Matthew Berry is a fantasy voice for our generation, the man with the finger on the pulse of this obsession that’s taken America by storm and confused a lot of the female population.
Matthew Berry is an overrated hack who produces novella-length discussions about his personal life before cherry-picking stats from his ESPN colleagues to confirm his kiddie-pool-depth thoughts about fantasy sports.
I think that about covers it for how people perceive Mr. Berry. He’s either a one-man Mount Rushmore (I know football fans are tired of that analogy) or he’s history’s worst monster. I’m going to give his publisher a lot of credit on his recent book Fantasy Life. A copy of that book got into every fantasy expert’s hands from here to the North Pole. So many people got copies that even I procured a few. It’s time for a book review.
A straight narrative about Berry’s rise to unheard-of fame in an industry that existed in basements and chat rooms for a decade wouldn’t have been as effective. I think a lot of us already know his story of screenwriter to fantasy Walter White, minus all the killing.
Berry’s story is the spine of the book. We find out about his moving around a lot as a child and being an outsider as a Jewish kid in College Station. He ends up at Syracuse, cobbles together a sitcom using volunteers and borrowed equipment. He decides to go to Hollywood and bounces from TV writing job to TV writing job until he and his writing partner get their big break. I think most casual fans of Berry know his Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles story. He and his writing partner earned the gig by understanding the character, getting in a room with Paul Hogan and connecting. What became of that script and movie pushed Berry out, and we are better off for it.
Now, let’s get into the meat of the book. Each chapter discusses a different aspect of the fantasy experience. I’m in two leagues that have been together for a combined 20 years. We have been through a lot in that time, and real life does sneak into the fantasy football madness. A few things mentioned in the book that we haven’t done. We’ve never made our last-place team get a tattoo of Justin Bieber. I’ve never made a bet with a member of my league in which the loser has to show off an “I suck at fantasy football” sign in public.
We have scheduled a draft around the birth of our Commish’s daughter, in part because his brother-in-law’s wife didn’t know about the league and that was our only opportunity to sneak in the live draft. We do re-name our last place team, and the bottom four teams in our league play the Toilet Bowl playoffs because one year our last-place team tanked to “earn” the #1 pick. I did invite my father into my league so I’d have a ride home from the draft and he’s won the title twice since then, to zero times for me. I’ve twice lost to my biggest rival on week 13 to let him sneak in the playoffs, and both times he’s won the title. (Picture is of my dad, on the left, accepting our trophy from the Commish, who have to give up his precious.)
You may say that taking personal stories and making a book out of that is stealing someone else’s content. The point to the book is that fantasy football (screw those other sports) makes us do crazy obsessive things. It also brings us together into a community. This is the power of our modern internet age. That’s why I started my interview series and got on Twitter. To find this community. This book honors our community.
You’re going to find at least one crazy story that relates to your league and your life. You’re going to get new ideas for your leagues, or if you don’t play fantasy, you’ll at least get an understanding of this sensation if not decide to join a league of your own. I’m looking forward to our upcoming local keeper draft and the “conditioning drills” that we’ll have to pass before we draft. There will be booze.
Let’s not forget the happy ending. Berry went from a Razzie nominee to two successful fantasy sites to overseeing the entire ESPN fantasy empire. Then the perpetually single, divorced guy who used to start articles with novellas about his crappy dating life got involved with a divorced woman with three kids, got married and now have twins. I thought it was particularly touching that when his oldest step-son wanted to play fantasy football, he put together a parents and kids leagues including the child’s father. Maybe there’s more to this fantasy football thing than we all realize.
In short, apologies to Mark St. Amant (by the way, read his excellent interview with Berry), because there’s about to be a new fantasy sports book sheriff. Every fantasy sports player should read this book. You’ll nod, think “yeah, I’ve done something that crazy” and the room might get a little dusty a couple of times.