50 Years of Fantasy Football
Scotty Stirling recalls the day fantasy football was invented
Posted Aug. 06 at 05:05 PM
In October, 1962, Scotty Stirling was one of the four principals who invented the game of fantasy football in a New York City hotel room. In June, he spoke at length with Fantasy Football Index about the early days of the game that the founders referred to as "GOPPPL."
1n 1962 Stirling was the 32-year-old beat writer for the Oakland Tribune covering the Raiders, who were playing their third season in the upstart American Football League. He helped to bring fantasy football to life in a New York hotel room along with three colleagues: Bill Winkenbach, a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders ownership group; George Ross, sports editor of the Oakland Tribune; and Bill Tunnell, the Raiders season ticket manager.
Stirling: We were on a road trip and all four guys were there. In those days, you used to play the three Eastern teams, the Boston Patriots, New York and Buffalo, and it was the team's regimen to stay in the middle city. One night we got together in Winkenbach's room, and we're just B.S.ing about football and all that stuff. He told us about two games he had created in the '50s.
Winkenbach previously ran a fantasy-like baseball contest in which participants chose one home run hitter and one pitcher each week, and a golf contest in which participants chose a different pro golfer each week.
Stirling: During the course of that night, the basic framework of the thing was completed. The basic rules were created that night, and they stayed that way. They never changed.
The East Coast road trip (and the invention of fantasy football) coincided with the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Stirling: It's something we discussed, and it's closer (New York) to Cuba, obviously, than the East Bay, but everybody was tense and worried about it because it was a tense thing. The idea of a conflict was reality. Cuba had missiles. They were only 90 miles off the Florida coast. It was scary that they were only 90 miles away.
The first GOPPPL draft took place the following August. The initial idea was to use only AFL players, but before the draft, the decision was made to include NFL players as well.
Stirling: We drafted out of the old magazine, Smith and ... whatever it was, because there were no stat services like today where you can go on the Internet and find out everything you need to know about a player. We just used ... I can't even remember the name of that magazine. (I remind him that it was likely Street and Smith's Pro Football.) That was kind of like the bible. Your information had to come from Street and Smith. You couldn't just reach out and pull in some name of a guy who was playing semi pro football in Petaluma, California.
Winkenbach was the commissioner of the first fantasy football league: GOPPPL (the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Predictions League).
Stirling: There were no computers in those days, so on Monday after the football weekend, his secretary would total up the numbers. He had the Xerox machine, and she'd send everybody a copy. It was kind of a snail mail deal in those days.
Stirling says he played in the fantasy league for only two years.
Stirling: But then I was hired by the Raiders and I was doing it for real, so I wasn't involved with it (GOPPPL) any more.
Stirling was hired by the Raiders and quickly moved up in the organization. When Al Davis was named commissioner of the AFL in April, 1966, Stirling became general manager of the Raiders and held the position when the Raiders played in Super Bowl II following the 1967 season. But Davis gave up his position as AFL commissioner and returned to Oakland, where he quickly reclaimed control of the team.
Stirling: Davis came back and it was like two guys sitting at the same desk, and he had equity at the team at that point.
Stirling moved on to basketball, where he eventually became general manager of the New York Knicks and the San Francisco Warriors. Today, at age 82, he is director of scouting for the Sacramento Kings. Did Stirling learn anything from his experience in GOPPPL that applied to his role as an NBA general manager?
Stirling:(emphatically) No, not at all.
(GOPPPL) was kind of a fun thing to do. The fellowship was great because there were 16 people involved. We all knew each other. They were all good guys. Winkenbach was fun to be around. It was more fun than anything else.
It looks to me like it's pretty serious stuff today, the way people compete. Listen, it was a game to us, you know. It was just a way to spend some time.
The interesting thing was that the Raiders in those days played in a makeshift field called Youell Field. It was just bleachers. It sat maybe 14,000 at the most. The press box was close to the last row of seats, and that's where most of the GOPPPL people were, and they were more interested in incoming results in games, rather than the Raiders game, because they were toting up how much money they'd won or lost.
I remark that it seems like not much has changed in that regard.
Stirling: Well probably not, except like I say, just what I hear on TV and in my office ... I think there's three fantasy football leagues going on at the same time. It looks like it's gotten a lot more serious than when we played.
I ask Stirling how he feels about the explosive growth of the game he helped to conceive.
Stirling: Well, there's a certain amount of pride in it, because it's become a phenomenal thing, plus it's spawned other ones in other sports. But the thing that's interesting is that we had no idea what was gonna happen with it. In fact when I worked in the NBA office, one time I was in Oakland on business and as I came out of the airport, Bill Winkenbach was sitting in his car with another guy at the curb. I hadn't seen him in several years and we started talking, and I said "Man oh man, Bill you should have done something with that. You should have copyrighted it" or something, because it became public domain, I guess. Legally I don't know but we had no claim on it, so the only money we ever made on it was the quarters and dimes we got playing each week.
The NFL is paranoid about gambling, and for many years it regarded fantasy football as a threat. I ask whether rules regarding gambling were looser in AFL days.
Stirling: Well first of all, nobody cared. You know, here's eight guys in Oakland, California playing this game. Nobody cared. It was concentrated in a mid-sized city, and you're talking like I said, quarters and dimes. No one cared about it. No one knew about it, first of all. I never even thought about it (that league management could regard fantasy sports as gambling) until you just mentioned it.
In the NBA you can't gamble, obviously, on stuff. I don't know how football views those pools. My guess is there's probably people in all sports who are involved in those. But at the time of GOPPPL nobody ... cared. It was just 16 guys having fun.
Each GOPPPL "owner" had a "coach." Stirling's coach was Andy Mousalimas, who would soon open a sports bar -- the King's X -- from which fantasy football spread through the Bay Area.
Stirling: He (Mousalimas) was a 49ers fan. He's probably the only guy involved who wasn't a Raider red hot. He's been out front keeping the legacy alive. I'll tell you what I think happened with this thing. It was in Oakland, and Andy was one of the original guys with GOPPPL, the original coach of my team, and he owned this joint, the King's X. He was one of those guys who ran buses to the 49ers games and buses to the Raiders games. At one time he was running 10 buses to 49ers games out of his bar. He had all these sports fans in there, and he created a number of GOPPPL leagues out of his bar, maybe four or five at the same time.
The King's X hosted trivia contests which were attended by teams based out of other bars throughout the Bay Area. Stirling believes that's how the game was carried to the rest of the world.
Stirling: Each week they'd go to a different bar and have a trivia contest, and there was money involved, and there'd be a big winner at the end of it. I think what happened ... let's say there were three or four bars from San Francisco. When those guys came over to the King's X ... and I think a couple of these bars were from the financial district, so there'd be guys from the East Coast and from Chicago coming in there to do business, and they came into the King's X and they're talking about GOPPPL. I think that's how it spread.
I remark that it would have been interesting to have been present when it wasn't at all obvious that fantasy football would become a nationwide craze.
Stirling: It wasn't (obvious). Although when you talk to people today... at the (Sacramento) Kings office many people are playing. The best player up there is a woman. She wins her league almost every year.
I'm asked a lot to play and I haven't. I have no interest in playing. But I see CBS Sports, ESPN, they all have it. Hockey has it. Baseball has it. I think guys get hooked on it, too. I think probably they've lost families over it, you know. They get so involved in the damn thing.
I'd like to go back and do it all over again. I tell you what, we'd have copyrighted GOPPPL if I could go back.
-Interview transcribed by Bruce Taylor
Posted by RICK WILKEN | Aug. 07 at 03:22 PM
The Armchair Football League in the Twin Cities of Minnesota is starting their 36th year of fantasy football. The Rowdys Nine Time AFL Champion
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