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16 Dec 2005
by Mike Tanier
Great things are afoot. Trucks are breaking ground. Plans are being finalized. Enshrinement committees are meeting. Invitations are being engraved. Small-town politicians are being greased. Zoning ordinances are being ignored.
The Fantasy Football Hall of Fame is coming.
Once merely the fevered dream of an obsessed fan, the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame and Museum (FFHoF) is fast becoming a reality. A site has been chosen: 1500 acres of land in Pennsauken, New Jersey, just miles from the birthplace of 49ers near-great John Taylor. The former Ringafier Diaper Cream factory is being razed to make way for a state-of-the-art glass-and-concrete structure based on an original design by legendary architect Buckminster Fuller, with 21st-century updates by former Bears quarterback Steve Fuller.
The FFHoF will feature the typical hall of bronze busts, but there will be so much more: interactive exhibits, historic artifacts, a 40-foot high movie screen, a gift shop, conference halls, another gift shop, and the world's largest White Castle.
It's a fantasy football fan's dream come true: a place to honor players who may not have been great but managed to rack up lots and lots of stats.
Virgil Parks was an ordinary man. An assistant line manager in a scrapple processing plant (hooves and ears department), Parks wasn't even much of a football fan until 1990, when he joined a friend's fantasy football league.
Fantasy football opened up a new world for Parks. "I learned all about the legends of the gridiron that first year," Parks remembers. "There was Curtis Duncan and Derrick Fenner, Mark Rypien and Bobby Humphrey, Chris Jacke and Lawrence Dawsey and Barry Sanders."
Parks' fantasy obsession started modestly, but his involvement in the hobby increased every year. His fantasy success peaked with a third-place finish in his friend's eight-team league in 1994 ("I discovered Terrance Mathis," he still boasts), but he has expanded his focus to include multiple leagues and newspaper contests. He reads dozens of preseason fantasy publications every year, and he is donating his collection of over 1,500 cheat sheets and annuals to the FFHoF's historic exhibit, including a rare 1989 "franchise football" guide with Robb Riddick on the cover.
"I know every starting quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, and kicker in the NFL," Parks often boasts. "Most of the backups, too. I think that makes me something of a football expert." Parks wanted to pour his expertise into the Hall of Fame project, but he lacked the funds to pursue his dream. That changed when he won a lawsuit which the press dubbed "The Case of the Over-Scented Candle," earning $14.1 million from America's candle cabal. "To this day, I can't get the heady aroma of white plum, mandarin, and jasmine out of my downstairs bathroom," he laments.
Suddenly flush with cash, Parks began commissioning blueprints for the Hall, taking it upon himself to design such features as the 25-foot high statue of Brett Perriman. But a Hall of Fame is only as good as its enshrinees, and Parks needed a selection committee. He distributed invitations to journalists across the country, but the job promised long hours of difficult work for little money and no prestige. Only the most desperate, second-rate hacks would be enticed by such a solicitation.
We met at the Elbow Room Saloon in Elkton, Maryland to begin the selection process. Parks wanted the most respected, established writer in the room to preside over the committee. Olaf Saaksgaard, webmaster of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying and Fantasy Football blog, was quickly sworn in. I was proud to be named the recording secretary. Drinks were ordered. Debate commenced.
The selection committee had to address an important question at that first, whisky-soaked meeting: what makes a player a Fantasy Football Hall of Famer? The answer was as obvious as the difference between Barry Sanders and Chris Warren.
Barry Sanders will never make the FFHoF. Barry lives in our minds and our hearts. We can all close our eyes and remember his breathtaking runs. He's a real Hall of Famer, someone who enriched the game of football and the world of sports at large.
Chris Warren is another matter. Unless you are from Seattle, you probably cannot close your eyes and recall a particularly extraordinary carry by Warren. In fact, his existence had probably been expunged from your brain until you read his name ten seconds ago.
Fans around the country may have seen Chris Warren play two or three games in his career, yet he ran for 1,000-yards four times, which means he became a figure of importance on one critical day every year: the day of your fantasy draft. There, you sweated over Warren, wondering if his 1,545 yard, 9-TD performance of 1994 was a fluke, obsessing over whether he would outperform Errict Rhett that season. If you took him, maybe you called a buddy to trash talk when he racked up 115 yards and three scores against the Broncos in Week 5. Maybe his three touchdowns in Week 15 against the Raiders made the difference in your league's Super Bowl.
Warren won bragging rights, and cold hard cash, for thousands of fantasy owners around the country, then he slipped from the radar screen of history. The man deserves recognition. With the advent of the FFHoF, he'll finally get it.
Building from the Sanders-Warren dichotomy, the selection committee developed three primary criteria for consideration: To merit induction into the FFHoF, a player or coach must:
The last point excludes not just players like Sanders or Emmitt Smith, but borderline cases like Warren Moon, Herschel Walker, and Henry Ellard, any of whom could slide into Canton in a weak moment. Saaksgaard also drew up some secondary criteria: Super Bowl appearances count against potential candidates, as do other noteworthy accomplishments like an MVP award. A candidate's best seasons had to occur after the dawn of the fantasy sports era (the mid-to-late 1980s). Bonus points were awarded for non-football factors like a catchy nickname.
But the overriding criteria remained good-but-not-exceptional statistical performance. "It's often said that 'great players are better than their stats,'" Saaksgaard said before the first vote. "This is the Hall of Fame for players whose stats are better than they were."
Every Hall of Fame needs a kick-butt inaugural class to stimulate the public's interest. When baseball's Hall opened in Cooperstown, legends like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were instantly enshrined. When the Piano Tuners Hall of Fame opened in Derby, Vermont, Irv Bulbkus (Jerry Lee Lewis' lifelong tuner) and Cliff Marville (a longtime Liberace confidant) were on hand to add credibility to the festivities.
By closing time, the selection committee was ready to announce the Inaugural Class of the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Seasons (1990, 1998). Overused nickname ("The Ultimate Weapon") One of the first quarterbacks of the fantasy football era who "scored points with his feet." Terrible playoff performer. One of the worst television analysts in history before his brief comeback. Many selectors thought that Cunningham, a former MVP, wasn't FFHoF material until they saw footage of him playing for the Ravens in 2001.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Season (1989). Silly, obvious nickname ("Majik"). One of the all-time great one-year wonders. Football's Wally Pipp.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Season (1994). Several seasons as a short yardage back, with only one really good one. Corny, beaten-to-death nickname ("Means Business"). Means played very well in many playoff games, but his 13-carry, 33-yard performance in Super Bowl XXIX doesn't hurt his FFHoF standing.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Season (1989). Just two career playoff appearances. Awesome Nickname ("The Nigerian Nightmare"). Okoye got bonus points for his dominating performances in the Super Tecmo Bowl video game.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Season (1995). Several seasons as a #2 fantasy running back. Gained 105 yards in three playoff games in a 12-year career.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Seasons (1990-1994). Silly, obvious nicknames ("Bad Moon," "Spider-Man"). A run-'n'-shoot receiver. Had his house burned down by late rapper girlfriend. Engaged Deion Sanders in slap fight. The first player actually selected by the committee.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Season (1997). Three playoff games in 11 years. Voters liked the fact that Moore hung around the league for seven years before having a truly great year. Many voters also may have thought they were voting for Herman Moore or ordering more drinks.
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Season (1994). The player for whom the advice, "don't draft a tight end in the first five rounds unless it's ____" was coined. No silly nickname, but the obvious pun of his last name inspired hundreds of Berman wannabes. "I called him Ben 'Look in the closet for my' Coates," Parks recalls.
Accomplishments: Innovator of the run-'n'-shoot offense. Davis' strategy was in vogue when Parks and his peers were discovering fantasy football; it wasn't uncommon for the fourth Oilers wide receiver to be drafted before the first Rams receiver. "The run-'n'-shoot was an unqualified success in the NFL," Parks explains. "Someday, an offensive genius like Kevin Gilbride will bring it back."
Al Del Greco
Accomplishments: Exceptional Fantasy Seasons (1996, 1998). Dozens of kickers were nominated by the committee; everyone from Norm Johnson to Raul Allegre was considered. Del Greco was ultimately chosen because he played for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals, and the Tennessee Oilers. "He even kicked in some Packers games in Milwaukee," Saansgaard said of the controversial choice.
The first class is ready to be honored, but the selection committee is hardly finished, and we need your help. There's a backlog of dozens of qualified nominees who will be eligible for enshrinement in the years to come, and we need fan input. As recording secretary, it's my job to keep track of fan opinions.
Here is the list of candidates for 2006. Feel free to cast your votes (or make your own selections) on the message board:
Quarterbacks: Jim Everett, Jeff George, Jim Harbaugh, Bobby Hebert, Jeff Hostetler, Erik Kramer, Ken O'Brien, Mark Rypien.
Running Backs: Terry Allen, Greg Bell, Ernest Byner, Barry Foster, Rodney Hampton, Pete Johnson, Rueben Mayes, Tom Rathman, James Stewart, Ricky Watters.
Wide Receivers: Flipper Anderson, Fred Barnett, Billy Brooks, Quinn Early, Antonio Freeman, Ernest Givens, Michael Jackson, Terance Mathis, Anthony Miller, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman
Tight Ends: Mark Chmura, Eric Green, Keith Jackson, Alfred Pupunu, Wesley Walls.
Kickers: Too many to list. Far too many to spellcheck.
Coaches/Innovators: Wayne Fontes, June Jones, Sam Wyche.
The FFHoF is not affiliated in any way with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), a wonderful organization which promotes fantasy sports, awards innovators in the field, and has established its own Hall of Fame.
All of us at Football Outsiders wish to applaud the FSTA for their exceptional contributions to the world of fantasy sports. After all, an organization whose Hall of Fame includes Bill James, John Dewan, and John Benson will eventually cast its gaze upon some of us.
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