The friends we make and the relationships we nurture along life’s journey feed us, fulfill us and sustain us. If the bond is sincere, we never let go.
There is no better example than a group of Arizona State alums from the 1970s, many of them high school friends before college, some now living out of state, who have maintained a close connection while they started their careers together, became successful businessmen, or educators, or a psychologist or a physicist. There is a retired a Navy Commander among them. One guy keeps track of the power grids in California.
They’ve been through everything together: the birth of their kids, friends dying, businesses going up and down. They’ve gone on family vacations together.
Yet there is something about this group that is just . . . goofy.
They’re also the embodiment of arrested development, where grown men with a frat-boy mirth serve up large sums of money to live and die with the weekly performance of professional football players.
They’ve maintained their union for more than four decades largely because they all are members of the A-Hilt Football League that is based in South Tempe and operated by Randy Wood, 65, who has lived with his family in the Corona del Sol High School neighborhood since 1984.
“We became the best of friends who liked to hang around each other all the time,” Wood said. “They’re not just people we’ve picked up and grown acquaintances with. These are old buddies.”
So what, exactly, is A-Hilt?
Wood and his buddies used to hang around the Canlan House apartments in college, drinking beer, talking sports and watching Goofy reruns on TV. After enough beer and/or Southern Comfort, the Disney character’s antics proved especially hilarious to them. They began to imitate his silly laugh.
“And,” said Wood, “what did Goofy always say? ‘A-hilt! A-hilt! A-hilt!’ So that became the name of our fantasy football league, the A-Hilt Football League.”
Nobody, as far as we know, ever fell off a cliff, as their cartoon hero was prone to doing, however they screamed “A-hilt!” as a greeting whenever they’d see each other across campus in Tempe. Word is, they still do.
And if you think Wood is a bit over the top in his love of fantasy sports, consider that his wife, Susan, 61, like Randy an Arizona native and ASU alum, is in her seventh season running her own league with a bunch of book club girlfriends and former Little League and Corona del Sol moms.
And their 25-year-old son, Trevor, is in his 13th season running his league with buddies, much the way his dad started A-Hilt.
“The world is football crazy, and fantasy football is to the point now where women love it and they’re involved,” Wood said.
Being commissioner of a fantasy football league can be time-consuming, but it hasn’t caused Wood to retire from his day job. He owns Woodshed 2, a sports bar near Dobson Road and University Drive in Mesa. He sold his original Woodshed at Baseline and Mill in 2016 after 37 years.
A-Hilt proved to be an ingenious mechanism created in 1978 to keep the small group of high school and college friends together, for life – in two cases until death did them part.
Wood proudly proclaims that his 14 championships are the most in league history.
“We have a big trophy that has every winner on it,” Wood said, “and one of the things that’s a little unusual about that is the trophy has a couple of drawers in it. Over the course of 42 years, we’ve had two members pass away. We put some of their ashes in medicine bottles and keep those in a drawer in the trophy. It’s little remembrances of each one as we go by.”
A-Hilt is believed to be the longest continuously operated fantasy league. Anywhere. No less of an authority than “The Swami,” ESPN’s Chris Berman, believes it to be just that, according to Wood, who added that nobody seems able to produce evidence to debunk his claim.
When created in 1978, it cost teams 5 bucks a week to play. The Super Bowl winner got to take a date out for dinner with wine, and bring back the tab for the group to split. Now it’s $100 a week. The weekly winner in the 10-team league gets $600, the runner up $300 and third-place $100.
They split the NFL season, the “A” season being the first eight weeks and the “B” season being the final nine. There is a draft after each season. Each roster has 17 players and team owners may protect seven players at draft time. The remaining 10 go back into the draft.
At the conclusion of each season, they kick in another $250 each and the cumulative winner is declared Super Bowl champion, taking home $2,500.
“So there’s money to be made,” Wood said. “And it gets us all together a couple of times a year for our drafts as we all age.”
The A-Hilt Football League’s rules set it apart from most fantasy football leagues today. It is a scoring-only league. There are no bonus points for passing, rushing or receiving performances.
“It’s a keeper league, so it’s as much like the NFL as we can make it,” Wood said. “By having a ‘B’ season it keeps everybody’s interest up if you’re out of it by the end of the ‘A’ season.”
If an A-Hilt team owner wants a star player, his best bet is to draft him coming out of college and keep him on his roster, for instance a young quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert.
“Then you hope they develop as time moves on, just like the NFL does,” Wood said. “It’s really been fun, and exciting.
“And, as much as we love and respect each other, we still have a bloody rivalry when it comes to who wins that trophy,” Wood added. “It keeps our full attention. But even better, it’s kept us all together and communicating with each other for 42 years, which is awesome.”