Fantasy football blitz

From trash talk to 'friendly' trades, let the season begin

A fantasy football player watches the draft board during an ESPN mock draft to prepare for this year’s season.



Matthew Berry, an ESPN senior fantasy sports analyst, is among the identifiable fantasy sports experts today. He recently authored “Fantasy Life” with stories about his life in fantasy sports, along with anecdotes from others through the years.

The stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to shake-your-head-in-disbelief sad.

The book is an entertaining read for anyone who loves fantasy sports and may offer insight as to why millions play every year.

Below are several paraphrased anecdotes, including page numbers, that readers will find in “Fantasy Life.”

■ Members from a fantasy league set up among friends from the Newman Center at Ball State University all grow out mustaches a month before the draft. One guy takes photographs and turns the pictures in 1970s-era football cards for each person. (Pages 22–23)

■ Two men were stationed in northern Iraq outside Kirkuk as part of a scout weapons team charged to protect the base from rocket attacks, among other duties. They woke up at 4 a.m. Iraqi time to fly a mission and be back in time to draft, spending the entire time in air planning the draft while in a war zone. (Pages 40–41.)

■ A 40-year-old man assaulted his 66-year-old father about a dispute from their fantasy football league payout. (Pages 82–83)

■ A man was in a motorcycle crash on the morning of his draft, fracturing his pelvis and both hips. He called his mom from the ambulance to remind her to bring his “handwritten player rankings to the emergency room. He was admitted and on morphine 10 minutes before the draft. The drugs made him a bit loopy and he sang “Black Betty” repeatedly during the draft. (Pages 127–128)

■ A man joined a fantasy league for the first time and was undefeated through eight weeks. Then, he just disappeared and stopping setting lineups. Other league members set the man’s lineup for several weeks before finding out he’d been murdered. The league kept setting his team every week and it never lost. It was the first time in the league’s history a team went undefeated, and the surviving league members sent the winnings to the man’s sister. (Pages 159–160)

Eric Reel was desperate. He had great running backs but a ho-hum group of receivers, so he proposed a trade with fantasy football league mate Nate Richardson: Adrian Peterson in exchange for receivers Mike Wallace and Pierre Garcon, plus tight end Aaron Hernandez.

(This was last year.)

In addition to Peterson, Richardson also got a six-pack of Sam Adams Octoberfest beer. After all, Reel really wanted the trade to go through. Peterson had been mildly productive through the first couple weeks, but Reel thought he had enough depth at running back to afford losing Peterson for much-needed help at receiver.


After the trade in Week 3 or 4, Richardson said, Peterson went on to rush for the second most yards ever in a NFL season.

Reel lost in the championship game by 0.8 of a point and “chucked” a large glass mug on the ground, shattering it.

“I have gotten second two years in a row,” Reel said. “It sucks.”

He’s ready for more.

Reel is one of an untold number of people worldwide who plays fantasy sports every year. ESPN senior fantasy sports analyst Matthew Berry, who recently released the book “Fantasy Life,” estimated the number at more than 35 million.

With the NFL season less than a week away — the regular season begins Thursday, Sept. 5 — it’s time for fantasy football players to once again focus on building teams, setting lineups and proposing trades in an effort to have the best real fantasy football team out there.

But some may question why anyone plays fantasy football.

“My wife consistently gives me heat about it. She just thinks I’m totally ludicrous spending this much time on it, and she’s probably right,” said Daily Sentinel sports columnist Rick Jussel, who has played in numerous leagues since the early 1980s.

Other fans, however, can’t imagine a football season without it.

“It turns any average fan into a beast of a fan,” said Jeff Schuster, who has played fantasy football since 2009 but is joining the Woodchuck League with Richardson, Reel and several other local men for the first time this season.

At its core, fantasy football is entertainment, a chance for family and friends to get together for parties, good-natured ribbing and competition, which is entirely the point of the Woodchuck League, a league formed in 2007 by a group of friends at then-Mesa State College.

The men typically get together on Wednesday nights for “Guy’s Night” when schedules allow and the topic of fantasy football inevitably surfaces.

Expect to be mercilessly teased and laughed at for perceived mistakes or losses, the guys said, and that trash talking, as it’s called, continues throughout the season.

“It’s a text or call every day reminding you you’re worthless and bad at life,” said Woodchuck League member Travis Freese.

Everyone around him laughed, noting that the trash talk isn’t personal; it’s business. And that business is winning the league and the cash prize that comes with it.

Although the Woodchuck League plays for cash, with each player putting $20 into the pot at the beginning of the season in the 10-team league, not every local league has money on the line.

In fact, argued Dan Coulter, commissioner of the Monkey Toes Fantasy Football League, taking money out of the equation, “makes it a little friendlier.”

This is the third year each member will pay $10 to play in the Monkey Toes league, with all fees going to a local Relay for Life team’s fundraising effort.

Coulter gets prize donations and sponsorships to give the league winner something, but it’s not money.

Coulter is interested in starting more charitable fantasy leagues, he said, because he enjoys playing fantasy football, running leagues and using the fees for charity.

Anyone interested in starting a charity league, sponsoring a league or joining his, can email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

“It’s a way to be a part of the sport,” Coulter said. “It’s entertainment. It’s fun.”

Admittedly, he is a Broncos fan first and a fantasy football owner second. Consequently, “I don’t pick any Raiders” and “I make sure I always have at least one Bronco.”

In news that may surprise some, however, Jussel, a well-documented Bronco fan, would rather his fantasy team win than the Broncos, if it is just one game in the regular season.

“But if it’s the playoffs, it’s the Broncos,” he said.

Well, then, Jussel, what about a Broncos Super Bowl win or a fantasy football league title?

“If (winning fantasy) is going to make me $100 or $200, I’d rather have the Broncos win, but if I was going to win $5,000, I’d say heck with the Broncos,” Jussel said with a laugh.

Although some leagues likely have held their auctions or drafts already, the upcoming Labor Day weekend represents one of the biggest fantasy football draft weekends of the year because it’s the final weekend before the regular season starts.

“We do a potluck draft, and this year the in-laws will host on Aug. 31,” said Coulter, who lost to his wife last year in the Monkey Toes league because “she’s been pretty good.”


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