by Sal Leto
Wow!!! So this is it. The end of an amazing era. There are certain things that set the timeline of your life and make you think about the years, where you’ve been and where the time has gone. For me, sadly (LOL), the columns written by Matthew Berry have been exactly that for nearly 20 summers. I’ve read these columns since before I was married or became a dad and they were still there for me as that marriage ended and I too began to wave farewell to my kids starting college.
It is crazy to think what fantasy football has become since that Summer in 1995 when I had just turned 21 years old and my older cousins had invited me to the South Jersey Fantasy Football League. I still remember my first three picks. Dan Marino, Herman Moore and Thurman Thomas. I was hooked instantly. In those days it was magazines and newspapers only and you craved tidbits of info that could give you that edge.
I had an idea that I would go back to school for broadcasting and in someway maybe do sports, maybe even something Fantasy related. I would get married to my high school sweetheart in February 1999. We talked about traveling and careers and waiting to have children. So you could imagine my surprise when a month or so after the honeymoon we found out she was pregnant. Nothing else mattered, I was going to be a dad and I was going to work hard to take care of my family. That meant putting aside school and any thoughts of broadcasting or fantasy writing and doing whatever it took to provide.
I had already been working in construction and the money was good so I stuck with it. We bought a house, settled in and I got my first home computer. I instantly looked for fantasy football information. What a different world it was using a computer back then and with dial up I had to be cautious not to run up the phone bills. I had seen Rotoworld and come across Matthew Berry but never paid to much mind to him. But, year after year, there he was and when he made it to ESPN I was like woah, this is actually a thing now? Ten years earlier I thought it would be fun to write or get friends involved but this guy was on the World Wide Leader in Sports and talking Fantasy Football.
It conjured up old feelings and made me long for that dream. But here I was with my third kid on the way about to move into a bigger house and bills about as high as you could imagine living on Long Island. So I put aside those thoughts and I went back to work. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t resent or regret a minute of it. I had a beautiful family and to me being a good family man was all I needed to be successful. So I followed along with Matthew and watched his brand grow. In someways I lived vicariously through him.
I continued to play fantasy football in more and more leagues as another 10 years passed by when I saw this ad for the Fantasy Life App. I had read the book and knew this had to be a Matthew Berry product so I downloaded it. It was here where I would find others like me. Some new to the game and some who had been around as long if not longer than myself but all had one thing in common. They were all crazy about fantasy sports.
I found myself spending a lot of time there. See, that perfect marriage was no longer so perfect and time had taken a toll on happiness. The kids were getting older and I found myself alone more. I had joined a league on the app named FLAFFL (Fantasy Life App Fantasy Football League). We opened a chat. That chat was supposed to be for league discussions. What that chat became was over 15,000 fantasy fanatics who had turned to us to be their guides.
What FLAFFL turned into was basically what I had wanted more than 20 years ago. My chance to be a fantasy football analyst. And I, along with the others, were in high demand and answering questions and it was growing. So much so that on Christmas Day of 2015, Matthew Berry himself came into the chat and thanked us. What!?! Yes, the man himself was so appreciative of what we had been doing for his app that he took time from his schedule to visit. And this wasn’t the only time. Matthew made a few more appearances and they were all special.
We had an idea to do a podcast. I had a lot more free time now and needed the outlet from real life. So it was born in February 2016, The FLAFFL House Fantasy Football Podcast. We were terrible but we kept at it. We even had a very special guest on episode ten, you guessed it Matthew Berry.
We got better, grew a following and have since had more amazing guests join us as we’ve gotten more friendly with people in the industry. Last year, inspired by Matthew Berry’s famed Love/Hate articles, I started a column on our website named Sink or Swim. In no way was it to the level of Matthews column but it was my own little slice. And I would finish it on Wednesday’s and always wait till Thursdays to see how my list of players compared to his. Whenever they matched, it was a gratifying benchmark which made me see I could do this. I could never see myself as competition to TMR but more of a little brother looking for his approval.
When I read this year's preseason Love/Hate column, only to find out it would be the last one he ever wrote, I was sad. But after reading through and seeing his journey it made me smile. It also comforted me that I too would be okay. Here I am 44 years old, trying to break into the fantasy industry (dare I say full time) and the guy who has always been my wing man for fantasy advice was doling out the best life advice for which I could have asked. I have spoken to Matthew on air, through email and have met him in person twice. Today I want to say thank you, my friend. Thank you for being there throughout my life’s journey and for inspiring me to never give up on a dream even if it over twenty years old.