy style Excel spreadsheet he built using the 1995 season statistics. He didn’t do very well. Of course, Troy wasn’t much better. Troy watched about five football games per season. The rest of us at least knew football but it was still pretty ugly and by the time the 1997 season rolled around, I knew there had to be a better (and more challenging) way to do this.
Online: The Early Years
By 1997, the internet had become a viable entity for fantasy football exploitation and suddenly, I was no longer restricted to the local population and a weak pool of available players. Better still, I no longer had to pour over box scores and calculate scores. It was time to let the computer do the work.
At this point, Dan (and his spreadsheet), Jim and myself were the only members really interested in continuing. I had dug around on-line and discovered Sandbox, which was the only free fantasy football service I could find. We all joined a public league and gave it a try. It was a list style draft (for those of you who remember those) where you ranked players by each conference and position i.e. AFC QB, NFC QB, AFC RB, NFC RB, etc. The system rotated your picks through each list so you have very little control over your roster. The way it worked out, you were only picking first off of 2 lists and that includes listings for kickers and defenses. I remember only two things about that season 1) I drafted Jerry Rice (who had been a fantasy beast up to that point) who promptly broke his kneecap in week one or two and missed the rest of the season 2) I picked up a rookie running back off waivers early in the season who carried me to the playoffs. Corey Dillon.
The important part of the tale, however, is that roughly half the teams quit paying attention before the season was over which was a real drag. Now some of this was no doubt related to the general fantasy apathy that we’ve all seen in public leagues but it didn’t help that the web site was so slow it could take five or ten minutes on dial-up (this was long before broad band was common) just to load your weekly line-up. Scoring was often screwed up and waivers was like pulling teeth. When the off-season rolled around, I started a new search for a fantasy football home.
This lead me to ESPN for 1998 season.
The theory went like this. . . if players had to pony up cash to play, they might actually pay attention throughout the season. They might actually be good players. Fantasy football might actually be challenging.
All of these assumptions turned out to be false. The end result was that Jim and I drifted through another mediocre season and I swore to never play in an online public league again. Fortunately, two things happened around this time that would alter the course of history. First, yahoo got into the free fantasy football business and allowed you to set up your own private leagues. Second, I went to work at Merrill Lynch.
For the 1999 season I started a league on yahoo and invited everyone I knew who had any interest in football to play. Dan was off to the military but by this point but I knew enough people to fill a 10 team league. In some cases I was still scraping the bottom of the barrel to get enough players but it beat the hell out of a public league.
I knew it was going to take some time but I envisioned a future where every player cared about what happened and nobody quit half way into a season. I was determined to build a pool of quality players and only invite those players back every year who brought something to the table whether it was actual skill, or entertainment value (the Bobby Parker Doctrine).
The dream was about to become a reality. . .