"I should've taken Jim Brown"

… And 12 other lessons from Andy Mousalimas' 50 years of fantasy drafts

Updated: July 30, 2012, 8:40 PM ET
By Morty Ain | ESPN The Magazine

tkCody Pickens for ESPN The MagazineThank this man for the gifts of fantasy drafts, advanced scoring and novelty trophies.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Aug. 6 Fantasy Football issue. Subscribe today!

FORTY-NINE YEARS AGO, an Oakland bar manager named Andrew Mousalimas made George Blanda the first pick in fantasy football history. And with that selection, the first draft-day regret was born. Many of the originals of the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL) have passed away over the years or long since hung up their GM caps -- but not Mousalimas. He spent decades serving up the gospel of fantasy football at his Bay Area bar, the Kings X. Now, as Mousalimas gets set to tackle his 50th -- and final -- fantasy season, he shares the wisdom he has collected from five decades' worth of bad picks, sketchy trades and high times.

I'll be 88 in December. I mean, Jesus Christ, that's enough. That's 50 years of drafting. You get tired, honest to god. No one has played as many fantasy seasons, not even close. I had my son, my son-in-law and now my grandson as partners, but god almighty, I'm quitting. I'm telling everyone at the draft this year that this is it. But I'll miss it, because I've had some good times.

Bill Winkenbach started fantasy football, no question about it. Wink was a millionaire and a minority owner of the Oakland Raiders. At the time, I managed a bar in downtown Oakland called the Lamppost. That's where I met Scotty Stirling, a beat writer for the Oakland Tribune. Back in the early '60s, when the Raiders would go out East to play Buffalo, Boston and New York, they'd stay there the whole 16 to 18 days. At the tail end of a trip in 1962, Wink was holed up in a hotel with Bill Tunnell, the Raiders' public relations director, and Scotty. It was kind of a dreary night, so they thought up this fantasy football idea, and that's how the GOPPPL got started. To be eligible for the league, you had to be either affiliated with the Raiders or have purchased or sold a certain number of season tickets. At the Lamppost, we had something like 125 season tickets. So Scotty calls me up and says, "I think we've got something going. Come on down, you'll enjoy it." We ended up as partners in the league.

Our first fantasy draft took place in Wink's rumpus room, and we didn't know what the hell was going on. There were pretty simple rules, basically just points for touchdowns and field goals. You could take players from the AFL and NFL; it was before the merger. Scotty and I had the first pick, and our decision was between George Blanda and Jim Brown. Jim Brown, Christ, he was outstanding. My god, he would just go crazy on defenses. But in the old AFL, they were throwing the hell out of the ball, so we took Blanda, and by the end of the draft, we thought we had a hell of a team. But even though Blanda did end up throwing a lot of passes, the second, third and fourth quarterbacks were pretty close. But Jim Brown was overwhelming! We finished last. So we became the first guys to have our names inscribed on the Dunce Trophy -- it was a football with a dunce helmet on top.

[+] Enlargemousalimas
Cody Pickens for ESPN The MagazineEvery Monday at 3 a.m., Mousalimas would grab the early edition of the Oakland Tribune and start scoring his divisions. It'd take him until dawn to finish.

I opened up my own bar in Oakland in 1968 called the Kings X and decided to start a fantasy football league in the bar in 1971. I'll be honest with you, in all humility, I think the Kings X is what really perpetuated it in the Bay Area. No question, Wink was the godfather. The only trouble with Wink was that he didn't want to make any changes to the rules. He was stubborn as hell. Damn, he was stubborn. In the GOPPPL, a return touchdown was 250 points and a receiving touchdown was 25 points. So I formed a rules committee to update the game. We were the first ones to put in a yardage rule. You had guys like Pete Banaszak, who would carry the ball four or five times and score two to three touchdowns from the 1-yard line, while you had other guys like O.J., who was running wild, but he wasn't scoring, so he wasn't getting any points. We fixed that.

Back then, if you wanted to make lineup changes, you had to come into the bar in person by 9 o'clock Friday night. I'll tell you, that bar was jam-packed Friday night, and people told us that was the most fun time. The guys in first place would be jive-assing and razzing the guys in last all night long. We used to have a sign: "$13.75 -- breakfast, bus and a ticket to the Raiders." My wife gave our customers a hell of a breakfast. So Sunday morning, I'd have as many as four buses going to the Raiders games. Then other people would sit there because we were able to bootleg the games. Monday for lunch, it'd be jammed because I had a temporary score sheet at the bar, and everyone would come in and check for mistakes. Then for Monday Night Football, the place is jammed. Tuesday again at lunch, I'd have the final scores up on the boards. By 1973, I had so many people who wanted to join that I had to add two more divisions. A few years later, I had more than 200 people playing.

It was difficult to research players in those days. For years, we wrote letters to NBC and CBS. We called them up, begged them to give us the names of the people who were scoring. They refused! Then I'd call newspapers up and ask the sports writers about certain players, and they wouldn't give me the information; they thought we were bookies. We had one magazine that we used: Street & Smith's. That was the bible. But one time I had two of my Sicilian friends who didn't do much research. On the night we were drafting, they picked J.V. Cain from the Cardinals. All of a sudden, everyone starts laughing. My two buddies ask me, "What the hell are they laughing about?" "Well, J.V. Cain died two weeks ago."

We used to have an awards night at the end of the season -- a sit-down banquet with almost 200 people. I'd dress up, everyone would give speeches, but beforehand we'd go out and buy a unique award for every franchise. Sixty franchises! So one guy got a jersey with the number 00 on the back -- Jim Otto's jersey -- because one weekend he didn't score any points. Zero! And then for the guys who drafted J.V. Cain? We got them a little casket.

One day, George Blanda comes into the Kings X. He was only about three years younger than I was, so I said, "George, nice to see you, nice to see someone like you, because you and I are about the same age." Oh, he got upset, he got so upset with me. "What do you mean I'm the same age? What are you talking about?" What was I supposed to do? I backed away. I never told him he helped me finish in last place.

It was difficult to research players in those days. We wrote letters to NBC and CBS. I'd call newspapers and ask sports writers about players.

-- Andrew Mousalimas

I remember a player named Vic Washington. They listed him as a receiver/running back, but we all knew he was going to play RB -- a huge edge. We had booked a banquet room at a restaurant for our draft, but they just gave us the back end of the dining room. So about the fourth round, I draft Washington as a receiver. One of my buddies went crazy: "You MF!" Everyone in the restaurant dropped their food. There were a bunch of old folks in there, and I think a few of them had a heart attack. Three weeks later, the place closed. I told my buddy, "I think you were responsible for it."

Listen, I love the ladies, but I would not let them participate in the draft. I felt that this was a man's night out. But the ladies got all upset. A good friend of mine, Albert Santini, said, "You know, Andy, why don't you start an all-ladies division?" I think his wife had talked to him. I said, "That sounds like a good idea," and we called it the Queens Division. And you know what? The ladies turned out to be the most loyal of the whole group. I started them in '80, and five of the original divisions are still drafting today.

Santini was the godfather of the ladies division, so I had him be moderator of their first draft. So I'm all the way in another part of the room, and all of a sudden the girls started to scream. I look over to see him flop over and grab his chest; he has a heart attack! We had to get the ambulance for him! But of course we had to finish the draft. So I asked the ladies, "Do you want to continue?" "Oh yeah, we want to continue!"

I always used to draft running backs early and wide receivers late, but things have changed the past few years. You've got these great receivers, and the running backs all split carries. The QBs throw the hell out of the ball. So this year I'm thinking about going quarterback first, and I haven't done that since Blanda!

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