Fantasy football league going strong in 37th seasonRICK LUBBERS: A fantasy football league founded in 1976 is still going strong in Lake Nebagamon.
By: Rick Lubbers, Duluth News Tribune
During fantasy football’s prehistoric age, Larry Larson was a caveman.
The 66-year-old Lake Nebagamon resident started the All Star Football League a couple of decades before the Internet and magazine stands detonated fantasy football onto America’s NFL-crazed landscape.
“We’re old school,” said Larson, a retired Superior police officer.
That’s an understatement as big as Clay Matthews’ biceps.
Founded in 1976, Larson’s league is an artifact that belongs in the Smithsonian, a throwback to a time many NFL fans know only from old highlight reels:
Larson kick-started a lifetime of devotion to fantasy football after a friend showed him a magazine article about the fledgling pastime.
Now in its 37th season, the All Star Football League may be the oldest continuously run fantasy football league operated by its founding commissioner. Larson wrote to Pro Football Weekly three years ago to inquire if any fantasy football leagues were older than his. Only three of the respondents could claim to be in operation since 1976 or earlier, but they had undergone massive changes in participants and ownership.
Larson’s meticulous records could withstand the scrutiny of even the shrewdest IRS agent, and they detail three-plus decades of drafts, point
totals and championships.
A couple of Saturdays ago, the 14-person All Star Football League reconvened in Larson’s backyard and held its draft for the 37th time, a ritual that Marsh Hanson, 66, of Superior wouldn’t dream of missing.
He did have some doubts, however, about the league when it was started.
“I probably thought Larry was crazy because we had no idea what it was,” Hanson said. “Once we started doing it, we enjoyed it and we’ve gone on forever. We thought he was a little crazy in the beginning though.”
But for all of those years of playing fantasy football, Hanson doesn’t have his name dotted all over the league’s championship trophy.
“Just once,” he bemoaned.
He might have grabbed a second title last year, if it hadn’t been for the crafty commissioner swiping a cherished player from under his nose.
“I was drafting (Green Bay Packers wide receiver) Jordy Nelson all of the time, and then all of a sudden last year — when he became a superstar — Larry drafted him ahead of me and he got 15 touchdowns. Jordy Nelson was my man and Larry stole him from me.”
Larson has won the league four times, but the name that occupies the most real estate on the league trophy belongs to his wife of 42 years (37 of them playing fantasy football together!), Diane. She’s won it seven times.
“It’s all luck,” she said with a laugh.
And a ton of devotion, too … especially during the league’s early years.
“That was a lot of work,” said Diane, 63, who recalled the years when league participants received updates in the mail. “We took all of the scores out of the newspaper. There was no Internet.”
That was until about six years ago when Larry finally relented and put the league online.
“For years and years and years, I used to do it through the newspapers,” Larson said. “When it was getting tougher and tougher for my eyes to read the box scores, we finally decided to have my son-in-law put it on a computer. Once we do the draft, he’ll enter it all on a computer. I don’t have to read those box scores anymore.”
But just because the All Star Football League is online doesn’t mean it has totally embraced fantasy football’s electronic age. Larson doesn’t allow computers or smart phones at the league’s draft, of which attendance is mandatory. No online drafting is allowed.
Larson’s league doesn’t have allowances for dropping and adding players each week, but it has a live supplemental draft (attendance encouraged, but not mandatory) twice a year that allows participants to drop three players and add three others.
Cheat sheets? Larson begrudgingly allows them.
“They’ve all got cheat sheets,” he said. “Why do they even call them a cheat sheet, when everybody in the world gets the darn thing? Is it cheating anymore? No, it’s not. Everybody has that same information.”
Like the NFL, the All Star Football League has seen myriad changes since 1976, including:
But despite owning decades of knowledge, don’t look to fantasy football’s elder statesman for advice with your team. Larson says to grab a cheat sheet and cross your fingers.
“It basically comes down to luck and avoiding injuries.”
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.