If you spend enough time in Las Vegas, you’ll eventually bump into somebody famous, but I didn’t expect it to happen during a high-roller fantasy football draft. That’s where I met Michael Aday, a.k.a. Meat Loaf, in 2004.
Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” was a staple of the classic rock stations I listened to while growing up, but decades later, I was much more impressed with the musician’s turn as Bob Paulson in David Fincher’s film “Fight Club.”
Fantasy sports combine a little skill with a lot of luck. Owners draft teams of actual players. The statistics those players accumulate during the season are converted into points that count toward your team. One point per catch, six points for a touchdown, etc. The team with the most points wins.
My brother, Emmett, is a fantasy sports guru who has cashed more checks playing fantasy sports than I ever will as a writer. (However, in 1999 I won $5,000 in a fantasy basketball playoff challenge and that was all skill, baby.) When my brother and I split the cost of a team, I am a co-manager in name only. He’s the brains of the operation and I’m the educated cheerleader.
The Main Event in Las Vegas cost $1,250 to enter, with a grand prize of $100,000. In fantasy sports, as in gambling, you have to risk money to make money. There were 224 teams divided into 16 leagues. As luck would have it, our team was in the same league as Meat Loaf’s team, which was the first and only time that statement was true.
There’s always a buzz in the Bellagio, but it went up a notch when Meat Loaf entered the draft hall. He was a big, hulking man in a black football jersey. He looked like Meat Loaf, but Meat Loaf fits the profile of a lot of fantasy sports geeks.
This was not, the organizer warned us, Meat Loaf’s first foray into fantasy sports. He had entered the Main Event before and held his own. The legend sat alone and he drafted his own team.
That night our team names were posted on the website. Our name was Yiz Fancy Pants, a line of dialog from the movie “Miller’s Crossing.” Meat Loaf’s was Spin Cycle Agitators.
During the fantasy season, we engaged in a little trash talking via the league’s chat function, but Meat Loaf didn’t take the bait. At the end of the contest it came down to the Spin Cycle Agitators vs. Yiz Fancy Pants in a head-to-head, win-or-go-home battle. The winner would advance to the playoffs, and the loser would not.
Things were not looking good for Yiz Fancy Pants. We limped into the last game of the fantasy season — a “Monday Night Football” contest between the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks. Meat Loaf had Jason Witten, the tight end, in his second season with the Cowboys. We had an injury-depleted wide receiver corps. So my brother picked up Jerry Rice from the waiver wire. Yes, that Jerry Rice.
After an incredible career with the San Francisco 49ers in which he won three Super Bowls, Rice did the unthinkable and went to the Raiders. By 2004, the bloom was off the rose, and six games into the season he was traded to Seattle, where he had a fairly miserable year. But my brother had noticed that in the previous two weeks his targets had gone up and he’d caught a touchdown pass. So we got him.
It was a brilliant move. Going into the fourth quarter, Rice had five catches, 77 yards and a touchdown on which he also set the NFL record for combined net yards. But Witten had six catches, and we were still losing.
Then the improbable happened. Down 12 points, Seattle scored three touchdowns to take the lead with 2:45 to go. But somehow Dallas managed to score two touchdowns. With less than 30 seconds left, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselback hit Rice for 28 yards, a play that was worth 3.8 points for our fantasy team, enough to let us squeak past Meat Loaf and advance to the playoffs.
The Seahawks lost, but Jerry Rice finished the night with eight catches, 145 yards and a touchdown. He was 42 years old.
Alas, that was it for Yiz Fancy Pants. Although we finished in the black, we didn’t cash any big checks. Meat Loaf had the multiplatinum records and the movie career. We had a little bit of football glory. As the wise man once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
Jim Ruland is the author of “Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records,” which will be published in April.