To celebrate the 50th season of fantasy football we will take a look back at some notable and surprising fantasy performances of the past 50 fantasy seasons that involved NFL teams playing each other this week.
Since the 49ers visit the Vikings Sunday, this week we venture back to 1995, to Monday Night Football.
December 18, 1995 – the 8-6 Vikings met the defending champion and 10-4 49ers at Candle Stick Park in what would be one of Jerry Rice’s greatest games.
By 1995 fantasy football was starting to gain a foothold with fans. Street and Smith’s Pro Football Annual Football Magazine was now dedicating a few pages to the game each year. More importantly, ESPN’s Sunday Night show Primetime was starting to make huge gains in Sunday ratings. It was because fantasy players were trying to get information on touchdowns scored that day. ESPN had not realized it yet, but they were the first part of the media that was feeding our fantasy hunger. Chris Berman still failed to report on late meaningless touchdowns, but as we know that would change and that there are no meaningless touchdowns anymore. Now you see all the touchdowns twenty times every Sunday; back then we had to wait for the Monday morning USA Today to see who actually did all the scoring. Of course all this was before the internet changed our game forever
Back to 1995….
Most fantasy leagues were still basic scoring, meaning you only were awarded points for touchdowns scored, field goals, extra points, and safeties. We know that would be changed dramatically, but back then touchdowns ruled. Yardage was an afterthought. In 1994 49ers quarterback Steve Young led most of his owners to fantasy championships, with 35 passing touchdowns and 7 rushing touchdowns. He was a fantasy monster accounting for 42 touchdowns. Based on this, and most leagues still being basic scoring, Young was the overwhelming top choice in most 1995 fantasy drafts.
Not far behind was his top receiver, the almost incomparable Jerry Rice (please Google Packer WR Don Hutson – a comparison for another article another time.)
Back in 1995 most fantasy leagues were still playing through every week of the NFL season, and teams had not yet starting sitting players after clinching playoff berths. In other words, players still played the entire season.
That brings us to week 16, 1995, which were the semifinals in most leagues. With having the bye week, it was the15th game for teams, 16th for the league. If you were still in the playoffs, you probably did not have the first overall choice in your draft. Steve Young missed five games in 1995 due to injury, and his touchdown total dropped from 42 in 1994 to 23 in 1995. He finished behind such quarterbacks as Jeff Blake and Eric Kramer in touchdown passes in 1995. If you chose Jerry Rice though, with probably a late first round or second round pick, you most likely were still in the chase for a title.
Young returned from injury for the Monday night game against the Vikings and Rice had continued on with what had been a great year, combining with Young’s back up, the promising Elvis Grbac, in Steve’s absence.
Monday December 18, 1995 Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
The game that night was a shoot out, and became a duel between Young and Vikings quarterback Warren Moon. The attention might have been on the quarterbacks, but the statistics belonged to Rice. He scored three first half touchdowns, caught 14 passes, and gained 289 yards receiving, in a 37-30 49er victory. In today’s fantasy world he tallied 46 points. Back then he probably scored 18 points in most leagues, but for most who had Rice going that night he propelled his owners into the fantasy championship the next week – or, if the title game was that night, he made a champion.
Rice would finish 1995 with 15 receiving touchdowns, 1,848 yards, while also rushing for score and even throwing a touchdown pass in their last game of the year to JJ Stokes.
Although he remained a fantasy relevant player to 2002 when he gained 1,211 yards receiving and scored seven touchdowns for the AFC champion Raiders, 1995 was the last year of Rice’s Hall of Fame career in which he scored double-digit touchdowns.
We can argue who the greatest wide receiver of all time was, but in the fantasy era – where statistics rule – Jerry Rice was the most dominant player, and his Monday night game against the Vikings was one of his best fantasy games. Somewhere, a few veteran fantasy players have a dusty trophy from 1995 sitting in their attic or on a shelf in the garage because of Rice’s performance that night and his entire 1995 season – the last of his dominant fantasy career.