DALLAS - To put his longevity into perspective, the first pick in Reggie Howell’s initial fantasy football league was Earl Campbell.
Thirty-eight years after he wrote his own rules for the first league and started play in 1980, Howell was inducted into the inaugural class of the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame at the first National Fantasy Football Convention in Dallas on Saturday.
“I’m going in as a pioneer, which I think is a polite way of saying ‘you’re old,’” he laughed. “It’s humbling. You think about being on the cutting edge, like the Mercury astronaut of fantasy football.”
Howell was credited with running the oldest and longest running league in Texas, and the only person enshrined in the first class for the Hall. Coming up with the original idea after watching a preseason Cowboys-Steelers game, Howell has seen the game evolve from being a pen-and-paper stat compilation pulled from day-old newspaper box scores to the current, instantaneous aggregate and payoffs of the internet age.
“I had no idea other people were playing fantasy football,” Howell said, “and certainly no idea that one day we’d have 57 million people playing.”
With his league entering its 38th year, Howell is more than just an originator. He’s also a historian. He keeps every record and stat, and compiles a season-ending book every season, with 37 volumes of league history still on his shelves. His league is a part of his life, chronicled and notated like a family ancestry.
Howell said for him and his friends, the game of fantasy football is about much more than just stats and championships. The ritual of drafting and competing has become the tent pole for their circle.
“For people who love football, this is the perfect thing to keep up with old friends,” Howell said. “I think it’s more about relationships than anything else. Being able to talk trash to each other, and have good times with each other. That’s the thing that really drives us.”
“I think we’re having more fun in 2016 and 2017 than we were 20 or 30 years ago.”
In his induction speech, Howell thanked his wife, Cathy, for her support and patience. Their marriage predates his league by only a couple of months.
“Going into the Hall of Fame is humbling,” Howell said, “but I have a wife at home, and we’ve also been married 38 years.”
“And she keeps me focused by saying ‘Really? Fantasy football?’”