Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate for Week 11

    • Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
    • Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
    • Best-selling author of “Fantasy Life”

Kevin Negandhi understood the assignment.

We’ve been friends for a long time, and in fact, our offices are right next to each other. So recently I popped in and asked him a quick question.

“Hey, so every year for my column, I do this bit where I ask someone to interview me. I’ve done it with Michelle Beadle, Jeremy Schaap, Mina Kimes, a group one featuring a bunch of ESPN folks, and this year I’d love for you to do it. You can ask me whatever you want — funny, serious, whatever — any subject and I’ll answer in my column. Would you be willing to do it?”

Kevin, of course, has interviewed tons of people over the years on SportsCenter and as a big part of our college football coverage. He’s among the best broadcasters we have here at ESPN and is also the nicest human on the planet, so it was no surprise Kevin quickly said yes.

As I said, Kevin understood the assignment. Here we go: the 2021 edition of the TMR FAQ.

Kevin: Heard real estate around your office has skyrocketed with the new neighbor moving in next door. … Disappointed that you didn’t bring a housewarming gift, but please keep the noise down over there. How many interviews do you do a day?

Me: Wait, you mean asking you to do this interview isn’t a good office-warming present? Huh. OK. Well, when you invite me to an office-warming party, I’ll bring something. In the meantime, this just shows our fans how incredibly kind you are. I NEVER hear you, so I assumed the walls were thick enough that you couldn’t hear me. Apparently you can, but of course you never said anything. I’ll try to keep it down.

But yeah, one of the results of living in a COVID-19 world is that I can’t remember the last in-person meeting I had. The content from Love/Hate informs a lot of other shows and things I do, so there are two meetings about this column alone plus calls with producers for the daily Fantasy Focus podcast, The Fantasy Show on ESPN+ and Fantasy Football Now. I also have a bunch of random meetings with bosses and advertisers, and then there’s life stuff like doctors or parent-teacher conferences. I feel like my life is spent on Zoom. So the answer to your question is A LOT. During football season I basically work seven days a week, but I have a much lighter schedule in the offseason, so the good news is it’ll calm down in January. But until then, I think I just came up with the perfect office-warming gift. What size ear muffs do you wear?

Kevin: I know you have kids relatively close to the age of our oldest. Big debate in our house, so no pressure, but we’re counting on you. At what age do you allow your kids to have a cellphone?

Me: I don’t know what the proper answer is; I just know that I’m sure it’s wrong. I struggle so much with how best to raise my kids in a digital world. My daughters just turned 10, and one has a phone and one has an iPad she uses. To be honest, we struggled with this one a lot. The challenge for us was weighing safety and giving them too much online freedom at a young age with the fact that all of their friends have them. While I’m not a believer in keeping up with the Joneses, I also think it’s important for young children not to feel ostracized or left out of their friend group for something that is solvable. My daughters’ friends all play Roblox, and it’s a way they connect and interact with their friends, talking through that game with one another while they play.

What put us over the edge was the pandemic and the girls stuck at home with no interaction with their peer group. We thought that being able to connect with their friends, somehow, someway, was more important than any fears we had. So we caved. They have daily screen limits and parental controls on everything, and my wife and I both know their passcodes and we make sure they have activities (currently both do dance, one plays soccer and the other is on a gymnastics competition team), but yeah, I have no idea what is right on any of this stuff. I’m just trying to muddle my way through as a parent as best I can.

Kevin: As a commissioner of an ESPN fantasy league, I deal with a scoring issue every now and then, maybe a controversial trade, but most of the time it’s been smooth for over a decade. But there’s always that one owner who never pays on time, that you have to chase his entry fee all season and he is beyond obnoxious — and everyone wants that guy out of the league, but I keep him on board. I’m curious: What’s the worst commissioner story you can share in print? (You can tell me the real one in person, neighbor.)

Me: Oh man, I’ve heard so many over the years, but I think the worst story I’ve ever heard I actually put in my book, “Fantasy Life.” A guy I called “Travis” (I changed his name) thinks he has won a playoff game by a half-point, as his running back got 100 yards and he got a one-point 100-yard bonus. Two days later, a stat correction comes out and the RB’s yardage total is changed to 99. No bonus, Travis loses by a half-point.

But he’s the commish, so he goes in that night and changes his league’s scoring so that he, Travis, remains the winner, hoping no one would notice. Pretty bad, right? But here’s what makes it the worst to me.

Travis is a pastor. And he runs a league of pastors from his church (a big church in Oklahoma) and surrounding churches in his town. Eventually the guilt gets so bad for him, he comes clean to his leaguemates and, eventually, to me for my book.

By the way, he no longer runs that league, and he actually moved to a new church in another state soon after that, he felt such shame. But still. When a commish who is also a man of the cloth cheats … that’s hard to top.

Kevin: Aren’t you in like 10 leagues? How do you manage who is where and which team deserves more of your attention? Do you draft the same guys for multiple teams?

Me: It’s 16 leagues, actually, but who’s counting? I also help out a few celebrities/athletes/VIPs, so I have to keep track of their teams on some level too, which means the real number is closer to like 24. Every year I try to pare the number down, but it never works out. Doing waivers every week legit takes me multiple hours. But it’s mostly a putting-out-fires kind of thing. I pay attention to the teams that need it most. Like, I will ignore teams for a while, just making sure I have a set lineup, but if I notice a team has lost a few in a row or something, then I focus and am like, “OK, what do I need to do here?” Then I’ll start looking for trades or ways to improve that team. There are definitely leagues I care about more than others, but in general, my attention goes to the teams that need it most at any given moment.

I try to diversify some, but I just draft by my rankings. Sometimes I am an outlier on a player — this year I was significantly higher than everyone else on Austin Ekeler, my fantasy ride or die, so I have a ton of Ekeler because I was willing to draft him much earlier than anyone else. So because of that, I wind up with a decent amount of overlap of players.

Because we reach so many people on ESPN, playing in a bunch of leagues with different formats, league sizes and rules helps me with analysis, so I consider it a big part of my job. Thank goodness for the ESPN Fantasy app so I can do everything on the go.

Kevin: Big test here on your fandom: Do you root for your fantasy player if he scores against your own team, Washington? How do you approach this conflict?

Me: Luckily for me, everyone scores against my Washington Football Team, so it’s not really a conflict. Jokes aside, being in so many leagues means that almost every player who scores in any game is likely on one of my teams somewhere and playing against me somewhere else. So my rooting order is: I root for Washington in the NFL first and foremost, then I root for my picks. Like, I have Joe Burrow listed as a “love” below. I’ll root for him to crush this week and vindicate my faith in him even though he’s on my opponents’ teams in every league. Then I root for whichever fantasy team of mine might need a win that week or if I am playing a good friend or big rival.

Kevin: I’m a big Marvel fan, so your appearance in “Endgame” is probably the reason you’re at the top of the Negandhi Christmas party list when it comes to invites. How many takes did that scene require? And which person on the set asked you the most fantasy football questions? I need to know if Robert Downey Jr. qualifies to get an invitation (although my wife would divorce me on the spot the minute he walks in).

Me: Asking me about “Endgame” might be the quickest way to my heart, so I definitely made the right choice in asking you to do this. (Spoiler alert here for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.) The scene I am in took two days to film. There’s a lot going on in that scene, and there’s also a bunch of special effects and CGI, as that scene also includes the Hulk crashing through a wall and tiny Ant-Man crawling through Tony’s shirt, plus there are also two Tonys in that scene, with present-day Tony Stark watching 2012 Tony Stark. So we had to shoot the scene from a lot of different angles, including from “each” Tony’s point of view. I think we did about seven takes of that scene in each camera position, but it really took only one or two times to nail it. The rest were just the cast trying some different jokes or slightly different actions just to give the Russo brothers choices.

I spoke the most fantasy football on set with Joe Russo, who is a hard-core fantasy player and the reason I am in the movie. You can read more about how I got in the movie and the experience here, but there was a fantasy football league among the crew, and they all wore their jerseys on the second day of filming for me. So I talked with them a lot too; they were all so great. Of the cast members, I probably talked fantasy the most with Robert Downey Jr. and his right-hand man, the late, great Jimmy Rich, who was a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Thanks again to Kevin for playing along with my dumb premise and to Damian Dabrowski for his help at various other points in this column. Let’s get to it.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 11

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