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The First Fantasy Football League

Dick Getchell is the president of the Waverly Gardens resident council, member of the woodworking group, performer in the multi talented “Saw dusters” group, retired tap dancer and to top it all off, he’s the co-founder of Fantasy Football in Minnesota. That’s kind of a big deal.

As the winningest Fantasy football teams all across the country are starting playoffs, Waverly Gardens resident Dick Getchell pages through the mint condition 1974 Fantasy Football Commissioner’s Playbook that he created, reminiscing. 

Four decades ago, the concept of drafting a team of the best football players and competing in imaginary leagues was just being explored. Today, it is estimated that 59.3 million people participate in fantasy football leagues worldwide.

The game plan
Getchell and his teamIn 1974, Getchell’s friend Chuck Josephs from California shared that he heard mention of a game in which people created their own football teams made up of the best players from different teams in the NFL, the rules of the game were still largely undocumented. Getchell and his group of three friends carried the ball from there.

They huddled to develop official rules and marketing collateral to get the idea off the ground. With journalism and advertising degrees from the University of Minnesota, Getchell was poised to succeed. He and a group of his coworkers from 3M tested out the materials and game rules. It only took about two years of lunch meetings and after work happy hours to finalize the rules and compile them in a leather bound Commissioner’s Play Book. The book holds the official rules of Fantasy Football, draft order, team rosters and scoring sheets, a statistician’s dream! By day they worked their  jobs at 3M, by night Getchell and company then copyrighted the “Fantasy Football League” name.

“If 3M only knew how much time we spent on it and all the people who were playing it at work. Don’t put that in the article though!” Getchell chuckled.

A sponsorship fumble
Getchell and his team sold hundreds of booklets for $24 each and soon started to dream even bigger. Getchell contacted Budweiser seeking sponsorship for their fantasy football leagues. The promotional team at the beer company was excited and saw the incredible potential for fantasy football leagues to start at every bar across the country. But Getchell’s elation was short-lived. Once the Budweiser legal team reviewed the concept they denied sponsorship because it seemed “too much like gambling.” “You wouldn’t have that problem nowadays” he said. 

Monday morning quarterbacking
Getchell reminisces on the simpler times, when all the scoring information, player injury reports and standings were only available in the newspapers and games were only played on Sundays and Mondays. Today, thanks to the internet, Getchell says fantasy football team owners don’t have to work quite as hard. With up-to-the-second information and online applications to keep score and manage their teams, Getchell’s playbook is more of an antique. 

Fantasy football riches a dream
Even without sponsorship, the concept of fantasyDick-Getchell football exploded in popularity. “There weren’t computers at that time” Getchell remembers, “so the forms were helpful and necessary to keep track of everything.” They received orders from all over the country for their official playbooks so people could start their own leagues but players quickly turned to developing their own rules. Getchell and his team couldn’t control the spread and didn’t have the time or funding to focus on protecting their copyright. “We were all working other jobs, if we really had the money we might’ve saved it but we couldn’t” said Getchell.

In 1984 the Pioneer Press featured an article entitled “Fantasy Football Riches a Dream,” chronicling the rise and fall of Getchell’s fantasy football empire. “We were disappointed that all of a sudden it took off without us and we lost control of it,” he shared. But the disappointment he felt is overshadowed by fond memories of the good times when they got together to draft some of the first ever fantasy football teams.

Getchell encourages the entrepreneurial minded, “If you have an idea, try it out and see what happens!”

Retired from fantasy football
Today you’d be hard-pressed to find Getchell clamoring in front of the TV to see how his fantasy team is performing, he retired from fantasy football about 30 years ago, deciding to focus on other things. “I won my fantasy football league once. My winning team name was the Woodland Acres Woodpeckers,” he said with a grin, “we had some strange names.” 

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