It Starts with a League
Everyone Remembers Their First Time
They were in a hot tub, and they were drunk.
Good friends from college, they played in a 10-team fantasy football league together. And as the drinks kept flowing, so did the trash talk.
"Everyone in the league was a college athlete, so egos are pretty big," Quin Kilgore remembers. "No one could even consider the thought of losing."
Trash talk leads to bets, and bets lead to rules, and by the end of the evening the group had come to a very simple, but very real, agreement.
Last place in the league ... has to get a tattoo.
Not some lame-ass henna tattoo that fades in a few weeks. No, we're talking a legit, full-on, chosen by the winner, for-the-rest-of-your-life tattoo. Nights that start drunk in a hot tub often end in regret, but "sobering up the next morning, we stuck with it," Quin tells me. "One of the guys in the league, Spud Mann, was in law school at the time and drew up a contract dictating size, placement, and tone of the tattoo."
The basic parameters: embarrassing tattoos are allowed, racist ones are not, and no going all Mike Tyson and putting it on the face. "Just before the draft that year, we all signed it. And of course, the first year the loser was the guy who drew up the contract ... Spud Mann."
Basically, the way the Tattoo League works is, in weeks 15 and 16, the top four play for the right to choose the tattoo and the bottom four are playing to avoid the tattoo. In year two, the loser was a guy named "Ron."
And in year three Adam Palmer got the, uh, honors.
Now, sometime between two-time league winner Dusty Carter explaining to a tattoo artist exactly what a "Tebowing Care Bear" should look like and then a year later trying to find the best picture of Justin Bieber to copy, JJ Dunn was in Spokane, Washington, working on one
of his 10 fantasy football teams.
"I had stayed up an hour longer than I was planning to adjust my roster, and because of that I was able to hear a very quiet sound coming from my son's room in the basement."
JJ decided to check out the sound before he went to bed. "I found my 13-year-old boy without a pulse. I started CPR and yelled for my wife to wake up and call 911. Paramedics got there quickly, and after a lot of effort, Jake's heart started pumping on its own. Jake has since been declared all but a miracle kid, suffering no brain damage. If it wasn't for fantasy football, I never would have been up at that hour and heard that. It may seem like hyperbole, but fantasy football helped save my son's life."
Getting the word loser permanently inked on your body and being the reason your child is still alive are polar opposite stories, but in the world of fantasy sports I got news for you: neither one surprises me.
When you're done with this book, you'll realize the same thing I did: From birth to funerals and everything in between, there is no aspect of life that fantasy doesn't touch.
Most important, it touches people. I've said this a million times in interviews over the years. Long before Twitter, Facebook, or even MySpace and Friendster, fantasy football was the original online community. And now there are millions of people with the same shared experiences.
From friends from high school, college, or work, to couples, families, and even people you've only "met" online ... I know of leagues from every walk of life. Heikki Larsen and the "Margarillas" play while on tour with Jimmy Buffett. Many major league baseball players have a clubhouse fantasy football league with their teammates, including CC Sabathia, who would like you to know he's the 2012 New York Yankees clubhouse champion. There are leagues with prison inmates and leagues done on Army bases overseas. Dr. Melanie Friedlander plays in a league of all orthopedic surgeons. All 10 owners in Don Carlson's league are from Fire Station 1 in the Los Angeles Fire Department. And Miss January 2010, Jaime Edmondson, plays in a league with fellow Playboy playmates.
I've heard of leagues in the White House and US Senate; leagues with all female lawyers, with Hollywood agents, and high stakes ones comprised of Vegas casino owners. David Bailey runs a 12-person league with six real-life couples. The trash talk gets pretty intense in that one. The cast of the Broadway play Rock of Ages has a league, as does Petty Officer 2nd Class Dick Shayne Fossett and the squadron aboard the USS George H. W. Bush. Jay-Z plays in a high-stakes league with music producers, record execs, and the people who run the 40/40 club. In fact, many celebrities play. Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers is a longtime player, as are actors Paul Rudd, Jason Bateman, Ashton Kutcher, and Elizabeth Banks. Daniel Radcliffe, "Harry Potter" himself, once told my podcast audience that Anquan Boldin was his "Fantasy Voldemort." Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the pit-crew guys at Hendrick Motorsports have a league, and there are tons of high-stakes Wall Street leagues. Priests, Rabbis, and Ministers sounds like the start of a joke, but it's actually three different fantasy leagues I know of.
The best part of fantasy is that it gives people who normally would not have a reason to interact an excuse to talk. From the CEO and mailroom guys to long-lost cousins to everyone in between, they all have one thing in common:
Fantasy brings them together.
Adapted from FANTASY LIFE: The Outrageous, Uplifting and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports From the Guy Who's Lived It by Matthew Berry by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright 2013 by Matthew Berry.