Tony, Bob and I wanted to do a fantasy football league. We had done fantasy baseball, first with an American League and then taking over some abandoned teams in a National League. But now we wanted to do football. 1994 was a seismic year for pro football; not only was it the year FOX began broadcasting games (blowing CBS away with an offer of $400 million over four years — a move that single handedly legitimized the network) — but the NFL also began using the two point conversion, and the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars would begin play in 1995.
One thing we insisted on was to do auctions. Out AL and NL leagues were auctions, and we wanted football to be auction. We also had a scoring system that was a little involved (more on that in a minute) Long story short the ONLY software we could find that could do MOST of what we wanted was pre-packaged and shrink wrapped cost $129 in 1994, and barely ran on my desktop computer at the time (they ALWAYS seemed to crash and freeze up) And did I mention that we had to get the stats via dial up and there was no way to post them online? We had to send out packets.
We wanted to get 10 owners. We wound up with six. Guys couldn’t make the draft. Guys didn’t want to do it. No one was interested. So like the old NHL, the six of us went at it, awarding prizes to the top two.
One of the owners, Craig, wasn’t entirely satisfied with the scoring system we came up with. So he took it on himself to come up with a scoring system that broke down scoring into FIVE categories, each one a little different: running back rushing yardage, running back receiving yardage, etc. And again each was different. We looked at each other “Can the software handle the scoring?” It could! And so we ran the draft, we wrote everyone’s draft on poster board we bought from Staples and then I entered it into my desktop on the $129 software after the draft. I even had to wake Tony up (who was my roommate at the time) because he needed a tight end. Change was made.
At first I had a knockoff spreadsheet application where I tracked the players and their salaries. That was the best I could do. On the software, I would save the documents and then go in and EDIT them to add the salaries! The software was accurate but as I said it was expensive and more than once it crashed on me. We used this particular software (which was endorsed by a Pro Football Hall of Famer) the first three years simply because there was nothing out there that we could find that could do what we wanted.
And I looked. Yes, ESPN, and Yahoo and sites like that had nascent fantasy football websites but they were designed for “snake” drafts only (first pick first round goes last in the second round) Plus the scoring categories were basic. They didn’t fit our arcane rule set. This overpriced software was all we had.
Although I did get a laser printer for Christmas one year (which did help) it didnt help that my team quickly sank to the bottom. I finished next to last the first year and DFL the next two years.
The good news was that the league was getting some traction. In 1995 we got three new owners, including two guys who partnered up who didn’t make the first draft. That same year, I became a New England Patriots season ticket holder. The following year we lost an owner but gained two — one who is still with the league today, one who dropped out after two years.
In 1997 we got an especially strong owner who was dominating our baseball leagues. He passed in 1996 but eagerly joined in 1997 and proved to be just as good in football as he was in baseball, winning a title in 1999. We also lost an owner in 1998 and got a replacement who is still with the league; indeed HE won a title his first year. The league was coming together nicely with a good group of owners. And we were able to get “temporary” owners, for a year here, a couple of years there — one guy stayed on for seven years.
Alas our owner that joined in 1997 — Todd-died of a heart attack in January 2001. It was, and is, still a shock. We named the league after him (which it still is today) and his brother took his team over (and is also still with the league today)
It is amazing the stability that this league has had over the years. Since 1997, when Todd joined us, we have been at 11 owners. We lost one in 1998 and upgraded. Another owner left in 2002 and we got an upgrade there in 2003 (this will be his 20th year with us!) That lineup stayed the same until we lost an owner — one of the originals- who left in 2013; and again we got a pair of guys who have a passion for the game and a passion for the league, and who have won a title. And we go in with that lineup for the 9th year in a row. There’s a guy who wants in; but we don’t want to expand to 12!
We’ve also been consistent with software. In 1997 I discovered a startup that had a very lightweight and stable desktop app that worked flawlessly and generated web pages we could put on a personal website. I still had to update stats manually; but it was a HUGE improvement. We did consider in 1998 going with the service that did our fantasy baseball but they weren’t a fit; so we went back to these guys.
Then in 2004 these guys launched a browser based cloud based program. Guys could enter their own lineups. Free agents automatically processed. Real time scoring! I made the decision to migrate — and in 2004 I won my first — and so far my only-fantasy football title!!!
Oddly the program hasn’t changed a whole lot since 2004. All of the league history from 2004 forward is online for anyone who wants to see it. But the setup is largely the same, the interface is the same. Maybe there are some under the hood improvements but it works, we’re happy with it, we don’t mess with it. Although posting to the message board is still clunky using symbols and other stuff. But in the end all we want to do is pick our lineup and track scoring and whoever has the most points wins. And they don’t handle our rules regarding waivers, we have to workaround that. But other than that it’s fine.
One thing that has helped the league immensely is our going virtual. Until 2019, we always had the draft over someone’s house. For some years it was at Tony’s, for many years it was at mine. We had a projector and my laptop and everything set up and a pizza break midway through. But then we had four owners move to Florida, and it wasn’t worth it for them to come up. So I set it up that the draft would be on Skype. And it worked well. We could see each other, and the board would be accessible by a spreadsheet that could be viewed in a browser. This year, we will be using zoom. Much better quality, and I’ll be able to share the board as we go along.
The benefit is that no one has to drive out to come to the draft. The draft goes to you! You could do it on the beach if you want.
I’ve been chasing my second title since 2004. I came close in 2007 and 2009, finishing second both years. But I haven’t finished in the money since 2017. This year I go in with maybe my best team ever; and the pressure is on me to have a great draft, and pick players that can bring home a title.
And one more consistency-in the 29 years this league has existed, there’s been one commissioner — me. That’s right: this year I tie Tom Landry; who had 29 seasons as coach of the Cowboys. And this league has been part of my life for more than half my life. My 28th birthday was the Labor Day after the first draft, and my 56th will be the Labor Day after this draft later today. Four of the six original teams still stand, with two under new management; and three guys (myself included) have attended every draft. Every one!
So that’s it. I need to get some rest but it’s a matter of picking the players I want, and hopefully getting them at prices I want. I have a strategy, I just need to stick to it. And after the draft I’ll be loading the teams and salaries on everyone’s roster. About 176 players, more or less.
And with that we’ll be ready for the 29th season of the Alan Ameche Memorial League (a name I came up with as Ameche scored the winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, largely considered the game that put pro football on the map) Ameche and Todd are basically the patron saints of this league, if you will (even though Todd was Jewish)
And so with that all I’ve got to say is: in the words of Judge Mills Lane, Let’s get it on!
BTW it looks like Medium now lets you post to your page though the iOS app again. About freaking time. I REALLY missed that and hopefully I’ll be able to write a little bit more on here now.