I remember the summer that I decided to start a fantasy football league. It was 1998. I had heard of it and it sounded pretty fun, but no one that I knew had ever played before. I was living in South Carolina but working a summer job at a local telephone company in Georgia with a buddy of mine.
For some reason we were out of the office one day and went to a convenience store and picked up a fantasy football magazine from the rack. I can’t remember if we went intentionally to get the mag or if seeing/getting it was what made us want to play fantasy football.
I haven’t bought a Fantasy magazine in years since I have already developed a general strategy that I use every year and I can just get my cheat sheets online. However, at that time not only did they include cheat sheets but also basic league frameworks. The info would range anywhere from how to do your schedule based on the number of teams in your league to different styles of league (dynasty, keeper, Re-Draft, etc.).
We poured over those magazines trying to determine how we would set it up. Our biggest problem however, was getting people to play. Luckily for us we were able to convince a couple of guys from high school to play and 6 or so guys from my church. They had never played so it was a learning experience for all. We now had 10 teams which we split into 2 divisions of 5. Ten is a nice number though I prefer 12 (with 4, 3-Team Divisions). We held the draft during a church function at a park. Since everyone was new to the process I had made up draft kits for them with a list of players among other things. You’ve got to remember, this was before all Fantasy sports were online. There may have been some sites that would keep score etc. but if there were I didn’t know about them.
I created a Web page with the list of teams, rosters, schedules, and results hosted from my Clemson University Student account. I manually calculated the scores based on our scoring system, which was fairly complicated. It was simple when compared to many scoring systems today but not as simple as the TD only leagues when Fantasy Football was in its infancy. We gave points for 100 Yd rushing/receiving, 300 yard passing, TDs, etc. I stumbled upon (before we new Google) a stat website that gave me every stat I needed except field goal distance. Based on that we removed distance bonuses for FGs. I created a spreadsheet that would calculate a teams score based on our scoring system. The only thing I had to do was put in the stat. That made it a little easier but it still took some time. In fact, I think I still have all of those old score spreadsheets in a folder somewhere on my file server.
We decided to to a keeper league on steroids. We really wanted to do a dynasty league but that takes some real commitment, especially if you end up with a terrible team. It could take half a decade to fix it. So, we decided on an 8 player keeper league which was one less than the number of starter positions on each team. Of course what happened was that people would drop all bench players plus their kicker/defense when the next years draft came around. In hindsight, if I were to try this style of league again, I would probably go with 5 keepers. That’s a nice balance between a full dynasty and a small number keeper league. I think you would still feel like you had the same team from year to year.
Teams played 13 regular season games (Division teams 2x and the rest 1x). Four teams made the playoffs. In subsequent leagues I have allowed 6 to make the playoffs if the number of teams is 9 or more because it makes it more fun. If more teams are in the playoff hunt later in the year then their owners are more engaged and it is more fun for everyone.
Well, it just so happened that I won the league that first year (with a 9-4 regular season record), and through some shrewd trades won it again the 2nd year (with a 11-2 regular season record). The third year the league expanded to 12, although for some reason we only had 3 divisions which made for scheduling issues. We expanded the playoffs to 6 teams with the two top teams getting byes. My team fell apart that year only winning 3 or 4 games. Even with a 8 player keeper league you don’t stay on top for long. I’ve only won one championship (2009) in the 14 seasons I have played since the 2nd of my back 2 back championships in 1999 (I took a hiatus from 2001-2004 due to career, life, etc.).
I look forward to Fantasy Football each year and kind of like life, it is played with a completely different set of people now. The current version of the Phantom League “kicked off” in 2005 with eight teams and has grown to 10. Four of the original eight are no longer in the league so even in it’s current incarnation it it has evolved.
Hope you enjoyed my walk down memory lane.
Original Phantom Fantasy Football League — 1998-2000 (3 Years)
Current Phantom Fantasy Football League — 2005-Present (11 Years as of the end of the 2015 Season)