I was introduced to pro football during the mid-1980s.

Growing up on the East Coast, my cable-free TV set offered the Jets and Giants on Sundays along with precious Monday night fare. Little else.

It was a chore to track teams from other burgs unless NBC or CBS screened highlights of distant action in Green Bay or St. Louis. You’d see flashes of Joe Montana flinging a 43-yard dart to Jerry Rice before they tugged you back to local bouts.

Falling hard for the sport, I bought every season-preview rag I encountered while spending long after-school hours wading through my weathered NFL Encyclopedia, which told of campaigns dating back to ancient days. I formed mental images of those gridiron stars who came before my fandom — and vowed to know every player currently under contract.

My tools were prehistoric: dense stacks of football cards; self-tabulated statistical databases kept on an IBM desktop the size of a suitcase; notebooks stuffed with rankings, ratings, drawings and doomed predictions.

Not much different than what I do today, but those early years set my heart on fire for football. I’d obsess all week about the upcoming Sunday, when NFL players would rise again to author unpredictable high-dramas in cities that seemed as far away as Alderaan.

When I think of my favorite players, the list changes constantly — so consider this more a snapshot. The older ones came to me in those early days of blossoming involvement; the newer stirred a more cynical heart many years later — certainly a tougher task.



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