Thousands attend 1st Fantasy Football Fest

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- How big of a fantasy football fan is Don Thompson of Shelby Township, Mich.?

He, along with his 10-year-old son Reese, flew from Detroit to Philadelphia and then took one-hour transportation to the Convention Center here for the first Fantasy Football Fest.

"I'm here to draft for the National Fantasy Football Championship, and I brought Reese because he wants to see some NFL players," said Thompson, who was wearing a Detroit Lions jersey. "That's why this event is excellent for the both of us."

For the first time, football fans could see some of their favorite NFL stars such as Michael Vick and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and also some of the top fantasy football analysts such as ESPN's Matthew Berry and CBS' Dave Richard in one place.

More than several thousand fans showed up for the two days of events with legends signing autographs, panelists, 60 or so exhibitors and food vendors. Oh, also several players from the Lingerie Football League were putting on an exhibition.

"You never know what to expect when it's the first time," said Greg Topalian, senior vice president of organizer ReedPOP. "The most important thing is if fans like it and have a good time, they'll be back. People seem to be enjoying the combination of fantasy expertise and rubbing elbows with some of the legends of the game."

Topalian, whose group helps create New York Comic Con and other fan festivals, said the time is right for a celebration of football and fantasy sports with 30 million people playing. And Atlantic City seemed like the perfect spot.

"We wanted to be team-agnostic, drawing from Eagles, Jets, Giants and Redskins fans," Topalian said. "We wanted people to come, enjoy their day and then maybe go see a show or gamble."

Kelly, who retired in 1996 and was inducted into the Hall in 2002, was there Saturday afternoon for two hours of signing autographs.

One funny moment was when a fan wanted him to sign a Buffalo jersey and signify the fact that the Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row.

"You're killing me, man," said Kelly, who had played 10 years for the Bills.

So Kelly just signed the jersey, "4 time AFC champion."

Kelly, who normally prefers to public-speak, said this event was a great opportunity for him to talk with fans.

"I like the idea that you have all of this under one roof," Kelly said. "I'm going to walk around in a second and check out some of the exhibitors, too."

Berry was the keynote speaker for the event and was pleased by the turnout. He held a standing-room only session late in the day Saturday with Vick and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

"It's an awesome event as people get to meet those in the industry of fantasy and interact with athletes," Berry said. "It's been nothing but a class act. It's perfect for those fantasy fans because they get to meet people just like them."

For 10-year-old Reese Thompson, it wasn't about fantasy football.

He wanted to meet some of his favorite NFL players.

Reese, dresed in a Lions jersey to match his father, said he was having a good time.

Who is your favorite player? he was asked.

"Michael Vick."

He's with the Philadelphia Eagles, you know.

"I just like the Eagles," Reese said.

His disappointed, Lions-rooting father shakes his head, chiming in, "That's why I'm making him wear all the Detroit stuff."