A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pigskin Pioneer

Congratulations to Andy Mousalimas of Oakland, who is back from Los Angeles after being inducted as one of the inaugural members of the Toyota Fantasy Football Hall of Fame, along with Scotty Stirling and the late Bill Winkenbach.
Toyota flew Andy and his daughter, Paula, to L.A. for the ceremony, put them up at a posh hotel, wined them and dined them, and gave them the VIP treatment. (You can watch the induction ceremony at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn8YbwpWB1c/)
It's no less than he deserves, because Andy, Scotty and Bill were the guys who invented fantasy football.
It all started in a New York City hotel room on a rainy October night in 1962, when the Raiders were on the tail end of a 16-day East Coast road trip. (In those days, they scheduled all their away games in one stretch because they couldn't afford to fly back and forth to the East Coast.)
Bill, a part owner of the Raiders, was joined by Bill Tunnell, the team's P.R. man, and Scotty, who was covering the team for the Oakland Tribune. As the night progressed and the cocktails flowed, the three men hammered out the basic rules.
When they got back to Oakland they let a few more guys in on the idea, including George Ross, sports editor of the Tribune, and Andy, who was managing the Raiders players' favorite watering hole, the Lamp Post.
Thus was born the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League - GOPPPL for short. Bill was named league commissioner.
"You have to understand what it was like back then," says Andy. "Pro football wasn't what it is now; baseball was the big thing. And the lowest of all were AFL fans like us. NFL fans - particularly 49er fans - looked down their noses at us."
The first draft was held on Aug. 22, 1963, in Bill's basement. The first player taken was George Blanda, who was drafted by two different teams: one as a quarterback and the other as a place-kicker.
As word got around, more people signed up the following year - so many, the draft was moved to a local restaurant.
"To give you an idea of how much times have changed," says Andy, "the menu for the 1966 draft dinner offered a choice of New York steak, prime rib or lobster for $6 per person. And that included tax and tip."
Information was harder to come by in those days. There was no ESPN, no sports bars, and the networks gave only the final scores, not who scored the points. "We kept begging them for more details, but they ignored us," Andy says.
The information gap reached its nadir in 1978, when one GOPPPL team drafted St. Louis tight end J.V. Cain - only to discover that Cain had died three weeks before.
In 1969 Andy bought the King's X Tavern at Piedmont & 51st and turned it into fantasy football central. By 1972 the Kings X had 200 participants playing in six different divisions: Kings, X, Taxi, Other (in honor of the old AFL, dubbed "the other league" by NFL snobs), Rookie, and an all-female division called Queens.
Today, fantasy football is a billion dollar industry with more than 30 million players worldwide.
Scotty went on to executive positions with the Raiders, Warriors and Sacramento Kings. Andy sold the King's X and retired in 1991.
Bill died in 1993. His last words to Scotty were "I told you we should have copyrighted the damn thing!