I use Outlook calendar, and sometimes I get reminders that I totally forgot about (I know, that’s what reminders are for.) But this was a good one: February 2nd is one of PowerHouse’s milestone anniversaries. It was on that date in 1996 when I first had the idea that would eventually become our NFL General Manager simulation. Twenty years ago yesterday.
Our GM sim appeals to a few different types of people – from people who love to play Madden in “franchise mode” to try their hand at team management (remember EA Sports’ NFL Head Coach spinoff?) to hard-core NFL nerds and “Draftniks.” I definitely fall into the latter category, and in February of 1996, I was beginning the annual ritual of ramping up my draft scouting process.
If you’re like me, you know you’ll never be an NFL General Manager in real life, but you still have strong opinions about the moves those guys make, and on some level, you’re convinced that you know better at times. A perfect example is from 2013, when my beloved Dolphins traded up (pretty cheaply, per the trade value chart) to the third overall pick acquired from Oakland.
Tackles Jake Fisher and Luke Joeckel had gone first and second to the Chiefs and Jaguars. When I played football, I was a tight end, and I’ve always been a huge believer that the offensive line is of critical importance when building an NFL team. The Dolphins had a screaming need on the o-line, a problem that persists to this day, and I loved Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. I had seen him first hand in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, where he entered the week projected as a 3rd or 4th round draft pick. He totally stood out, and my wannabe scout’s ego was stroked vigorously as I watched him climb boards throughout “draft season.” I was convinced he would be Miami’s pick at number three, but was aghast when they instead took DE Dion Jordan, from Oregon.
We’ve all been there many times. How could they do that? Why don’t they see it the way I see it?
Back in 1996, I wished there was some way that I could track how I could do if I were the one making the choices, and that’s where PowerHouse came from.
Sitting in my living room, I came up with some basic rules that would allow me to pick along with the real NFL teams during the NFL Draft. I would pick a random slot – in the early years, I’d literally pick a number out of a hat. To mitigate the impact of luck, I made it a “snaking” draft, so if I got the 32nd pick in R1, I’d get the 1st pick in R2, as many fantasy leagues do in their drafts.
I came up with a scheme for trading picks where I would have to match the points involved per the trade value chart, and then I only had a 50/50 chance of any proposed trade being accepted. Many of these basic concepts are fundamental parts of our iGM game to this day.
With my rules in place, I set about drafting players along with the live NFL Draft for the first time that April. With the 27th overall pick, I took Texas DE Tony Brackens, who amassed 55 sacks and made the ’99 Pro Bowl during an injury-shortened 8-year career. I missed on USC TE Johnny McWilliams in R2 and Louisville LB Alan Campos in R3, but hit on Auburn RB Stephen Davis later in R3. Texas Tech S Marcus Coleman was a nice R4 pick, and R5 OG Rod Jones from Kansas, who started for the Rams in SB XXXVI, had a decent 7-year career playing tackle in the NFL. R6 Indiana St DE Dan Brandenburg hung around with the Bills for a few years. R7 LB Eric Herrin, from UCLA, never made it.
All-in-all, my class had some good, some bad, like many real draft classes. The bottom line, though, is that I became hooked, and I quickly developed rules that expanded my little simulation from just a draft simulation to a complete roster management game. Those original rules, however, had a lot of things in them that were not truly realistic – they didn’t model the actual rules followed by the real life NFL GMs. It was only over time that I revamped the rules to make them a truly faithful recreation of real life.
For well over a decade, I gleefully ran my team on an Excel spreadsheet. Nobody else cared, and that didn’t bother me in the least.
My career started in technology, working in corporate I.T. departments in support roles and on various projects. I transitioned to a sales role in the financial services industry in 1997, but missed technology. In 2005, I moved from sales of financial services to software sales, which I loved. I worked for several startups over the next decade, one of which was acquired by Microsoft, where I spent a couple of very interesting years.
Around 2008, I discovered the NFL Head Coach game, and thought that someone had finally built a game that realized my vision. I imagined ditching my spreadsheet and just playing Head Coach. But, you know what? Though it did sell a total of 500,000 copies, it was a terrible disappointment. To me, the reason was that it was still based on fiction. A random algorithm would determine how good your drafted players became, and I wanted my success or failure to be based on events in real life.
So, it was back to my spreadsheet for the time being.
In 2009, a struggling startup I was working for had a management change, and I, along with some other talented salespeople, lost my job. While engaged in a six-month job search, I stumbled upon the excellent stats site Pro-Football-Referrence. If you look at any player on PFR, you’ll see a column called “AV,” which stands for “Approximate Value.” It’s their 100% quantitative representation of how a player performed on the field in a given season. For a nerd like me, this was beyond interesting.
My first thought when I saw PFR’s AV calculation was that I finally had a great way to evaluate the job I was doing running my team. I set about looking up the AV for all of my players, and developed a way to roll those “scores” up to a total team score. Our scoring methodology today has its roots in the AV calculations and the work I did during this time.
But my second thought was one that would have a far greater impact on my life: If I have a way to score my team, why couldn’t my simulation be developed into a game that anyone could play? After all, web technology had evolved to where delivering such a game online was practical, and the explosive growth of fantasy football – a billion-dollar industry – made me wonder if such a game could actually be a successful online venture.
I spent the next few years developing the idea, building a business plan, raising a modest friends and family round of money, and building our website. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when we “launched,” but we had some very passionate early adopters back in 2011, and many of them remain among our most loyal and vocal Members today.
It’s been a remarkable experience, perhaps the most remarkable experience of my life other than having children. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting (virtually) some of the most passionate and engaged NFL fans – people just like me – in the community that is growing around our site every day. I’ve met and gotten to know lots of great guys in the scouting community, the media, and players and NFL General Managers. In short, it’s been awesome.
That brings us to today, and what’s next for PowerHouse…
We have, in my opinion, proven that there is an intense interest in what we are building. We have accomplished a ton with very limited resources (i.e., money.) We remain the only faithful simulation of being an NFL General Manager anywhere on the planet.
2016 is a pivotal year for us. I am working hard to raise the funds required to fully realize my vision – really, our vision, as so many of you have helped shape my view of what we are and what we can be.
If we can successfully fund PowerHouse, you’re going to see some amazing things. Our core model won’t change, but you may not even recognize the site’s user experience, and the depth of unique content we will provide to keep you engaged and entertained and help you run your team successfully will be beyond your wildest dreams. We have a BIG vision, and it’s time for that vision to be realized.
Happy 20th birthday to PowerHouse!