Andy Mousalimas: The Interview
Andy Mousalimas, the man most responsible for popularizing fantasy football, was part of the first fantasy football draft, in 1963. That first league was called GOPPPL - the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League. It was composed of civic boosters and people associated with the Oakland Raiders. The game was invented by Bill Winkenbach, a local businessman who often organized betting games like pools and home run derbies. He conceived a rudimentary version of fantasy football, wrote up rules, recruited a league of team owners, and invited them to the first fantasy draft in his basement.
GOPPL included two heavy hitters who went on to run real-life teams. Ron Wolf worked with personnel for the Raiders from 1963-75 and was the general manager of the Green Bay Packers from 1991-2000, a period during which they shook off years of mediocrity (or worse) to become Super Bowl champions in 1996.
Scotty Stirling was another original owner. At the time he was the Raiders beat writer for the Oakland Tribune. His boss, George Ross, was the Tribune sports editor and was another charter GOPPPL owner. Three years later, in 1966, Stirling was appointed general manager of the Raiders. He presided over the team at Super Bowl II and held the reins until Al Davis took over. Stirling later served as general manager of the ABA Oakland Oaks, NBA New York Knicks and San Francisco Warriors. Eventually he was named the NBA's Vice President Of Operations.
Stirling knew talent, and he recruited Andy Mousalimas to be the "coach" of his fantasy team.
A few years later, in 1968, Mousalimas opened the King's X, a pioneering sports bar in Oakland. He established leagues that grew to include hundreds of participants. The X was a "social bar" that hosted trivia nights. Eventually trivia teams from the X challenged teams in bars across the bay in San Francisco. Fantasy football spread into San Francisco's financial district and ultimately across the globe.
Mousalimas spoke at length with Fantasy Index in 2012, on the eve of the 50th full season of fantasy football. We published a relatively short column on the anniversary - only one page - so we were unable to publish a lot of the fascinating background surrounding the origins of GOPPPL and fantasy football.
These notes are taken from the transcript of the interview with Mousalimas. Each time signifies the point on tape during which the comment was made. The interviewer's questions and explanatory text appear in italic type.
Just before the 1963 season, he (Scotty Stirling) calls me up, he says "Andy, we got a pretty good thing going. I want you to be my coach." Each owner had a coach. He invited me. There were eight franchises, and each franchise had a coach. There were 16 of us originally that drafted in GOPPPL. That's how I got in.
How Andy got into the tavern business:
In 1946 my cousin had a bar in San Francisco, and he got rid of all his partners. He calls me up. I just got out of the service. "Hey, what are you doing?" "I dunno, I'm trying to decide whether to go to school or what." He says "Why don't you come over and help me tend bar for a while." I said "Oh, I'd love to." He really had a swingin' bar, a hell of a bar for a young guy to work. One day I'm looking at the paper and I says "You know, there's a new team starting out here in San Francisco, and there's a lot of local guys - Frankie Albert, Norm Standlee, Alyn Beals, a whole bunch of guys that went to college in the area." I says "Why don't we take a look at it?" We went out to Kezar. Kezar was the stadium ... they used initially. So we went out there, and hell, man, we enjoyed the game. We thought it was tremendous. Plus the fact, Cal was really popular at that time, and you had to be an alumnus to get any kind of seats. We ended up in the end zones to see Cal, and I loved Cal. I grew up in Oakland outside of Berkeley, and Cal was my favorite team, but we couldn't get seats, so hell.
The week right after we saw the 49ers, we both decided to get season tickets. We had great seats. 50-yard-line seats, 35 rows up, perfect seats. So from 1946 til 1960 ... we're over in San Francisco watching the Niners play. We even scheduled baptisms and weddings around the 49ers schedule, that's how diehard we were. And we were diehards. It had nothing to do with television, there was no radio.
You had to be a football fan to really appreciate pro football, because a lot of college guys would tell you "What are you doing, going over to watch those fat guys play?" You know how many of those guys became Raider fans later?
I loved the fact that the Raiders ended up in Oakland. I was born and raised here. I've always been an Oakland fan. But it's hard. Our first love was the Niners. And there were a whole bunch of us like that, that went over to the Niner games. When I had the King's X, I had four busloads of Raider fans going to games, and about five of us were Niner fans. We left and took the car to go over and watch the Niners play, and I got a (speeding) ticket. The ticket was ridiculous. Everybody's going the same way, but they stop me. So I go in front of the judge, and he says "You came all the way from Oakland to watch the 49ers play?" He says "Throw this guy out of court, he's not gonna be fined."
Don't forget, from 1946 to 1960, we were maligned badly by the college group, and also maligned by the old NFL until 1950 the Cleveland Browns came in with the Niners, and I think it was the old Baltimore team at that time. Three teams from the ... All American Conference. We became diehard Niner fans. Scotty's right, he knew that. And I loved Scotty. When he was general manager (of the Raiders). I rooted for him, but my heart was with the Niners.
AFL treated like an unwanted stepchild?
Oh yeah, the AFL was the "other" division. The "other" league. They were maligned for two or three years until the Jets beat the Colts in that Super Bowl. Hell yes, there was a stigma there, that these guys - even the ballplayers thought they were better than the AFL. And the AFL had some pretty good teams early on. That San Diego Chargers team back about 1961, with Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe and Ernie Ladd, that was a helluva a ballclub. Buffalo had some great teams. The AFL was really maligned badly - almost as bad as the All American conference when they joined the NFL in 1950.
Was it difficult to obtain information about AFL teams and players?
Not AFL. We were fortunate because we had both the Niners and the Raiders in the area. The only trouble was, we had a lot of information about the Raiders, a lot of information about the Niners, but the only time you get any information about the opposing teams is when they come to play for you.
So we had to do a lot of research, and that was the fun part of the draft. There's no fun today. I don't even study anymore. You don't have to. You're so flooded with so much fantasy stuff. The week before the draft you could open it up and do it. In the old days you had to sit and research, because last year's stats didn't mean a thing. Street & Smith was the only sports magazine that covered professional football, and for a while they were just an afterthought. The college had it, and if there was a few pages of professional football, so you had to do your own research, and that took a lot of work.
Here in Oakland, downtown Oakland we had a place called DeLauer's newspaper business, and they had out-of-town newspapers, and they allowed people to come in and look at the newspapers and they didn't say a word. So I'd go in there during the week, when I found out the newspapers would come in from back east, and I would search and see what the hell was going on.
We would call up the radio stations in respective cities and these guys wouldn't give you any information because they thought we were bookies. They never heard of the draft. We used to call it "the draft" and we didn't change. We didn't go to "fantasy football" for years. Because when I had my place, the King's X draft in '69, when I took over, when I took my first draft, we called it the "King's X draft" and we still call it the "King's X draft."
That's where we used to do our research. And then you had to follow a lot of professional sports because if a guy didn't do well, say, in 1968, or maybe he just came into the league in 1968, maybe he was a rookie, you gotta figure maybe in '69 it'll be his year. We found out that these guys who did the research usually ended up in the upper bracket in our fantasy leagues all the way across the board.
How many people playing at King's X?
I had six divisions at one time, and over 200 people.
I started with GOPPPL, and then I opened the first sports bar in Oakland - in the Bay Area, in fact. I called it the King's X. This is why it's a little mixed up. And then we perpetuated it.
We've changed a lot of rules, and then (Bill) Winkenbach got upset with me because I changed the rules, and sent me a letter that I was persona non grata. Well, that's OK, I don't blame him, that was his baby and he didn't want the rules changed. But the rules were terrible, they really were.
Don't get me wrong, they were great to begin with - absolutely great. But when you got 25 points for a rushing touchdown ... whether it was for a yard or up to 74 yards. Then it was double after 74 yards. Well you know, how many times you score from 75 out? And then you gave 500 points for a defensive player score or a return player. So we changed a lot of that.
We put the yardage rule in. In those days O.J. was running wild, while Pete Banaszak was scoring - nicest guy in the world, by the way, Pete was a great guy - he was scoring 1-yard touchdowns. He was scoring one-yard touchdowns. His 1-yard touchdowns were, you would get points, but no points for a guy going over 100 yards in rushing.
(Mousalimas assembled a rules committee of six guys)
We would meet twice a year and we made a lot of changes that are being used now.
Mousalimas keeps using "points" and "cents" interchangeably. Was it points, or cents?
Everything was cents. (They used the word points instead of cents because they were worried about trouble from the vice squad.) But in those days, who the hell knew about fantasy sports?
When we were really on top of it, when I had 200 people in 1972 participating in six divisions, we would call up NBC and CBS and send them telegrams. Call 'em. Send 'em letters. They ignored us. Absolutely ignored us. They didn't want anything to do with it. They didn't want to do anything with fantasy sports. They thought it was a silly game. Today it's flooded. Absolutely flooded. Sometimes you can't even see the screen because of fantasy sports.
How do you feel about that?
Well I feel very good about it.
(discussion of copyrighting the game, Bill Winkenbach)
Even though he had kicked me out, I told him years later, I thought "I'm gonna give him a call and see what he thinks about copyrighting it. Because you know, regardless, Winkenbach is the godfather of the thing, and he's a multimillionaire, and I'm a little sports bar owner. So I said, "What do you think of copyrighting it?" (Winkenbach said) "No, I don't think so." I says "How would you feel if I go ahead and copyright it and use your name?" "Over my dead body," he says. So I thought "Oh hell, man, if I try it he's gonna take me to court, and how the hell am I gonna beat this guy in court?"
Winkenbach kicked Mousalimas out of GOPPPL
He sent me a letter. You know what happened, the second year I had my draft at my sports bar, that was 1970, I invited him to have a franchise. I introduced him, I told everybody "this is the guy who's responsible for the draft." I introduced him. I told everybody. ... But all of a sudden after the season ended he sends me a letter and says he didn't appreciate the fact that I changed the rules of GOPPPL, and I'm persona non grata. He didn't invite me back for the 1971 season. He did me a favor, because I was able to promote mine, the King's X draft.
Regarding gambling, and whether the King's X leagues played for money
We couldn't, because the Vice Squad and the cops and everybody else wasn't familiar with fantasy sports. I couldn't promote it.
Three of our divisions, the Kings Division, the Other Division, and the Rookie Division, in those days you had anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000 worth of side bets. I had a great clientele. Outstanding. And I wouldn't allow anybody to participate unless I did research on them. And if they showed any kind of anything that was wrong ... I would immediately kick them out. They called me "Mr. 86."
Two things I didn't allow: One was trading. I thought about it and I thought about it, and I said there was a chance of collusion. Helluva good chance. I mean, if there's 10 franchises, and one franchise may be a little lower, and not betting as much ... because the side bets weren't all the same. Some guys would bet $2,000, $3,000. Some guys would only spend a hundred bucks, or two hundred bucks. So there could be a chance of collusion. I anticipated somewhere down the line, maybe. So I didn't allow trading.
And then I put another rule in which I thought was a very excellent rule because the injury reserve was ambiguous at one time. If a guy was hurt, like Bob Griese was hurt before the Super Bowl when they went undefeated, and Earl Morrall played all the way through, and then he came back. He wasn't on injured reserve, he was still part of the Miami Dolphins. So that meant anybody that had Bob Griese was out.
(further explanation of how they came up with IR approval by commissioner, addition of utility position, and eventually a midseason draft)
Regarding the first year of GOPPPL
The first year was unbelievable. We just had a great time, and there were only 16 of us. Half of us didn't even know each other.
Ron Wolf, he and I used to discuss draft choices. He used to come in. (I'd say) "How in the hell do you know about these guys? You're a young man." He says "I was a water boy for the Baltimore Colts." He's a great guy.
What happened to the core of guys from the original GOPPPL? Do they still play fantasy football?
I think a lot of 'em dropped off because Scotty became general manager of the Knicks, and so I'm probably the only guy who continued on for 50 years. This'll be my 50th year consecutively that I'm drafting.
And not only that, times were different. I wouldn't allow any women to be involved. And oh, they used to get upset with me. And I'd say "Look, I love you ladies, but let the guys have a good night out." So what happened, about 1974 a good friend of mine, Al Santini, he said "Why don't you start an all ladies division?" and it turned out to be a success - a huge success. (Called it the "Queens" division.)
Run-up to the first draft in 1963 - how much notice, what was it like?
I don't even know if I saw the rules before the draft. Scotty calls me up one time and he says "Andy, you might enjoy something. We're starting something good and I think you might enjoy it."
I don't think we even sat and talked five minutes before the draft started. We sat there and Winkenbach got up and gave us the lowdown of the rules and told us to look at 'em, and we looked at 'em, and they were pretty simple rules. ...
It's 50 years ago, and all I remember is ... I remember Scotty calling me up and saying "I want you to be my coach, and get involved. I think you're gonna really love this." I said OK.
I'll tell you how dumb we are, we picked Blanda over Jim Brown.
But didn't Blanda get points for throwing and kicking? That would make him incredibly valuable.)
Bill Tunnell and Winkenbach decided in the rules that they would be split. Paul Hornung was a running back and a kicker. They're two different positions, which I thought was a pretty damn good rule, because Hornung was going crazy. Of course in '63 he didn't play. The first year that we drafted, he and Alex Karras were out because of their gambling.
There was a guy named Gino Cappelletti from the Patriots, who kicked and was a receiver. Blanda was a quarterback and kicker. Paul Hornung was a running back and a kicker. So there were two different positions right off the bat.
Was the first draft a beer party? Cigars? What was the room like?
The room was a nice rumpus room. I don't remember much drinking. Winkenbach's family was pretty religious. I think two of his sisters were nuns. I can't recall if we had anything to drink that night.
(Andy says Winkenbach was married, successful businessman, minority owner of Raiders.)
What was Winkenbach like?
I enjoyed Wink. I thought he was a bright guy, very outgoing. He was older than I was, much older, maybe in his fifties. I was about 30 at that time. (Mousalimas was actually 38.) He just seemed to enjoy being an owner of the Raiders and being part of the professional football thing. I thought he was a great guy. We used to joke a lot back and forth about our teams whenever I'd see him.
How did the owner-coach teams work?
No, you just brought another buddy in. The eight original owners ... each one of 'em brought somebody in.
Each franchise brought another guy in that knew something about professional football. Don't forget that up until 1960 really there was no interest on this side of the bay. They were still Cal fans. You had to be a real football fanatic to be a professional fan at that time because it was in San Francisco, and if you lived in Oakland, you know, a lot of guys didn't want to go over there to watch a game and like I said, a lot of people used to make fun of us because we used to watch it. They'd say "Oh, those fat guys, they don't know how to play football."
Wink was a grandfather type of a guy, and he was a CEO of a very successful business, and he loved the Raiders. He loved being a part owner. We didn't talk too much about the GOPPPL thing. We'd have a lot of fun on the payoff night. We'd go to different restaurants for that. The first couple of years we brought our wives, and then after that we went on our own. But I was with him from 1963 to 1970.
I enjoyed it. I had a great time. I had a lot of fun. The group got to know each other pretty well, and we saw each other at the ballgames, but you know, we sat in different areas.
(About George Ross, another of the original GOPPPL owners)
George was the ticket manager. He'd be up there in the press boxes, I guess. That's where they used to be able to get information, you know, what's going on with the different ballplayers. We couldn't get any information until 2 in the morning, I'd close up the bar and I'd go down to the Oakland Tribune and get the early paper, about 3:00 in the morning. That's the first we'd find out ... who had scored. Even the radio stations didn't know what was going on.
In the old days you could sit in the draft, and boy, guys would come up with a sleeper, and it was exciting. Street & Smith was the only sports magazine, right? And whatever position they would put the guy in ... a particular player, he might be a receiver, they might put him as a running back in Street & Smith. You have to draft him as a running back.
(Vic Washington, Canadian halfback, Street & Smith listed him as receiver). Now the guys that did their homework, two-three of us did our homework and didn't say a word. So about the fourth round, I drafted Vic Washington as a receiver, which gives me an extra back, right? So in fantasy football, that's a bonus, especially in those days when they didn't pass as much as they do (today). Oh my god, one of the guys got so upset.
This is what you miss today. There were a lot of sleepers that people were able to get away with. Now you can go the first two or three rounds, and it's chalk. Nothing special. There's no surprises unless there's one franchise that's a little bit far out, he might make a mistake. But overall, you could go chalk. You go right down the line, two-three-four rounds, and you'll know almost 80-90 percent of the guys gonna be drafted.
We had guys who were only 49er fans. The same thing with the Raider fans. They were funny. They had just started to watch the game (pro football) ... and they would draft Raider after Raider, even though there were some great football players all over the country. I said "What are you doing, drafting a third stringer?" (mocking voice) "Well that's the best team in America." (laughs)
Don't forget, if it wasn't for the Internet ... The Internet and fantasy football were a great marriage. The Internet really made fantasy football big-time.
You're 85. Are you using the Internet?
Oh hell yes.