In early October 1991, I joined a group of eight or so staffers of The State Journal-Register in the back conference room of the newsroom. Armed with notebooks and annotated copies of The Sporting News' 1991-1992 NHL season yearbook, we gathered around the big conference table to draft our teams for the upcoming season of the Hakan Loob Hockey League.
There was no entry fee or cost to draft players. Winnings/losses would be computed based on your players' performances throughout the season.
In the pre-Internet days, there was a big advantage to conducting a fantasy sports league at a newspaper. It meant that we had instant, electronic access to all NHL box scores, so the commissioner of our league, Larry Tate, could keep an accurate count of the goals, assists and goalie wins/shutouts. Every Monday, we HLHL team owners would find in our mail slots a photocopied packet, complete with hand-drawn grids of individual team stats and a witty "press release" from Commissioner Tate. Trades had to be conducted by phone with the commissioner.
I was a last-minute recruit to the HLHL; a hastily added expansion team -- the Therapeutic Mineral Frogs -- brought in solely to expand league membership. With minimal research on draft day and even less skill in pronouncing NHL names other than Gretzky, Hull or Lemieux, I won roughly $3 that season. To me, it was quite a victory. As I remember it, the winner that year took home on the order of $30 and the last-place finisher lost roughly the same amount.
It was fun and made it fun to follow the entire NHL, not just the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.
And that, kids, is how fantasy sports existed in ye olden days. Fantasy sports leagues back then were the domain of sports nerds who lived for the agate pages in the back of newspaper sports sections.
It's hard to believe, but the humble HLHL and thousands of other tiny leagues back then were the progenitors of what has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. If you've watched any sports on television this year, you're undoubtedly familiar with DraftKings and FanDuel, the two-headed fantasy sports monster that spent $150 million on TV and Web ads in the third quarter of this year and has committed to spending much more in the years to come...
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