OAKLAND, Calif. -- "Have the rules changed? Not that much."
Fred Thomsen grins. So much has happened since his first fantasy football draft. For example, the Internet -- it was invented. And the Berlin Wall -- kaput. Oh, and Gale Sayers -- magnificent runner, hasn't been first-round material for a long time.
Still, the important stuff remains. Rushing touchdowns are worth 50 cents. Touchdown passes net you a quarter. Winning the whole season equals 60 bucks. And just like always, side bets -- so, so many side bets -- in the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL) are settled over cocktails before the annual draft dinner, which in turn is paid for by last year's champ ...
"Actually, we finally changed the rule of the winner paying for dinner," says Stan Heeb, the league's commissioner. "What would happen was, the guy who ended up finishing second won the most money. So this year, the person who finishes first buys dinner for the last-place person."
And who finished last?
"Hey, Stan?" says Lund.
"Do they serve lobster here?"
Laughter. It's a warm evening in early September. Draft night. The National Football League season is just about to start. Like countless other fantasy players, the members of GOPPPL have come together to select their rosters and also talk a little trash. Not necessarily in that order.
"Let the games begin," Heeb says. He turns to Lund. "You're taking [Oakland quarterback] Terrelle Pryor first, right?"
"No, we're taking [Minnesota running back] Adrian Peterson," Lund says.
Ten teams, 20 co-owners, 18 rounds. We're sitting under the glass chandeliers of a private room at Francesco's, an Italian restaurant located near the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the longtime home of the NFL's Raiders and baseball's Oakland Athletics. The stadium opened in 1966, the restaurant two years later. Both are younger than GOPPPL. This isn't just another fantasy football league. This is the fantasy football league. The very first recorded one.
"I was talking to my grandson today," Thomsen says. "You know, they do [drafting] through computers now. He drafted three teams within an hour. We were talking on the phone the whole time!"
He shakes his head.
"I think his best team is the one Yahoo drafted for him," he says. "But where's the fun in that? It doesn't get you out among people."
Thomsen has bright eyes, silver hair and near-perfect posture. Doesn't look a day over 70. He had a triple-bypass operation in April. Was back on the golf course in June. He wouldn't miss this for, well, just about anything. Not after 45 years of drafting.
Thomsen opens a leather briefcase. Inside are his cheat sheets, handwritten lists of player names, marked up with a yellow highlighter, separated into two tiers, "very good" and "elite." This fits. Go around the room-length table. Pencils. Stacks of paper. A half-dozen fantasy football magazines. Exactly one laptop computer. The GOPPPL draft is a retro affair, downright analog, and if you've ever wondered how fantasy sports began -- or why they've endured -- the answer lies somewhere in the empty cells of Thomsen's mostly unmarked draft sheet.
Which, it should be noted, looks exactly like the inaugural GOPPPL draft sheet. Only substitute George Blanda for Adrian Peterson. And 1963 for 2013.
"When I started in the league, most of the guys playing were getting up in age," Heeb says. "And that was in 1974."
"My first pick was John Elway," says Bennet Chung, a GOPPPL player since 1983. "As a rookie. It was a disaster."
"Ask Walt Danielson about his first pick," Heeb says. "He took a kicker! Morten Andersen."
Lund takes Peterson with the first pick. Because GOPPPL rules require taking quarterback teams, New Orleans' passers (read: Drew Brees) are selected second. Heeb is on the clock. He has a cheat sheet, too. Doesn't need it. He calls out his first-round prize: Houston running back Arian Foster, who ran for 15 touchdowns the previous season.
"I should have taken him last year," Heeb says. "I was afraid. I picked [Philadelphia running back] LeSean McCoy instead."
"Thirty years of this, and I still made that mistake."
Mistakes are the essence of fantasy sports. Like passing on Arian Foster in 2012. Or taking Arian Foster in 2013. Or every single boneheaded trade you wish you had back. (Tom Brady for Daunte Culpepper? Really?) Or this: Three years ago, ESPN aired an entire documentary film, Silly Little Game, asserting fantasy was invented in the late 1970's by a couple of baseball-loving guys from New York, who named their silly little league after a silly little French restaurant.
Don't get me wrong, the idea behind the film was hardly in error. After all, fantasy sports are kind of a big deal. A pop-culture phenomenon. A multibillion-dollar, recession-proof industry. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association -- which, by the way, exists -- more than 33 million Americans have played fantasy this year, accounting for roughly $4 billion in economic activity. The average fantasy player spends three hours a week managing their team in season, which Forbes estimates adds up to 1.2 billion hours for fantasy football alone. Demi Moore reportedly plays fantasy football. President Obama played fantasy football while running for the White House. Actual NFL players play fantasy football -- which is only a bit more meta than an Xbox One plugged into itself -- and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew hosts his own weekly fantasy football show on satellite radio. Ours is the world fantasy sports made -- a world where a sitcom revolving around fantasy, "The League", is now on its fifth season.
Enter Silly Little Game, which portrayed the origin story that's been repeated in dozens of broadcasts and articles. Through interviews and whimsical reenactments, the film recounts the history of Rotisserie League baseball: created by a group of young writer/editor/hardball geeks, including former New York Times public editor Dan Okrent; named for a so-so Manhattan restaurant, La Rotisserie Francaise; popularized by write-ups in the Times and Inside Sports magazine; subject of books and an ill-fated, T-shirt-merchandising cash grab; eventually honored at a 2008 ceremony at New York's City Hall. Rotisserie baseball, viewers are told, is the fountainhead. The film's directors call Okrent and company "the guys who created the game." Bill Simmons dubs them "revolutionary," while Okrent likens himself to Manhattan Project director Robert Oppenheimer. Wall Street Journal sports editor Sam Walker ties a bow on the hyperbole by comparing the first Rotisserie League draft to what "the founding fathers did with the Constitution."
Ahem. Ahem. Ahem.
Again, don't get me wrong, the Rotisserie story isn't exactly false. Okrent, et al., undoubtedly created their own league. They inarguably played a pivotal role in popularizing fantasy sports. That said, the film's basic premise -- these guys created the game -- is complete and utter balderdash. Rotisserie's founders did not invent fantasy sports. They weren't even the first people to evangelize for it. They were based in Manhattan, and they became national media darlings, and both of those things matter -- a whole lot, actually. Still, neither makes the original Rotisserie players the Jefferson and Hamilton of fantasy, let alone the father of The Bomb.
No, to get to the real revolution, you have to go to Oakland, circa 1962, and care about a third-rate team in a second-class league. You have to track down a group of journalists and builders and team employees who weren't mentioned once in Silly Little Game, which fittingly opens with an on-screen disclaimer defining the word "fantasy" as "60 to 70 percent of this film."
You have to start where it all began. With GOPPPL.
|The First Fantasy Football Draft, 1963|
|Team 1: Scotty Stirling and Andy Mousalimas|
|John Henry Johnson1||Steelers|
|Team 2: George Ross and Bob Valli|
|Team 3: Bill Winkenbach|
|Team 4: Bob Blum|
|Team 5: Phil Carmona|
|Team 6: Ralph Casebolt and Bill Downing|
|Bobby Joe Conrad||Cardinals|
|Team 7: Bill Tunnell|
|Team 8: George Glace and Ron Wolf|
Bill "Wink" Winkenbach, owner of a successful Bay Area tile company, was also the father of fantasy sports. He was part owner of the Raiders in the fall of 1962, and the team was awful. The third-year AFL franchise had won eight games in two seasons. It was on its way to a 1-13 campaign, mired in the middle of a brutal East Coast road swing. The 0-5 Raiders had just fired their coach, Marty Feldman, and then lost to the Bills and Patriots to start the trip. The day before their game with the Titans -- another loss -- Winkenbach, Oakland Tribune sportswriter Scotty Stirling and Raiders public relations staffer Bill Tunnell met at a Manhattan hotel, looking for a way to liven up both a rainy, dreary day.
Winkenbach brought up an idea he had discussed with Tribune sports editor George Ross on the flight to Buffalo: What if we created our own football league based on actual player performances? And what if we were all team owners?
"I think it was a charter flight," Ross recalls. "I was sitting with Wink. We had been talking about investments, his businesses, and the conversation went over into his baseball fantasy league. It was a pitcher's league. I don't know who was in that, but he had been running it for some time. Anyway, I suggested that it could easily be converted into a football game. GOPPPL just evolved from that."
Stirling and Tunnell instantly were intrigued. They helped devise scoring rules. Winkenbach's enthusiasm did the rest. The fledgling Raiders were his passion. He designed, built and owned the building that housed the team's offices. When John Madden later was hired as Oakland's coach, Winkenbach became his regular lunch partner. He was a close friend with Al Davis, too. Gerald Winkenbach remembers his father setting up radios around the family television, so he could watch one game and listen to others. "He was a diehard fan," says Winkenbach's daughter, Patty. "Diehard. Loved all sports but totally got into football. Sunday was football day as much as church day."
GOPPPL began play in 1963. The eight-team league largely was a collection of Tribune sports writers, Raiders staffers and Winkenbach's friends from the construction industry. Ross and Stirling owned teams. So did Tunnell and Raiders radio announcer Bob Blum. Oakland residents felt perpetually overshadowed by San Francisco, and at the time, the Raiders were of the working-class city's only professional team. The Tribune had a boosterish attitude toward both the Raiders and the area -- Ross later helped talk Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley into moving his team to Oakland -- and the original GOPPPL rules reflected that. "[A]s this league is formed only with owners having a deep interest and affection for the Oakland Raiders professional football team, it is felt that this tournament will automatically increase closer coverage of daily happenings in professional football."
Each team had an owner and a coach. Ross partnered with Tribune writer Bob Valli. Raiders ticket manager George Glace teamed up with a young team scout named Ron Wolf, who later won an actual Super Bowl as the general manager of the Green Bay Packers. Stirling (who went on to work as the general manager of both the Raiders and the New York Knicks) approached his friend Andy Mousalimas, a WWII veteran and football fan who was managing a local bar and had known Stirling since his days covering high school sports.
"We were pro football addicts when nobody in the East Bay knew about pro football," Mousalimas says. "So one day, Scotty comes in and says, 'I have a good game for you. I want you to join this GOPPPL.' I said, 'fine.' But I didn't know that the heck he was talking about."
The first fantasy draft was held in the basement of Winkenbach's home. A rumpus room. It took about three hours. Each team chose 20 players -- including two quarterbacks, four receivers, four halfbacks, two kickers and four defensive players -- and no more than eight players from the AFL-rival NFL. Hall of Famers Y.A. Tittle and Mike Ditka were among the players selected. So were future "Monday Night Football" announcer Frank Gifford and Congressman Jack Kemp. Abner Haynes may have been the first fantasy football bust; the four-time Pro Bowler scored 19 touchdowns in 1962, but only six in 1963.
With the No. 1 overall pick, Stirling and Mousalimas took Houston quarterback/kicker George Blanda, who had thrown 36 touchdown passes two years earlier. In doing so, the duo passed on Jim Brown, who went to Ross at No. 2. GOPPPL rules awarded 50 cents for rushing touchdowns, 25 cents for touchdown receptions, and double those amounts for any scoring play longer than 75 yards. Brown rushed for 12 touchdowns in 1963. He broke free for an 80-yard scoring run. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and compiled 1,863 rushing yards, breaking his own single-season record in perhaps the greatest season a running back has ever produced.
The result? Ross won the GOPPPL title. Stirling and Mousalimas finished in last place.
"The old AFL would throw footballs like basketballs," Mousalimas says. "They opened up the game. We thought, a guy like Blanda, he'll throw the ball a lot. Turns out a lot of other guys who were drafted [by other GOPPPL teams] did, too. But Jim Brown was way ahead of every other running back.
"Getting back to draft, it was fantastic that night. Scotty, myself and Bill Downing [future president of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce] went out and had drinks. We couldn't get over how much we enjoyed it. We knew it was something special. Later, we would go to Raiders games and be rooting for opposing players. Other guys would be like, What the hell are you doing? Nobody knew."
Winkenbach was the league's first commissioner -- in part because GOPPPL was his brainchild, in part because he loved schmoozing and being in charge, and in part because his business had a rare and coveted mimeograph machine, which allowed him to produce and deliver scores and standings to each owner and coach on Tuesday mornings. Lineups were due every Friday. Typically, Winkenbach and the other owners met for a long lunch. More trash talk. More side bets. Wolf often attended, and while he saw fantasy football as little more than an amusing diversion from his scouting day job -- "it never crossed my mind that this would be something that people would be chomping at the bit to do," he says -- he noticed from the start that participants took GOPPPL rather seriously.
According to Stirling, Winkenbach had a wood lathe in his basement. He carved a figure of a football with a dunce cap on it. Each year, the league's last-place owner would receive the booby prize trophy at a postseason dinner -- and be fined if they didn't subsequently display it prominently in their home.
"The object was not to lose," Wolf says.
"I can remember that dunce award being around our house at least once," says Gerald Winkenbach. "My dad was pretty serious about the league. This was before the Internet, so he had to phone the [San Francisco] Chronicle, Examiner and [Oakland] Tribune sports rooms to try to get statistics. He would wear out his welcome and go on to the next one."
Newspapers weren't Winkenbach's only source of fantasy information.
"Dad was good friends with John Madden," says Patty Winkenbach. "My dad and mom owned a condo down on the golf course in Boulder Creek."
"I only met Madden a couple of times, but they got John and his wife to buy a place down there, too," Gerald says.
"I remember that John would get up at the crack of dawn, while everyone else was sleeping, and go with dad to the clubhouse to talk football," Patty says.
"My dad was picking John's mind about who to draft!" Gerald says.
For Ross, GOPPPL did exactly what he hoped it would do: It made his sportswriters better at their jobs. Writers who covered the Raiders and 49ers suddenly became NFL and AFL experts. Writers who covered other sports did, too. The league was the talk of the Tribune sports desk. Five years in, Ross had a choice to make -- a choice familiar to obsessed fantasy owners ever since.
"I finally dropped out," he says with a laugh. "It was so attention diverting. As the sports editor, it was taking too much of my time."
If Winkenbach was the founding father of fantasy sports, then Andy Mousalimas was its first evangelist, and his bar Kings X was Mecca. Friendships came out of the bar. Marriages came out of the bar. Fantasy football as we know it came out of the bar.
Friday nights were the best. The place was packed, everyone submitting their weekend lineups before the midnight deadline, jawing about the standings, eating and drinking and having a great time. Or maybe Sundays -- those were the best, because NBC and CBS has the games, and the bar was full again, and Mousalimas was on the phone, calling the newspapers that thought he was a bookmaker and the networks that routinely ignored him. C'mon, you give us the game scores. Why don't you tell us who did the scoring? Or maybe Mondays -- those were great, too. The leaderboards were posted at lunchtime for all six divisions of the Kings X fantasy football league, right there on the wall, first to worst, and if you were shrewd enough -- or just plain lucky -- your name would be at the top.
"After the Sunday games, I would pick up the Oakland Tribune at 2:30 in the morning to get all of box scores," Mousalimas recalls. "Come home around 3:30 a.m. It would be dawn before I would finish scoring the league. And of course, after 'Monday Night Football,' I would have to go back and do scoring again for Tuesday lunch."
Mousalimas discovered what Ross already knew: Fantasy football took too much of his time. Only Mousalimas didn't mind. That's how he wanted it. The bar, Kings X, was his baby. Brick walls. Wood paneling. Unassuming on the outside and friendly on the inside. A former member of a secret Greek-American commando unit that operated behind Nazi lines during World War II, Mousalimas had been preparing to parachute into Southeast Asia when the war ended. He came home, got married, worked in bars and restaurants.
Mousalimas opened his own place in 1968 and started a GOPPPL-style fantasy league the next year. He figured it would be fun, a good way to boost business. Was it ever. One division became two. Two became four. By 1974, there was an all-female division, The Queens, and more than 200 total players hooked on this strange, new game. Come draft nights, Mousalimas served prime rib. He had to hire extra staff.
"I had a dream," Mousalimas says. "I wanted a sports bar, but not per se a sports bar -- if you walked into bar and a guy was watching TV, you'd walk out. People didn't watch TV in bars those days. So my thinking was to put on different competitions -- gin, backgammon, trivia -- and of course, fantasy football. It keeps the clientele just great. Outstanding. We had fun for almost 30 years."
"There were guys that worked in the stock market in San Francisco that came out to the bar," says Mousalimas' daughter, Paula. "It wasn't just a neighborhood thing."
"I had guys flying in from Los Angeles to play one night in my gin tournament, and then fly back again," Mousalimas says.
Like Winkenbach, Mousalimas was a sports nut. He loved fantasy football from the start, but he also wanted it to be fair, to make sense. GOPPPL's scoring perplexed him. Take Pete Banaszak -- the first fantasy touchdown vulture. In 1972, he scored eight rushing touchdowns for the Raiders and ran for 563 yards. Meanwhile, Green Bay's John Brockington ran for 1,105 yards but scored only four touchdowns. Mousalimas thought this was ridiculous. Why shouldn't guys like Brockington be more valuable?
Before the next season, Mousalimas instituted a pair of scoring changes: points for yardage, and an escalating reward scale for touchdown length. He invited Winkenbach to join his second division. Winkenbach responded by kicking Mousalimas out of GOPPPL.
"He was very conservative," Mousalimas says. "I give him credit for creating it. No question. But he was wrong about the rules. And by kicking me out, he did me a favor. I concentrated on the Kings X draft. By 1973, we had people coming into the main dining room, seeing the leader boards and saying, 'What is that?'"
Despite the fact that many Oakland Tribune writers were familiar with both GOPPPL and the Kings X -- "It was the coolest bar," recalls longtime columnist Dave Newhouse -- Mousalimas was leery of publicizing fantasy football, worried the local vice squad would consider it a form of illegal gambling. The game spread regardless, mostly through word of mouth. Kings X participants started their own leagues throughout Northern California, some of which still exist. Mousalimas received phone calls from across the country, asking for the league's rules. He always obliged. Fantasy became popular in San Francisco's financial district, then moved south.
PGA Golfer Tom Purtzer reportedly started a Phoenix-based league after seeing a GOPPPL member prepare for a draft in the early 1970's; in 1980, Orlando sportswriter Jerry Greene started a league, after reading a magazine article about fantasy football being played in Arizona. The same year, a group of New England beat writers heard about the game while in Seattle for a Patriots-Seahawks contest; one of those writers, Jim Donaldson of the Providence Journal, later wrote The Official Fantasy Football League Manual. By the end of the decade, public fantasy football games were running in major regional newspapers. In 1992, Fantasy Football Weekly hit newsstands. The Internet followed, and here we are.
Mousalimas sits in the living room of his Oakland home. He's 88 years old. He sold the Kings X years ago. (It's a Tiki bar now.) He flips through a photo album: men in ties, women gathered for the Queens Division draft, people studying newspaper box scores. Gin tournaments and fantasy leaderboards. So many memories. At the end of every fantasy season, the bar hosted a payoff dinner, a crab feast, usually with about 200 people. Mousalimas would award every franchise a tongue-in-cheek gift. One year, he bought a mini-coffin for a pair of brothers who had drafted St. Louis Cardinals receiver J.V. Cain. The reason? Sadly -- and unbeknownst to the brothers -- Cain had died of a heart attack during training camp.
"Back then, we only had Street and Smith's [magazines]," he says. "You had to watch a lot of college ball, too. So you knew how to draft. We had a newspaper stand in downtown Oakland that handled out-of-town newspapers. We would go down at end of week and check the old newspapers, looking for information. A lot of hard work. But it was a hell of a lot more fun when you had to do your own research."
Mousalimas recalls a long-ago phone conversation he had with Winkenbach, who died in 1993 at age 81.
Hey Wink, I think this will spread. What do you think about copyrighting it?
Nah, I don't want to.
Well, how about me? I'd like to copyright it.
Over my dead body.
"A lot of people asked me why we didn't copyright it," Mousalimas says. "I think if we had used our heads, we all would be in pretty good shape. But listen, I had a lot of fun with it. I have no regrets. My Kings X became very popular because of the games. The X became a legend. Known everywhere. And we had great times."
John Winkenbach doesn't play a whole lot of fantasy football. A five-player mini-league at his favorite restaurant, an occasional office suicide pool -- that's about it. Now spread across California, the Winkenbach family still gets together to attend Raiders home games. They love football, but outside of a few obligatory "We should all be billionaires!" jokes, nobody gives fantasy much thought. For years, they didn't even know what fantasy football was. They all called it GOPPPL.
"We've all tried it once or twice, but no one is a big player," John says. Still, he can't help but marvel at what his grandfather's invention has become. "Every office I've ever worked in has one or two," he says. "I kind of laugh whenever I hear stories from people, talking about their fantasy drafts. It's like, If only you knew …"
For decades, very few did know. GOPPPL was mentioned in a 1965 San Francisco Examiner column. The league was written up in a short 1992 Pro Football Weekly article and again in a 1994 Fantasy Football Index piece. Nevertheless, its place in fantasy lore was eclipsed by Rotisserie baseball, almost completely. The Manhattan league was featured in newspapers, magazines, soft-boiled human-interest morning news segments. Its literati founders went on to work at Sports Illustrated, Esquire, the New York Times and ESPN the Magazine. Winners write the history, particularly when those winners happen to be successful writers. The term "roto," not "GOPPPL," became synonymous with fantasy sports. In 2000, Okrent and his co-founder Glenn Waggoner were the first inductees into the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Hall of Fame.
That piqued the interest of Emil Kadlec. A New Mexico-based electrical engineer, Kadlec started playing fantasy football in 1981 and began publishing a fantasy football magazine in 1990. He knew fantasy predated Rotisserie, because his magazine had reprinted the 1992 Pro Football Weekly article.
Kadlec has made fantasy his livelihood -- and his life, too. He's the kind of guy who flies to Las Vegas to participate in a 26-round fantasy football draft that allows 30 seconds per pick and no cheat sheets, and then wears a blindfold to make his selections. Why? To blow everybody's mind. So he wanted the full story. The real history. He called Mousalimas, asked for documentation.
|Fun Fact Annotations|
|1||Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame|
|2||First African-American placekicker in professional football|
|3||1963 NFL-NFC Rookie of the Year. Prescient pick!|
|4||Later became Blaxploitation film icon|
|5||Later became actor; played head of Tri-Lambda in "Revenge of the Nerds"|
|6||First Hispanic starting quarterback in pro football; first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl; one of two players (Mike Ditka) to ever win a pro championship as a player, assistant coach and head coach|
|7||Scored five rushing touchdowns against the Jets in a 1963 game. Great fantasy day!|
|8||Caught 10 touchdown passes in 1964. Picked one year too early!|
|9||Future U.S. Congressman|
|10||First pro receiver to catch 100 passes in a single season (1961)|
|11||Sporting News AFL Player of the Year in 1963|
Andy, just look around the house. See if you find anything. Maybe an old cheat sheet or something.
The next day, Mousalimas called him back.
Emil, are you sitting down? Guess what I found.
The original fantasy draft?
It was the Magna Carta of fantasy sports. Kadlec flew out to the Bay Area, spent time with Mousalimas, visited the Kings X, got to know longtime GOPPPL members Sig Milford and Bob Blum (the former Raiders radio announcer). "What I thought was special was that it's all of our heritage," Kadlec says. "Everyone who plays."
In 2003, Kadlec published an article about GOPPPL. Included were photos of Francesco's restaurant, of Mousalimas with the Kings X leaderboard, of the first fantasy draft card. And of Winkenbach standing alongside Madden, the Raiders coach holding a Super Bowl trophy.
Kadlec also discovered that Ross was right: Winkenbach had created a fantasy baseball league, the Superior Tile Summer Invitational Home Run Tourney, that began play in either 1959 or 1960 and inspired GOPPPL. Winkenbach had been playing fantasy golf since the mid-1950's. "It's possible that Winkenbach got the idea from somebody else," Kadlec says. "But I didn't see any evidence."
Kadlec also found himself in the middle of an ongoing controversy, a nerdy yet heated debate. Where did all of this come from? More important, who should get the credit? Winkenbach? Okrent? What about Harvard sociologist William Gamson, who in 1960 started a proto-fantasy baseball league that later included Michigan professor Bob Sklar, who in turn introduced the game to Okrent?
(Okrent at times has claimed that the idea for fantasy baseball came to him in a dream, or on a long flight, but in Alan Schwarz's The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics, he acknowledges Gamson and Sklar's contribution.)
|Six Best Picks|
|1. Don Chandler||Kicked 21 field goals and 52 extra points, accounting for 1,035 GOPPPL points.|
|2. Y.A. Tittle||Led pro football with 36 touchdown passes.|
|3. Charley Johnson||Career-high 28 touchdown passes in 1963, trailing only Tittle.|
|4. Jim Brown||Scored 12 rushing touchdowns - and 15 overall - in season for the ages.|
|5. Gary Collins/Terry Barr||Led NFL/AFL with 13 touchdown receptions each; both drafted by George Ross.|
|6. Abe Woodson||Led NFL/AFL with three return touchdowns, accounting for 750 GOPPPL points.|
|Five Worst Picks|
|1. Billy Cannon||Selected as both a halfback and a kick returner but scored no touchdowns while playing in just six games.|
|2. Curtis McClinton||No. 7 overall pick scored just six touchdowns, three rushing and three receiving.|
|3. George Blanda||First-ever fantasy pick didn't finish in top 10 in touchdown passes.|
|4. All defensive linemen||Under GOPPPL scoring, fumble return TDs by defensive linemen were worth 500 points - and not one drafted player managed to score one.|
|5. Earl Morrall||Tossed 24 touchdown passes in 1963 - fourth most in NFL/AFL - but went undrafted.|
"This is an industry full of people ridiculously passionate about their sports," says Rick Wolf, a former chairman of the Fantasy Sports Association. "When someone believes it started a certain way, they say it. And the tales grow taller down the line."
Just last year, Kadlec brought up Winkenbach at an industry meeting in New York. A colleague became irate: Emil, if you would stop talking about Bill Winkenbach, people would forget him.
"I find that highly unprofessional," Kadlec says. "It's history. The roots of the tree are the roots of the tree. Sorry. The group who created Rotisserie should be very proud of their accomplishment. They helped popularize and expand fantasy sports. My hat is off to them. However, it's obvious Winkenbach created fantasy sports in the late 50's, and there is ample documentation of this from the mid-60's."
Kadlec stayed in touch with Blum and Milford, who both died last year. He also struck up a friendship with Mousalimas, whom he invited to a fantasy football convention in Las Vegas. Just before a draft at the Rio hotel, Kadlec asked Mousalimas to come on stage.
"No, no, they don't want me," Mousalimas said.
"They do," Kadlec said. "They do."
"Emil put a huge copy of the first draft card on stage," Mousalimas says. "My God, they treated me like a rock star. Two thousand people waiting to draft. Guys would come up to me and wanted autographs. I said, 'What for?'"
Two years ago, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association inducted Winkenbach and Mousalimas into its Hall of Fame, and Toyota sponsored short films honoring both men. Mousalimas and his daughter, Paula, traveled to a Santa Monica studio to film an interview. "The crew acted like a dignitary walked in," she says. "I was like, 'That's my dad. What are you doing?' When I told them he had the first-ever pick, they were like, 'No.' I never realized how big this was until that moment."
"We filmed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.," Mousalimas says with a laugh. "I was exhausted, and I didn't even do anything. I just sat there."
Mousalimas is showing me his military regalia. A Bronze Star. An Office of Strategic Services pin. A Chinese paratrooper patch. He asks me to sit tight. When he returns to his living room, he's holding a mustard-colored blazer. A crest on the breast pocket reads "Hall of Fame: Legends of Fantasy Football."
"Eat your heart out, George Blanda," he says.
Winkenbach played fantasy football up to his death, according to Milford. Mousalimas played for a half century, stopping this year only for family health reasons. GOPPPL endures, as does the Kings X league. Fantasy continues to grow, metasticizing and supplanting reality. (To wit: I once played in a fantasy hockey goon league.) What accounts for its appeal? Our insatiable sports obsession? The fantasy of being a billionaire team owner? The chance to compete without serious consequence, in an increasingly cutthroat world?
Newhouse thinks there's a simpler explanation. "It breeds camaraderie," he says. "In the newspaper business, there's a lot to complain about. The hours, the pay. But when you have something like GOPPPL, it's a conversation starter. A conversation projector. And it was endless. Every single day, you could needle someone. At the Tribune, we had baseball GOPPPL and basketball GOPPPL leagues, too -- and they were wonderful, because of the kibitzing."
Winkenbach loved sports, but he loved people more. At Raiders games, his daughter recalls, he sat with a group of 40 to 50 regulars. He seemed to know every building contractor in the Bay Area. He created a GOPPPL offshoot called the "Midweek Investment Club," where players drafted four teams every Thursday, competing on the basis of score differential. Mostly, it was an excuse to get friends together for lunch. Wolf says he learned nothing about running an actual sports franchise from GOPPPL -- and everything about cultivating personal relationships from "Wink."
"When my dad died, the church was packed," says Patty Winkenbach. "A lot of his friends were 10 to 20 years younger. He was true to his friendships. I remember John Madden once mentioned that he enjoyed my dad's company so much that he couldn't believe he was that old."
Mousalimas likes to say that the Internet made fantasy football, and it did, economically speaking. GOPPPL -- and by extension, all fantasy sports -- captured the most compelling aspect of the web, before the web ever existed. They were social networks, Facebook before Facebook, a way for people to connect over space and time. They still are.
Back at the GOPPPL draft, the final round is about to begin.
"Terrelle Pryor is still available!" says Heeb.
Heeb joined the league through Fred Azevedo, who sold him his first house in Oakland and became his next-door neighbor. Azevedo was a close friend of Winkenbach's. So was Milford, who met Winkenbach through his brokerage business and later became Heeb's GOPPPL partner. Jeff Sandoval, another GOPPPL member, used to work at a cabinet shop a few doors down from Winkenbach's tile business. He brought his son into the league. So did Chung, a retired stockbroker. Bob Brazil brought his son-in-law, David Gray. Gray was 30 when he joined the league; he's now in his 50's. Henry Gross -- Milford's cousin -- and his son select Raiders running back Darren McFadden. The room erupts in laughter.
"My father-in-law has it in his will that if he dies before the end of the GOPPPL season, and he owes money, it will be paid out," Gray says. "I have daughters. I've asked them to play; they're not interested. But guys are bringing in their sons. We'll definitely keep this going as long as possible."
Jeff Chung is Bennet's 33-year-old son. He started coming to drafts when he was 10 and is the only person in the room with a laptop. He tells me he recently started his own fantasy league based on GOPPPL. He's using Winkenbach's original scoring rules, dating back 50 years, which even Mousalimas found archaic.
"These guys have kept it relatively simple," he says. "They've kept the essence."