KINGSTON —In 1983, if you had Eric Dickerson, Ron Springs and Kenny Anderson on your fantasy-football team, you won the title.
Jim Grinavich did, and he won the first league championship in the fledgling Neighborhood Franchise Football League.
For 31 years, the NFFL has been in existence, making it, perhaps, the oldest fantasy football league in the region. Grinavich was a student at Texas Christian University, which was the reason his team was called the Horny Toads. Grinavich and two of his neighborhood buddies from Second Avenue in Kingston, Chuck Peterman and Tom Swartwood, organized the NFFL, and the fun began.
Some memorable NFFL team names include the Touchtones, Floppy Discs, Crown Royal, Trees and Lockhorns. And the NFFL has a collection of team owners as diversified as it gets — insurance agents, corrections counselors, journalists, retirees, security experts and business people. They have been together for more than three decades in pursuit of the title of fantasy guru.
Outside of the NFFL and its 12 franchise holders, nobody else really cares who wins or loses. It only matters that you win.
Since it began 31 years ago, the league is as simple as it gets — 6 points for a touchdown scored, 3 points for a touchdown thrown, 3 points for a field goal, 1 point for an extra point and 2 points for a safety. You have 7 roster spots — a quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 receivers and a kicker. Add up the points they score, and if you have more than the team you’re playing, you win.
In 1983, Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, so compiling scores was a challenge. Newspaper accounts were sometimes incomplete until USA Today burst onto the scene and provided NFL box scores on all games. But league leaders still had to add them up. It was tedious, to say the least.
And keeping track of your team was even more difficult. Trying to determine the extent of injuries was left to the release of the weekly NFL injury report. But sometimes players were ruled out after the NFFL’s Thursday-night change deadline. Too bad; either you got lucky or you played with less than seven players on the field.
As fantasy football has evolved — yardage leagues, points per reception, defenses, multiple roster spots, tight end as a separate position and more — the NFFL has remained constant. Perhaps this is why it has lasted with basically the same franchise holders. A few have passed away, but the core of the league remains.
And there have been memorable moments. Take the time one team owner drafted a punter who happened to have the same last name as the team’s placekicker. Too bad he chose the punter and was stuck with him for a week. When’s the last time a punter scored?
And then there was the year my team was in the championship hunt. Nick Laiuvara, may he rest in peace, and I owned the Hit Men, and Eddie Murray was our kicker. During a mid-season game, the Detroit Lions were winning and had advanced the ball to within the 5 yard line with time running out. They could have had Murray kick a field goal to ice the gamer, but nooooo, they ran the clock out.
If Murray had kicked that field goal, Nick and I would have been crowned champions of the NFFL. That same year we also picked up Chuck Muncie on Thursday night, and he retired the next day.
A local newspaper ran the NFFL standings that first year for two weeks in a row. Then the sports editor asked me what the NFFL was, and I told him. “You mean you guys don’t play real football?” he asked. The standings never ran again.
Today, fantasy football is a multibillion-dollar industry with millions of leagues, and it has changed the way football fans root. Sure they want their favorite teams to win, but if it comes down to an NFL team win or an NFFL win, fantasy wins out.
From typewriters and newspaper reports to Internet and smartphones and network coverage, fantasy football has grown beyond all expectations.
Long live Larry Kinnebrew and a 2-yard TD plunge.