Wow, dude has it been that long? Hey, where's the Cheetos?
I am partial to 2nd ed, and I loved the first ed Gygax modules (the Vault of the Drow series and Giants series). And I've got a shelfload of Dragon magazines. But really, the whole point was never the rules, but what you did with them. The nice thing about D&D was the fudge factor--as the DM, you could scale the difficulty level as you went to bring the party to the edge of defeat without wiping them out. More strictly defined rules systems didn't leave this leeway, because players could tell from the dice roll whether they had succeeded or not. In D&D the DM was always the final arbiter. Now you can run online adventures with Neverwinter Nights, so if your old D&D group has split up into different cities, you can still play together, but I'm not sure it or the 3rd edition gives the same leeway.
I was lucky in that I played in university with a bunch of people with multiple degrees. We had people in history, philosophy, english, political science, psychology, and engineering, all voracious readers, and a couple of hard core gamers. The interesting thing about running in a tabletop game is that the DM plays God, so you really get to see what their idea of justice, politics, economics, and human nature is. This led to a lot of interesting discussions on subjects like the nature of evil or medieval politics. We used to have pitched arguments about the difference between religion in the game world vs. the medieval world. The gods in the game world took active roles, while the God of the medieval church never intervened. This meant that religion in the game world was actually controlled by the gods--a very interesting premise.
Another interesting thing about D&D is that it is intended as a fully cooperative game. A lot of cooperative games were created in the 70's, but D&D is the only one that caught on. The opponents are provided by the DM, who nevertheless is not playing against the players. This was always missed by the hysterical critics, who were obsessed with the violence in the game or the mythical elements (eewwww--the occult!) Media coverage of the game in the early days was pathetic. They were always so intent on looking for a scare story that they couldn't see what was going on right in front of them: players working together in a creative hobby.