BY SCOTT HANSON, SEATTLE TIMES STAFF
It started 27 years ago, before the Internet and cellphones, and certainly long before fantasy football was big as it is now.
They were a bunch of guys who worked at Hughes Aircraft in Southern California, mostly engineers, and 16 of them decided to start a fantasy football league, the HFL.
It was nothing like the leagues today, where you pick players on an online draft site. These 16 guys got together, face-to-face, and rather than picking individual players, they picked team categories: a team’s wide receivers, a team’s quarterbacks and a team’s running backs … you get the idea.
Hughes Aircraft no longer exists, and the guys in the league have scattered across the country and even to Europe. But the league stays the same. The results, still hand-scored on Excel, are now e-mailed rather than hand-delivered from department to department at Hughes.
I joined the league in the late 1990s when my friend Jeff, one of the original Hughes guys, invited me to fill the first opening in years. I own the second-newest franchise. There has not been a change among the 16 teams in 14 years.
For years, I competed against the Deathsquad, Shotgun Joe, the Meadowlanders, the Krushers and all the rest, yet I had only met a couple of the HFL team owners.
Two years ago, in honor of the league’s 25th anniversary, we all got together in Las Vegas for our draft. I was meeting most of these guys for the first time. For others, it was the first time they had seen each other in years.
I had more fun than I could have imagined. I discovered there was something about fantasy sports that I hadn’t taken into account before: a sense of camaraderie.
And it all became clear to me: I don’t play fantasy sports just for the competition. I still belong to the fantasy leagues I joined while working in Miami, Eugene, Ore., and Las Vegas. Not because I like playing that much, but just knowing that if I do I will have a reason to keep in contact with my friends who still live there and are also in the leagues.
We had so much fun on the 25th anniversary, we talked about doing it again in five years. Instead, we did it in two, returning to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. Fourteen of the 16 owners were there, coming from Virginia, Colorado and parts in between. We gave the guy from Ireland a break for not coming, but Jeff … well, let’s just say he earned himself a lifetime of ribbing and scorn.
I really don’t know these guys all that well, but somehow I really feel like I do. We had a great time, and how one did or didn’t do in the draft seemed beside the point.
We are thinking about making it a group draft in Las Vegas every year.
Sounds like a great idea to me.
Scott Hanson is a sports desk editor who also covers golf and horse racing for The Seattle Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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