History OF Fantasy Football
January 31, 2003
Many years ago, the sports world gave birth to a rough and unruly child. At first, fantasy football was frail and itís leagues were all but alone in the world, and many thought it would not survive compared to itís Rotisserie baseball counterparts. But survival became fantasy footballís middle name, and it did more than just survive, it flourished.

FF grew up hard, poor, and unrespected. It was a homely little kid without many friends, who dressed funny and played with funny toys. When people noticed the hobby at all, most people just wanted it to go away. But, it was somewhat like the ugly duckling who became a swan, fantasy football has become tall, strong, and aristocratic. Far from being the poor stepchild, fantasy football is now beloved by millions nationwide, most of whom have only recently become aware of itís wonders and charms.

I had the privilege of meeting fantasy football when it was still an infant, and became one of itís early friends. Iím closer to it today than ever before, but itís changed so dramatically that sometimes I hardly recognize it.

Every hobby has a culture that grows up around it, colors it, and pervades it. Learning and mastering the skills of any interest is important, but itís never enough to merely walk the walk. If you truly want to be a disciple of the hobby, you must also talk the talk. Scuba diving has a culture. So do gamblers and motorcycle clubs. Auto racing has a family of cultures. Soccerís culture is almost cult-like around the world.

What is the culture of fantasy football, and who defines that culture?

Early on, those who take the game at heart colored it with interactive mathematics, and peppered it with simple rules, league interaction, and traditional team names. Later, technicians, computer buffs, and friends of the first generation discovered the hobby. Technological innovations washed away much do-it-yourself aspect of things, and replaced it with easy to gather detailed information. Now, every NFL player is a public player.

Changes happened again in the late 1990s, in the form of a very talented group of fantasy football players turning pro and semi-pro with print and online publications promoting easy-to-find suggestions to novice. This altered the information gap between teams and improved the balance of team rosters. It also promoted a shoot-the-breeze, tinker-with-your-roster owner personality. And, the multiple-team owner was created.

Now the year 2001 is upon us. The average fantasy football fan is near the same age as the hobby and has been playing less than four seasons. They were never introduced to fantasy football as it was, and have no vantage from which to mourn the shrinkage of neighborhood leagues and loss of the benefits of self study. They have walked into a hobby that flashes easy to join leagues, high tech resources, aggressive team ownership, and mind-numbing egos. Like those before them, their attitudes, values, and interest shape the culture of the hobby, color it, and make it look like them. We have a big responsibility, new fans and old, to shape and solidify fantasy footballís culture as it achieves true maturity. The trick will be in not leaving anyone behind.

Fantasy football has reached a point where itís big enough and strong enough to absorb new groups, ideas, and personalities without taking away something from someone else. There is room for full diversity. There is room for dedicated single-team owners and multi-league guys. There is room for public online leagues and neighborhood gatherings. There is room for father and son to both enjoy the hobby with far different dedication. There is room, in fact, for everyone who wants to play, and to realize each personís vision of the perfect hobby.

Itís up to us, all of us. We with experience need to welcome the newest crop of enthusiast and teach them honor, tactics, and respect for the hobby and itís fans. The young need to respect and embrace those things that make fantasy football great. And, the senior fans need insight from unique perspectives and viewpoints that they may not commonly consider.

See you in the middle.

 

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