The History Of Fantasy Football

& The TFFL

 

 

Compiled by David Welborn

 
The humble beginnings of what we know today as Fantasy Football dates back to the fall of 1962, according to many published reports. The Oakland Raiders, who were members of the old American Football League at the time, embarked on a three-game road trip, playing the Buffalo Bills, New York Titans (who became the Jets in 1963) and the Boston Patriots (now New England). To save money, the team and coaching staff stayed on the east coast for the eighteen-day period instead of flying back to Oakland after each game. While on the trip, Raiders limited partner Bill Winkenbach, Oakland Tribune beat writer Scotty Stirling and Raiders public relations man Bill Tunnell sat in a New York hotel room and planned the scheme that would form the basis for what we all know now as Fantasy Football. “It was really Winkenbach who came up with the idea”, said Stirling, who now serves as the head of college scouting for the Sacramento Kings. “He was an amazing guy, very smart, who had made a lot of really good business investments. He loved playing with different ideas”. Winkenbach, who died in 1993, also came up with the whimsical name for the game: Greater Oakland Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPL). “We basically put the thing together right then and there and brought it home the next day”, Stirling said.
 
As soon as they returned from the long road trip, Winkenbach enlisted the aid of Tribune sports editor George Ross, who is retired and living in the Sierra Nevada area in the small Plumas County town of Graeagle. “Wink had played around with a fantasy baseball concept in the ‘50s and we had talked about it, so I was familiar with the idea”, Ross said. “I could see right away that it would be easy to set up and something everybody would enjoy”. In the beginning, all the team owners were somehow connected with the Tribune or the Raiders organization. “One of the reasons I liked it was that it forced the reporters who were involved to follow the whole league, not just the Raiders”, Ross said, “so they wrote better stories”.
 
The rules were similar to today’s game, but the importance placed of monetary prizes was minuscule compared to many of today’s high stakes leagues. There were eight team owners that first year, including Winkenbach, Ross, Stirling and Tunnell. The commissioner was a local high school teacher named Tom Crawford. Bill Downing, one of the original owners was the second commissioner. Teams were required to draft four receivers, four halfbacks, two fullbacks, two quarterbacks, two kick returners, two place kickers, two defensive backs or linebackers and two defensive linemen. Houston Oilers quarterback George Blanda is credited with being the first fantasy player ever selected, and for good reason. Blanda was averaging about 40 pass attempts per game at this point in his career, and a fair percentage of those were going for touchdowns. Blanda still holds club records for the Oilers\Titans with 68 pass attempts in a 1964 game against Buffalo and 36 touchdown passes in the 1961 season.
 
Research for the initial draft was very primitive, due to the lack of information available to team owners in that day. The basic information was supplied by Street and Smith yearbooks, but all that information was from the previous season. “I remember in 1979, one team owner drafted tight end J.V. Cain of the St. Louis Cardinals, but we all discovered a few days after the draft that he had died some weeks before”, said Andy Mousalimas, a longtime owner of the Kings X sports bar in Oakland and a fantasy team owner that first year. J.V. Cain had a fatal heart attack in training camp on July 22, 1979.
 
The first few drafts were held in Winkenbach’s rumpus room, after which the team owners would go out to eat at an Oakland restaurant. “We had fun with it”, Stirling said. “Wink had a wood lathe in his basement and he carved a figure of a football with a dunce cap on it. The biggest loser each year would get that and he would have to display it prominently in his house. If one of us visited him and he didn’t have it out, he would be fined”. Mousalimas opened the Kings X in November 1968, and the next year the draft was held in his bar. He also started sports trivia contests to bring in more business. “I think that’s what really started the spread of the game”, Stirling said. “A lot of guys came over from San Francisco to play our game and the trivia contests, and pretty soon, San Francisco bars had their own leagues”.
 
The game, under different names soon sprang up across the country, almost exclusively in larger cities. “I heard later that the guys in New York who started the Rotisserie League claimed they were the first”, Stirling said, “but they weren’t, we were”. “Scotty and I used to talk about maybe taking the idea to a game company and trying to sell it”, Ross said, “but we never did. I don’t know how much money we would have made, but before we could do anything, it seemed everybody was playing it”. Even in Oakland, there were multiple leagues. Upset when Mousalimas suggested some rule changes, Winkenbach split with him, prompting Mousalimas to start his own Kings X league. Tribune employees started their own league as well.
 
Now, of course, the game is huge nationwide. All football publications include sections on Fantasy Football, and there are literally dozens of magazines solely devoted to it. All of the NFL pre-game shows devote time to it and there’s more information on the internet than there is time to view. Mousalimas was invited to a Fantasy Football convention in Las Vegas in 2002 by Emil Kladec, the publisher of one of the magazines. “He had reserved 500 rooms at the MGM Grand”, Mousalimas said. “I said to him, are you crazy? He said, ‘There are an estimated 3 million people playing this game, do you think I can get 500 of them to come here? Of course he filled them all”. (article published in 2003)
 

blue to green horizontal line animation

 
EVOLUTION OF THE GAME
 
Fantasy Football has evolved in recent years from a mere recreational activity into a big business industry, primarily due to the internet. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) is one of the industry’s trade associations, founded in the late 1990s to conduct market research, create communication and networking opportunities, and promote the industry. The FSA (Fantasy Sports Association) is another industry trade association, founded in 2006. The FSA’s goal is to promote the fantasy sports industry and simultaneously provide strategic advice and consultation to it’s members and to other organizations interested in leveraging and gaining value from fantasy sports. Over the past three years, fantasy sports participation has grown to an estimated 30 to 35 million consumers (2011), and that number is growing at a rate of 7% to 10% annually. Fantasy sports have an estimated economic impact of $2.5 billion within the industry and close to $8 billion total economic impact, according to a recent study completed at the University of Mississippi. Fantasy Football surpassed fantasy baseball in popularity back in the 1990's and is now the most widely played fantasy sport in the U.S.
 

blue to green horizontal line animation

 
CREATION OF THE TFFL     By: David Welborn
 
Despite the fact that fantasy football had been developed in 1962, the number of pro football fans who were participating in fantasy leagues was still extremely small a quarter-century later. Research shows that hundreds of people were playing in several of the major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, but the rest of the country was unaware that such a thing even existed. Perhaps the primary reason for this was the fact that Fantasy Football was still being played primarily as a 'Bar Game' through the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, much like the sports trivia games that are so popular today.
 
But things changed rapidly in the ‘80’s, when articles on the subject finally started appearing in national sports magazines. The news spread quickly and leagues started forming nationally. It was one of these articles which appeared in the 1987 "Street and Smith Pro Football Annual" that triggered the formation of the TFFL in the summer of that year.
 
The basic premise of Fantasy Football was presented in the aforementioned article, but little else. There was absolutely no detailed information concerning the development and operation of such a league, but I was convinced after reading the one-page article over and over several times, that this was something I wanted to do. I brought the article to the attention of several of my co-workers, who were just as intrigued by the idea as I was. Despite the ignorance we all possessed, we decided to give it a try.
 
The important thing to remember is that in 1987, information on the subject of fantasy football was virtually non-existent, at least for most areas of the country. I learned many years later that a handful of publications were available at the time, but only in major markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The many searches we (TFFL team owners) carried out in area bookstores were done so in vain. The internet was in it's infancy in those days as well, meaning there were no fantasy football websites available, or at least none that we found. We were basically on our own.
 
When you consider that the decision to establish the TFFL was made less than two weeks prior to the start of the regular season, it’s really no surprise that total chaos ensued. As the opening weekend drew near, we had no solid rule structure in place, no set number of teams, no nothing really! Needless to say, the development of the league was going so poorly that I considered throwing in the towel on more than one occasion. We didn't even complete the draft until the fifth week of the regular season, which looking back on it now, was really quite comical. In short, our first year was a nightmare from an administrative side, but we managed to make it through. The important thing is that we persevered, despite the many issues we faced.
 
Needless to say, the second season in 1988 went much smoother because of the lessons we learned the first time around. The same can be said for the third season, and so on. The TFFL celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011, making it one the longest continuously running fantasy football leagues in existence. Statistically (information gathered in 1999), the TFFL is in the upper 3% of leagues in terms of years played.