Fantasy Football
I recall the first time I heard of fantasy football: about twenty years ago, my friend Joe introduced me to the concept.  He kept trying to explain the game to me in spite of the fact that it seemed too weird to even consider my participation.  “Come on, it’ll be fun. We just need one more.”

Well, Joe was a good friend, and he only needed one more.

There we were: twelve grown men gathered around card tables in a hot as Hades garage: frankly I was a little embarrassed to be part of this gathering.

Fortunately for me, a sheet which included the names of the NFL players that we could draft from was provided.  I had lost most of my interest in football in general and professional football in particular.  I still followed LSU football from a detached distance.  The last time I was truly interested was when they had the “Chinese Bandit” defense.  At any rate, I had to pick a team.

My first choice was Bobby Hebert, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.  There were a couple of snickers at my choice.  Joe tried to cover for me by explaining that I was from Louisiana.  I never regretted the choice of Bobby Hebert: I drafted him every year for years and a few years after he retired.  Finally one day someone startled me by asking why I liked Hebert so much.  Truthfully, I had never given it much thought, but I immediately responded, “His enthusiasm for the game,” and for that I still appreciate Bobby.  Thanks.

As the choices among those assembled droned on for what seemed a decade, I ran out of players with whom I had even vague familiarity.  At some point I drafted a player with the surname of Anderson.  It occurred to me that being that my knowledge of the choices was pretty limited, I’d draft Andersons until I exhausted them.

After hours of what apparently were tough decisions for those assembled, the commissioner, yes, there is a commissioner which at the time was a pretty tough job because he was the guy who had to accept telephone calls from all of the members to submit their lineups for the week, read newspaper reports of the ball games,  and add up the scores and determine the winners each week, asked me the name of my team.  I had assumed that we would identify our teams by the names our parents bequeathed us, but no, each of us needed a unique moniker for our team.  I pondered a moment, and with what I judged to be a sly smile, responded, “Lou.”   Lou seemed like the name of a guy who would allow himself to be roped into such a bizarre activity as fantasy football.  Being that this was a league which was primarily composed of Brenham folks and most of them only saw me once a year, at the draft, many a time the members would call me Lou instead of John.  That was fine with me.

The first year of participating in the league, I made it to the Super Bowl dragging Bobby Hebert and all those Andersons with me.  The league met at a third-rate bar to watch Monday Night Football and award the trophy (actually, winners’ shares of the money each of us contributed as a requirement of membership) when the last down was played.  I had had a slight lead over the commissioner’s team going into the game, but Emmitt Smith beat me with a touchdown for the Cowboys.  I had mixed emotions about this: at least the Cowboys had won.

We continued the Brenham league for several years: I really can’t remember what happened to it.  Maybe it still exists today, and they just decided not to tell me when they meet for the draft.  The only thing I absolutely hated about the league was the endless indecision about each and every player selected.  I recall one participant calling Chicago to get someone’s opinion on a player.   Crap, I think the longest I ever took was 30 seconds, and then it was near the end of the rounds of the draft when pickins get pretty slim.

Although the Brenham league ended, my participation in fantasy football didn’t: Mark, another friend, started a league in Somerville.  Most of the members were staff members of the school at which we worked.  School people move a lot...a lot.  Hell, I’m the only one who still lives in Somerville.  Usually when someone would move, they would drop their membership.  No more.  The Age of the Internet had arrived and with it lifetime membership.  As long as one stays alive, the ease of one’s membership is assured.

When we first started using the internet, the most input one could have was pre-ranking the players, and the computer would pick the players for the teams based on the pre-rankings, but now, if one chooses, a member can participate in a live on-line real-time draft of players that doesn’t last a millennium.  How cool is that!

The commissioner now just sets up the league on the internet, approves or disapproves trades, takes care of the dues, sets up supplemental drafts, prepares the trophy with the winner’s name plate, and makes the awards to the winners.  Speaking of winners, I won the Super Bowl in the inaugural season of this league.  I say “this league” because the name of the league changes every year usually with an allusion to the prior year’s winner.  The names of the teams also usually change from year to year, but Lou has been part of my team’s name every year.  This year it’s Lou.2.  Since then, a period of eleven years, I finished once as runner up and every other year in the bottom half of the league, not eligible for the big game.  

Usually by midseason, all I have to look forward to is the post-season party.  Our league is composed of folks who have had some relationship to the Somerville School system as students or teachers or administrators none of whom work there any more.  Two are school counselors (Montgomery, College Station), one is a teacher/coach (Shiner), one is a school’s technical person (Brenham), one works for the Texas Education Agency ( the woods of Burleson County), one ex-high school student works with a website creation company (Caldwell), one works in the oil industry as a project manager  (Houston), and one old guy, me, is retired (Somerville).  The big winner provides the funds for the party from his “big” winnings.  Usually he also acts as the host for the get-together.  Good food, good companionship, and usually a good card game make for a great evening.  During the last eleven years, the locations, occupations, and family lives have changed greatly, but they’re all the same folks at heart.  They all have a healthy attitude about their places in the world.

At first there was no trophy, but we thought it was appropriate to have one: we chose a six inch tall rubbery version of Big Boy of the Big Boy Restaurant chain.  The cocky little attitude of Big Boy seemed to make him appropriate as a trophy.  Being handy with woodwork, I built a base for the little fellow to stand on which includes brass plates with the names of the winners.  My name’s the first.  I have to admit that my motivation for building the trophy base was a self-serving one.  I wanted to make certain no one forgot that I once won the trophy.  I’m beginning to doubt that my name will ever appear on the stand of Big Boy again.  But there have been several multiple winners including the only girl in the league, and it looks as though she may win it for a third time this year.

For a couple of years we had a trophy for the last place finisher. It was some kind of a bobble head.  I believe someone’s child destroyed it.  No one even mentioned replacing it.  I don’t even remember what we called it.  Good riddance.

Big Boy stays with the winner of the league for a full year, but he goes on vacations with whoever wants to take him along.  Big Boy has traveled much more that I or any other member of the league has.  The league scrapbook is full of photos of Big Boy all over the continental United States, Hawaii, England, Scotland, Israel, Honduras, France (He loved Paris.), Japan, the Netherlands, and Mexico.  He’s been to the US Open, the National Football Championship (Texas vs. USC), the Superbowl, and the Final Four.  He’s even visited the United Nations.  Shoot, I want to be Big Boy.

Modern fantasy football can be traced back to the late Wilfred Winkenbach, Bill Tunnel, and Scotty Starling who in a New York hotel room in 1962 developed a system of organization and a rule book which became the basis of modern fantasy football.

I’m sure these fellows originated the game for their own amusement and had no idea what a nationwide phenomenon it would become.  Thanks Wilfred, Bill, and Scotty.  Your efforts have resulted in lots of inexpensive entertainment for lots of folks.
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