David Hight is the first engraved name on an all-important trophy of the Texas Football League.
Hight's quarterbacks for that winning season were Dallas Cowboys' Danny White and Philadelphia Eagles' Ron Jaworski, with the legendary Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears as his starting running back.
Clearly, the TFL has been around long before the popularity of fantasy football exploded.
Tyler's Reggie Howell believes it's the oldest fantasy football league in the state and one of the oldest in the nation.
“Thirty-three years is a longtime,” said Howell, who created TFL in 1980. “I do know of a league in California that is celebrating its 50th year this year, and it was started by a couple of guys who were actually part owners of the Oakland Raiders. Ron Wolf, who went on to be general manager of the Green Bay Packers, used to play in that thing.”
The 33rd draft of the TFL was a few hours before kickoff of the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants Game on Wednesday. The league has always been composed of seven teams. The owners are all area residents: Glenn Smith, Kirk Brookshire, Les Loggins, Howell, Kearby Herrington, Bill Adams and Doug Danley.
Howell had the first pick Wednesday and took Arian Foster, Houston Texans running back.
“I really don't know what triggered it, but I remember watching a preseason game (in 1980) and saying, 'Wouldn't it be fun if we could get points for what they do,'” said Howell, vice president of business development for Karis Resources in Tyler. “So I wrote up some rules, and amazingly they are pretty similar to today.”
Howell moved to Tyler a couple years later and continued the TFL in his new home with a few new owners. One of those was longtime friend and college golf teammate Glenn Smith.
Smith said he was apprehensive when Howell approached him, but agreed to give it a try.
“He came to me and said, 'You're going to love this,'” said Smith, who owns Glenn A. Smith Homes, a home-building company in Tyler.
Smith said fantasy football in those early decades was not a regular part of the sports landscape like it is today. Friends and relatives did not understand.
There were questions: Why are you so intense now on Sundays? The Cowboys won, so why are you so unhappy? Or the ultimate, the Cowboys just lost, why are you smiling?
“I was watching a Cowboys game, and the Philadelphia Eagles scored, and I yelled, 'Yeah!' Smith recalled. “I got the dirtiest looks from my family that you've ever seen.”
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And he wasn't the only one.
Every owner admitted to spending many hours amassing as much statistical information as possible about their players.
“People didn't understand what we were doing,” said Loggins, who has played in the league since 1983. “The thing that is interesting is I am kind of a college football person. I was a Cowboys fan, but I got involved with this, and it got me starting to watch (pro football).
“We started out having to dig out our stats in newspapers, and USA Today was our newspaper of choice, and sometimes they'd get the stats wrong.”
Football viewers today can see statistics scrolling by on their television screens during games.
But Loggins remembers a time when the only televised games seen Sundays were ones shown on CBS or NBC, and the only way to get up-to-date stats was to watch the games and keep the stats yourself.
“That is the stuff that people can't appreciate,” Loggins said. “You'd have a piece of paper, and you were watching one game and trying to keep up with how your player was doing.”
Smith said the league improved dramatically thanks to ESPN premiering “Primetime” in 1987. A highlight show hosted by sportscaster Chris Berman, “Primetime” showed every game's scoring plays and other big plays.
“That was such a big deal,” Smith said.
Player transactions, such as trades or scooping up unrostered players, now can be done with a mouse click, but in those days, it was a race to see who could dial their telephone the quickest and tell the league commissioner about a player pickup.
Anyone with a rotary phone was in trouble.
“You'd be watching the game and see a running back for the Cowboys go down with (an injury),” Loggins said. “Everybody would pick up the phone and try to call in and the first one who got through to (Howell) would be able to pick up the backup.”
“I thought it was crazy when I first heard about it, but then I wanted in,” said Herrington, a representative from Feliciano Financial Group in Tyler.
While many leagues do head-to-head matchups each week, TFL pits all seven team's scores each week and puts them against one another. For instance, if Howell's team scored 130 points, and that ranked second overall, he would be 5-1 that week, with the team ahead of him going 6-0. The league continues this way through the playoffs until the winner is the team with the best record at the close of the season.
“Part of our strategy, even in our draft, is to try and prognosticate the playoffs and pick players who will be on those teams,” Herrington said.
The positive with this type of scoring is in TFL, unlike the NFL, the best team throughout the entire season is the winning team.
Howell and Smith have their names engraved on the TFL trophy the most.
“People have left and come back after playing other leagues, and everybody has always told me that this is the best league they've played in,” Howell said.
But that fumble also created havoc in the TFL final standings.
“That night we went to sleep thinking that one guy had won the championship and we didn't realize that Ernest Byner, on that play, had given his owner 100 yards and that boosted up his score enough to finish first,” Howell said. “So when we woke up the next morning and looked at the stats, everything changed.”
The other owners admitted that Smith takes the league much more seriously than the rest of them, to the point that he “crawls into a dark room and you won't see him for months (when his team struggles),” Loggins said in jest.
That obsession is shown in a letter Smith still has that was sent from Joe Gibbs after Smith wrote the former Washington Redskins coach and asked why he was not playing running back Ricky Ervins more.
“I am not any more obsessed than the rest of them, but yeah, I did that,” Smith admitted. “Ervins had been giving the Redskins some huge games, but then all of a sudden, (Gibbs) wouldn't play him. I copied some clippings of his stats from a couple games and highlighted him. I lied and said in the letter that I was a huge Washington Redskins fan, and I've got these stats and just wonder why you are not playing him more.
“Well, he sent a letter back that said I really appreciate you being a fan of the Redskins and I will give consideration to what you said; signed, Joe Gibbs.”
Smith said the letter had no effect on Ervins' playing time the rest of the season.
“One day I was at the office, and a sheriff's deputy was there and he handed me a summons,” Howell said. “I look at it and I am being sued in the Universal Court of Man for damages because I knew about Stump Mitchell before I traded him. It was a well-written two-page document.”
Howell said the reasons he formed the league three decades ago are the same: Everyone still enjoys it today.
“I've always been an avid sports fan and thought this would be a fun way for guys to get together and do something,” Howell said. “The other thing; it's the bragging rights, the camaraderie of the guys who have been doing something for 25 to 30 years together and you develop deep relationships. It's almost like a marriage.
“It's a lot of fun.”