I was nine years old and it was the weeks leading up to the first day of fourth grade.
I was at the grocery store with my family, and sometimes, when I was at the grocery store with my family, I would peruse the magazine section while they did all the shopping. Usually, I would look for the latest edition of MAD magazine. You know, that magazine with the weird looking red head kid on it that was full of funny cartoons geared at little kids who’s sense of humor hadn’t really matured yet? Ya, that one.
But today was different. On this day, the shelves were lined with football magazines. I didn’t really know much about football. I knew the big championship game was called the Super Bowl. I knew I liked the Cowboys and the Longhorns. And I knew Troy Aikman was a true american hero. But ask me what a 4-3 defense, an 8-man front, or the triple option was, and I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue.
I had watched quite a bit of the previous year’s NFL playoffs, however, and I remember thinking it was pretty cool. So on that day, I decided to read a football magazine. But I didn’t pick up any regular football magazine. Without having any idea what I was doing, having no clue what fantasy football was, I picked up a fantasy football magazine thinking it was just a regular football magazine.
As I flipped through pages and pages of player rankings and projections, I eventually came upon a ‘mock draft’ and realized I wasn’t reading just a regular football magazine. When my dad came to retrieve me from the magazine section, i showed him the magazine and asked ‘do you know what this is?’ He responded ‘I think it’s called fantasy football. Pretty sure your Uncle Pat plays.’ When I got home, I called Uncle Pat, and from that time forward, my life was never the same.
Uncle Pat explained to me how in fantasy football, you draft real NFL players from real NFL teams, and when those players scored touchdowns in real NFL games, your ‘fantasy team’ scored touchdowns as well. My reaction was, ‘THAT IS AWESOME.’ So when I went in to my first day of fourth grade a little while later, I made it a point to reach out to all my friends to see if they wanted to start a fantasy football league. But there was a problem. It was 1997, and my friends were nine years old. In 1997, fantasy football wasn’t that popular. The internet was still new, fantasy football wasn’t on ESPN.com or Yahoo.com, and it was rarely, if at all, mentioned on TV. Also, we were nine, and my friends just didn’t get it. Fantasy football can be confusing to a 9-year-old, and I’m sure I wasn’t doing a good job at explaining it.
So one-by-one, each of my friends said ‘no.’ I was perturbed, but not dissuaded. I was dead-set on playing fantasy football that year, whether my friends were going to play with me or not! So like any good nine-year-old, I decided to use my imagination. I created MY OWN fantasy league where I owned all the teams, made all the rules and made all the roster decisions. It was called the NFFL (National Fantasy Football League), and it was basically the greatest thing ever.
The inaugural season of the NFFL featured eight teams: The Alabama Alligators, the Boston Backstabbers (yes, I named a team the Backstabbers), the California Killers (yes, I also named a team the Killers), the Dakota Demons (OK, obviously I was a really weird kid), the Edmonton Oilers, the Florida Falcons, the Georgia Jayhawks and the Hawaii Beachboys.
Each team played each other twice for a 14-game schedule. The top 4 teams made the playoffs, and the two semifinal winners met in the STEVEN BOWL. The Georgia Jayhawks beat the Dakota Demons in Steven Bowl I, and like most parties in Atlanta, the party didn’t stop ’till eight in the mo’nin.
Before I continue with the entire history of the NFFL, however, I must explain to you how much time I actually devoted to this imaginary fantasy football league. Every Sunday morning started with my own version of NFL Countdown called NFFL Countdown. On this imaginary TV show, I would throw the football around to myself, mimic Chris Berman and preview all the games of my imaginary fantasy football league with three imaginary analysts named Adam, Bob and Chris. It was quality television.
At the end of each Sunday night, it was time for me to rip off the greatest sports highlight show of all-time, NFL Primetime. On NFFL Primetime, I would throw the football around to myself, mimic Chris Berman and hum the the classic NFL Primetime toons like this one while going over the highlights of my imaginary fantasy football league.
All I can say, is thank God my parents never took video of this. Thank God. All scores and stats were kept on pen and paper, and I take a lot of pride in saying I’m probably the only millennial that’s played fantasy football on pen and paper. I used to have a giant desk drawer full of score sheets. But don’t ask me for any of it, all evidence has since been destroyed. I also used to have midweek shows like NFL Live, and spent an inordinate amount of time at school not paying attention to the teacher and instead thinking or doodling about the NFFL.
The Alabama Alligators beat the Dakota Demons in Steven Bowl II. The Florida Falcons beat the Edmonton Oilers in Steven Bowl III. Following the 1999 season, the league expanded to 10 teams with the addition two expansion franchises: the Idaho Icepotatoes (they were originally going to be the Icemen, but my dad told me Idaho was famous for their potatoes, so naturally: Icepotatoes) and the Jacksonville Jets. The Georgia Jayhawks beat the Dakota Demons in Steven Bowl IV. The Boston Backstabbers beat the Jacksonville Jets in Steven Bowl V, and the Backstabbers repeated in 2002 by beating the Dakota Demons in Steven Bowl VI.
For those of you counting at home, that’s SIX Steven Bowls. That means I ran this imaginary fantasy football league through my freshman year of high school. And if you think 14-year-old me wasn’t still broadcasting NFFL Countdown and NFFL Primetime on my imaginary ESPN every Sunday, you are dead wrong. In fact, 14-year-old me may have been more obsessed with the NFFL than 9-year-old me. It was crazy. But something happened in between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I realized it was really weird to still be running my own imaginary fantasy football league.
While my buddies were getting girlfriends, I was still at home every Sunday throwing the football around to myself and mimicking Chris Berman for a league that didn’t exist anywhere but in my own head? Something had to change. So that offseason, I made the very, very difficult decision to end the NFFL. This was not easy. I had poured countless hours into this nerdy, egotistical little league of mine. Every franchise by that point had a legit personality. The Alligators were rich in tradition, the Backstabbers were the bad boys, the Icepotatoes were a laughingstock and you sure didn’t want to play a road playoff game in the Demon Dome. But all good things must come to an end. Plus, by that time, fantasy football was popular so I had friends at school to play with. Ever since I’ve played fantasy football with actual people, and I think it’s been really good for my mental health.
Well, alright guys. Now you know one of the five most embarrassing facts about me. Don’t ask me about the other four. Seriously, before today, the only people that knew about this were my family, my neighbor Garrett Grief, and my best friend from fourth grade, Esa.
I only decided to tell you this story because TexasHSFootball.com has asked me to be their fantasy football writer for the upcoming season and I just wanted to let you know how much passion I truly have for this nerdy little game. Over the next couple weeks, I will publish position rankings for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and will cap my preseason articles with a draft strategy column. Fantasy football has obviously been an integral part of my life for a very long time. This will be season #21 and I look forward to sharing it with you.