Fantasy Sports Before the Internet Were a Total Pain in the Ass

Everett Collection/Shutterstock
Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Before the Internet became a widespread tool for sports fans and research junkies alike, there were decades of proto-fantasy and fantasy sports with no help save the daily broadsheets.

Fantasy sports began with Oakland Raiders limited partner Wilfred "Wink" Winkenbach, who devised a way of creating fantasy golf leagues in the 1950s. By simply picking a team of PGA golfers and compiling the scores, players could “manage” their teams. He soon brought his team-tinkering skills to the NFL, devising the first ever proto-fantasy football league with two Oakland Tribune writers in the 1960s. By 1980, the world was primed for modern fantasy to make its debut.

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“I feel the way J. Robert Oppenheimer felt after having invented the atomic bomb: If I'd only known this plague that I've visited upon the world." --Dan Okrent (creator of Fantasy Sports)

One guy compiled the stats

Just like there’s only one banker to beat up on when that “friendly” game of Monopoly turns into a microcosm of outright class warfare, in old-school fantasy there was one stat guru in every league meant to keep the official score. Forget the fact that when it comes to fantasy sports, friends are not to be trusted -- having one all-powerful keeper of statistics is bound to lead to trouble. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

USA Today was your internet

When Dan Okrent devised modern fantasy baseball at La Rotisserie Française in New York, he was a writer for USA Today. As the game picked up steam -- especially during the 1981 players strike, during which roto briefly replaced real baseball as fodder for writers -- the paper’s unusually in-depth box scores meant that rotisserie baseball fanatics flocked to the newsstands, making the paper one of the most circulated in the country.


You had to draft in a room with other people -- wearing pants

One of the best things about modern fantasy sports is the fact that when we draft, we can be wherever we want, wearing whatever we want, drinking as much as we want, and doing really whatever we want. In the days of proto-fantasy and newspaper-based fantasy sport, there was only one way to draft: strap on your sock garters, place your stickpin, put on your topcoat & homburg, and act for the evening like a productive member of society -- as though you were fooling anyone -- in the dining room of a friend, gathered around a big board.

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If you didn’t have the Bill James guide, you were screwed

Stat nerd emeritus Bill James never played fantasy baseball. He barely even acknowledged its existence in his annual baseball treatise, but his Baseball Handbooks were to early fantasy baseball what is to modern fans. The tome was sure to be found in the desk drawer of every fantasy aficionado, and James sold millions of books based on a game he had no interest in whatsoever. If you tried to draft without James’s collected knowledge, you were up the proverbial creek. Nice life.

Okrent has yet to win his league after more than 30 years.

If you wanted baseball, rotisserie style was your only option

Since the advent of internet fantasy play, many fantasy baseball enthusiasts have turned to “Head-to-Head” leagues that give them a fighting chance each week of the season. But originally, the only option for the baseball-mad was “rotisserie” style, in which each team is ranked from first to last based on a list of criteria. While it’s possible to turn a bad season around in Head-to-Head, roto is an unforgiving beast. Just ask its founder, Okrent, who has yet to win his league after more than 30 years.

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At first, there was only golf

Anyone who has spent any time in the lobby of a daily fantasy site knows that there are fantasy golf matches almost every day offering payouts just as high as any Monday Night Football contest. Many might wonder, “Who the hell would bet on golf?” And they wouldn’t be wrong. What they don’t realize, however, is that when fantasy sports first came about in the 1950s, golf was the only sport simple enough to create an easy system for. Aren’t you glad there’s football and basketball to waste your money on instead? The systems of points might be more complicated, but you don’t have to watch golf on TV. And that’s a bonus.