How Fantasy Becomes Life: Matthew Berry’s “Fantasy Life”

UPDATED: With an actual “Thank You” tweet from Mr. Berry himself! Second time I’ve been Tweeted by a famous football person! (Tony Dungy thanked me for liking his kid’s book last year sometime).

Imagine being late to your own wedding because you and your buddies were drawing numbers for the upcoming fantasy draft.

Imagine breaking your spine and then days later drafting your team while a nurse drains your bladder with a catheter.

Or my favorite … Imagine wearing a lion outfit and then being hunted with paint ball guns by 12 of your fantasy football buddies because you finished last in your league.

All true stories. All detailed in Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of *Fantasy Sports* From The Guy Who’s Lived It.

Fantasy Life

If you’re not familiar with Berry then you’re probably not reading this “review.”

Berry is ESPN’s Senior Fantasy analyst, meaning he has one of the coolest jobs in the world!

Berry started playing fantasy sports as a four-eyed teenager in College Station, Texas, before eventually becoming a screenwriter in Hollywood, writing for the hit sitcom Married With Children and co-writing the screenplay to Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (You seem puzzled. I did too. Had to hit up IMDB to make sure it was a legit flick, after reading the entertaining story).

Berry followed his showbiz career up by becoming the “Talented Mr. Roto,” starting his own website with the same name, and becoming a staple amongst fantasy sports addicts, like myself, who needed a second opinion on who we should start that week, or just to make sure we weren’t totally alone in our geekdom.

I wasn’t a fan of Berry at first, mostly because I was so jealous that he actually followed through with what he wanted to do and became an “expert” in the field of fantasy sports and more importantly, writing about fantasy sports. Call it jealousy. I had spent most of my late high school and subsequent community college years either skipping class to play fantasy sports, or to follow around a girl I had no future with. I took two quarters of journalism and that was the end of my writing career until I happened upon a high school sports writing job at a local newspaper eight years later. Now I sell insurance, occasionally contribute to PopBlerd!, or scribble on her to my vast audience of 10 or 12 ex-stay at home mom’s that periodically read my stuff. Hi Moms!

Now, I love Berry’s writing. His “Draft Day Manifesto,” “Love/Hate,” and “100 Facts” are all must-reads before any fantasy season. And I like the personal stories that he throws into each column, in an attempt to help the reader get to know him, as if it’s a friend that’s giving us this fantasy advice.

It’s those personal stories, intertwined with stories from the fantasy football world, that make Berry’s book a must-read for anyone that has ever played fantasy sports or been related to someone who has played fantasy sports.

Since he didn’t ask me for my personal stories, I thought I would touch on a few items he discussed in Fantasy Life, using the some of the chapter titles he used, and discuss how they’ve related to my fantasy life.

It Starts with a League

From 1986-1992, Dapper Dan (on the left, held by me) went from Cy Young starter to Cy Young reliever! The dude was Mariano Rivera before there was a Mariano Rivera.
From 1986-1992, Dapper Dan (on the left, held by me) went from Cy Young starter to Cy Young reliever! The dude was Mariano Rivera before there was a Mariano Rivera.

I ran fantasy baseball and basketball leagues during my freshman and sophomore years of high school (and actually if we’re telling stories, ran an imaginary baseball league, full of stats, stories, statistical breakdowns and filled with rosters mostly consisting of my stuffed animals, toys and real-life friends from the ages of 8 to dare I say 13?), and though I loved those leagues, it’s the fantasy football league I joined in 2001 with a co-worker of mine, and a few of primarily his buddies that I consider my first real league.

If you read my Draft Do’s and Don’ts from a couple of weeks back (click here if you didn’t) then you might remember the 16-team keeper league I referenced. This is that league. I keep a spreadsheet of league history (before Yahoo! made it easier to do that) from total win-loss record, most points scored in a game, longest winning or losing streak and so on. It’s the one league that I focus on. After all, you never really forget your first.

Drafting in Strange Places

Our third year in existence we decided to do a draft at Hooters. You’re all familiar with Hooters. We borrowed the banquet room, set up shop and actually cruised along without all the distraction that a Hooters may offer. That’s until one of the better-looking waitresses decided to help out the other better-looking waitress by fixing a kink in her back. So as we attempted to get through the middle rounds of our draft, the 12 or so (we weren’t at 16 then) mostly dudes kept getting distracted by grunts and moans (not from us) as one waitress straddled the other whilst massaging her back. Yes, wearing those shiny orange shorts.

We’ve since moved our drafts to Buffalo Wild Wings, and have had some memorable drafts after that, but for oddity, laughter and a little uncomfortableness, that draft topped them all.

When Fantasy Interrupts Life

In the book Berry talks about how important moments in our life (marriage, birth of a child) can sometimes get in the way of our love for fantasy sports. I’ll steal an excerpt from my personal blog called “Diary of a Delivery: Day 1” to explain how this section hit home.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

7:34 a.m. – I awake from my uncomfortable sleep on the couch and check on Lis. She’s wide awake and says she’s been having contractions since 6am and about every 10 minutes thereafter. Rats! I have a live auction baseball draft at 10am. How will this pan out?

8:38 a.m. – Lis sits uncomfortably on the chair in the living room. She’s not in pain, she just looks like she’s waiting for something to happen. I wonder if I should ditch my Early Stages of Labor wife for a baseball draft. Argh…my two loves fighting it out for me.

9:22 a.m. – I make the toughest decision I’ve made since I chose the Bleu Ribbon Burger over the Whiskey River® BBQ Chicken Wrap the night before, and choose my baseball draft over Lis. I hope I’m not as wrong as I was the night before. Definitely should’ve gone with the wrap. A couple of things went into my decision. She wasn’t in pain. The contractions weren’t speeding up but actually slowing down and it’s a live in-person auction draft. So cool!

10:03 a.m. – I made it! Seven guys (yes, that’s it) sit around a table, in a conference room, in a nice office building, staring at a spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets) that have 29 empty cells waiting for names to fill them up like cookies in a jar (sorry first thing I could think of. Break time for a snack!). It sounds geeky to most of you but for us fantasy nerds it’s one of the best times of the year. I wasn’t an auction draft fan until I tried it last year. Someone nominates a player then we go back and forth spending $260 on our roster and talking baseball. All that equals a good time for Kevy.

10:40 a.m. – I spend $40 on my favorite player, Evan Longoria. I could’ve kept him for $38 and nearly got him for $37 before Steve and his Dad bid him up two more spots to $40.

1:30 p.m. – Three-and-a-half hours later and the draft ends. I call Lis to ask how she’s doing. She’s feeling fine and the contractions have slowed down. I want to tell her about how well I thought I did in my draft but don’t want to excite her too much. I mean a 5-man rotation of Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, David Price and Brandon Morrow? C’mon! I love the power-speed dudes and I got a plethora of possible 20-20 guys in Longoria, Ian Kinsler, Alexei Ramirez, Ian Desmond, Nelson Cruz, Andrew McCutchen, Drew Stubbs and Grady Sizemore. I’m pumped!

Berry mentions the Fantasy Gods. Yah … I was punished. I finished six out of seven. Oh, and that baby?  He was born a day later, a healthy 9-lbs and 20-1/2 inches long and looks like a future linebacker – and more importantly, fantasy sports player – in the making.

My first two kids were both born in the midst of fantasy football season. After the first one was born I reeled off 12 straight to win the title. The second one, not as good, but the team name I used for my fantasy basketball league is still my favorite, “The Crowning Mohawks.” You figure that one out yourself.

Meanwhile, my almost 9-year-old attended his second fantasy draft this year and we formed a separate fun fantasy league, just so he can have a taste! Dude snagged the No. 1 pick, correctly picked Adrian Peterson, then made his first homer mistake by taking Russell Wilson at No. 24. Unfortunately in Week 1 he played me and Peyton Manning’s seven TDs. Overall, I think he has a solid team!

When Death Impacts Fantasy

Just as much as life impacts fantasy, fantasy is often impacted by death. I’m 36-years-old and play with people mostly my age. Unfortunately, in the last five years my two primary leagues have been affected by a death of one of our veteran fantasy football brothers.

It was 2008 when Dan passed away. He was allergic to peanuts and everyone knew it. Unfortunately at a family party someone didn’t let him know, he bit into a cookie and two days later our Sports Editor was letting us know that our co-worker, and more importantly, our fantasy brother, had passed away. It was odd not having him around. He was the dude that talked the most smack, that sent the most whacked-out trade requests, that thought he knew more about fantasy than the rest of us. Sarge was consistently competitive (except when he decided to bail on his team and trade me Chris Paul, Pao Gasol, and Rasheed Wallace for Jeff Green, Mark Blount, Shane Battier and Antonio Daniels in a trade that was quickly vetoed by everyone BUT me. What? You’d accept the trade too if it came across your desk.) Sure, most of the time it was annoying, but afterwards you realize that every league needs someone like that.  Dan passed away during the middle of baseball season, so in honor of him we decided to forgo paying out the winner and instead give the winnings to his family. It was the least we could do.

Last summer we lost a second fantasy brother. This one was closer as we had played together for 12 years, with most of our drafts held at his house.  Chris suffered a spinal cord injury during a tackling drill, his freshman season of football, and at the very young age of 17. He was paralyzed from the neck down, and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. That didn’t stop him from getting at it. The dude turned his house into a gym for quadriplegics, complete with weight machines and an exercise pool. It was awesome! Unfortunately he didn’t get to see his dream finalized as he passed away in an apparent wheelchair accident this past summer. There are plenty of stories we can share about Chris, most of them you wouldn’t find amusing unless you knew him. But the loss was felt in our league. In honor of Chris we will be naming our trophy after him. Ironically or not, Chris holds the league record for most playoff appearances without a championship.

As Berry mentioned, and I’ll second, if you play in a league long enough your league begins to feel like a brother or sisterhood. I see most of them once a year, and that’s at the draft, but for five months I feel like I’m hanging out with them every weekend. Writing up game-by-game previews, talking smack, congratulating them on wins or new records. This game brings us together in a way that’s hard to explain.

RIP fellas!

Chris's brother, Brian, honors Chris with this No. 61 Seahawks jersey. The same number Chris sported.
Chris’s brother, Brian, honors Chris with this No. 61 Seahawks jersey. The same number Chris sported.

The Most Soul-Crushing Ways to Lose

This might fit into No. 1 on Berry’s list of the Top 20 Most Soul-Crushing Ways to Lose: The Combo Meal …

I usually never come home from a draft giddy. But I was giddy! My wife saw the smile across my face. I had just joined a new league, a league where nobody knew who I was, other than I was the local insurance agent. In fact, the dude asked me while we were drafting, “If you have any questions on how to draft or any of the players, don’t hesitate to ask.” I nodded in agreement, when in fact I was channeling Darth’s “All too easy.”

I snagged Ray Rice in Round 1 and followed him up with Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson (later traded for Rob Gronkowski, my first indication that this was going to go sour fast), Matt Ryan, Aaron Hernandez (don’t laugh), Dez Bryant and Doug Martin in Round 8. Yah, if you walked into the house after that draft you’d be smiling as if you had a hanger in your mouth too!

Not being a football fan, but knowing about past fantasy football experiences, my wife was quick to warn me about getting too excited. The season hadn’t started and I was already claiming the championship.

I dominated the season finishing 10-3, winning my division by 2-1/2 and outscoring the second place finisher by 135.5 points. I had a first place bye and then it happened. I choked. My lowest point total all season was 93 points, and that was in Week 2. In my first round game I scored 73.5 points. 73.5 points! That’s just one of the reasons this was my worst fantasy loss EVER!

Reason No. 2: If you’re players aren’t injured, don’t change them on Sunday morning! Sunday morning, with my new “fancy” phone that I could check the Internet with, I decided to switch out Julio Jones for the hot Danario Alexander. Alexander had averaged 20.5 points per game in his last five games, coming into that contest. Jones was coming off a 6.5 point performance against the worst defense in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints. And if Ryan was going to tank I wasn’t going to allow him to bring Jones down with him. Guess what? Alexander had a goose egg, Jones scored 14.5 points.

Reason No. 3: Miraculously my opponent was struggling as well. I was still up by 11 points leading into the Patriots-Niners Sunday night matchup. He had Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski hit one field goal and four extra points, but the Niners led 41-31 with less than a minute to go. Now, I already hate Bill Belichuk because I hate the Patriots, but what he did after that really hurt me. With 38 seconds remaining he decided to kick a field goal from 41 yards out. It would cut the Niners lead to seven and then allow the Patriots to on-side kick in hopes of recovering and winning the game with 25 seconds to play! Jerk! Gostkowski nailed it, a four-point field goal thus tying our score at 73.5-73.5.


Reason No. 4: OK … I check the tie breakers. I win every tiebreaker scenario. Regular season head-to-head? Check. Bench scoring? Check. Points in regular season? Check. Touchdowns scored that week? Check. So Monday morning I’m feeling OK. I advanced, barely. Phew! I can wipe the sweat from my brow and start fresh next week, eventually winning what is rightfully mine! Except that the Commish had signed us up for an Individual Defensive Player league (without IDPs). When we drafted he forgot to mark that we were drafting defensive players, however, our offensive players still receive defensive player stats! So get this, his quarterback, Cam Newton fumbled (which, for some reason we don’t receive negative points for?!) then recovered his own fumble (which he RECEIVED two points for). Oh and thanks to tackles by Mike Williams and Dallas Clark, my opponent ended up winning 78.5-73.5. Guess what happened next week? I scored 122 points, and would’ve won the championship by 29.5 points. I won $50, lost out on $300 and wasn’t invited back this year!

Jump on that football Cam, it's worth more than if you drop it!
Jump on that football Cam, it’s worth more than if you drop it!

Again, the Fantasy Gods were talking. I’m never this giddy after a draft. But, my wife was right. Never get too excited before the games are played! I hate when she does that!


What wasn’t a loss was the enjoyment I had while reading Berry’s book. As you can tell, I found it very relatable, and entertaining. I laughed out loud more than a few times. I enjoyed his sharing of his personal story and I enjoyed reading about all the other fantasy stories, both learning from them and their mistakes.

If you’re a fantasy sports aficionado I highly recommend this book. Thanks Spoo! It will be shared and re-read.

Grade: A-

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