Fantasy football: Matthew Berry's Love, Hate and going home again

The return. The game. Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick. The most anticipated and searched-for regular-season game of the year, and possibly ever. Much has been written, said, debated, screamed and considered about this game all week, and it will only continue to ramp up until Sunday night.

As a result, my editor strongly suggested using Tom Brady's return to Gillette Stadium as the open to this week's column, and while that sounds good in theory, there's just one issue: what to say.

What do you say about it that hasn't already been said? What do you say about it that's appropriate for a fantasy football column? "Haha," said my editor, "you need me to type it for you too, writer boy? Figure it out." And then he hung up the phone and went back to the steak and lobster dinner the company was buying, with Field and Stephania, laughing at my ineptitude. (Note: This is all likely very true and not in any way an exaggeration of our conversation).

But it's all sort of snoozy, right? What am I gonna do? Talk about what Tom Brady means from a fantasy football point of view? He's good. He's been very, very good for a long time. There. Broke that down. Talk about this game from a fantasy point of view? I mean, some of the players involved are listed below in my loves and hates, but after you've made sure you've spelled "Agholor" correctly, how much is there, really?

I finally realized that the only way to truly write about this momentous game, this historic chess match between what many people consider to be the greatest quarterback of all time facing what many people consider to be the greatest coach of all time, his former mentor ... was to make it all about me.

The ability to turn any subject, no matter what, into an egocentric story about myself is my superpower, and I needed to tap into it this week more than ever, because I feel like I can kind of relate to what Tom Brady is going through this week.

It's how I felt the week of my high school reunion.

Now, let's be clear. I know very well that the stakes are nowhere near the same. I'm not saying anyone other than me cared about my reunion at all, or that I know what it's like to be Tom Brady. I mean, I'm not that into me, if that makes any sense. What I'm talking about here are the emotions involved in going back to where you came from.

I'm in a Facebook group for my high school class, and when I got a save-the-date about the most recent reunion, I felt a small knot in my stomach. One that tightened anytime I thought about it.

I mean, I'm on TV, I have a certain level of notoriety, I'm married to an amazing and beautiful woman. I make a nice living, the people I've met and the list of things I've gotten to do is truly ridiculous, so real talk, all things considered, life since high school has gone pretty OK for me, you know?

But it doesn't matter.

While that might be how the world sees me, or, more importantly, how my former classmates see me, it's not how I see myself. Not when I'm back in that world. Not when I'm back in College Station, surrounded by the people from my youth.

The minute I set foot back in that world, I'm a nerdy and nervous kid who always felt he was on the outside looking in. I most certainly wasn't a "popular" kid. I moved around a lot as a kid, five different times by the time my family landed in Texas when I was 13. I spent most of my time before Texas living in various cities in Virginia, which is where I became a fan of the Washington Football Team.

I was always the new kid. Socially awkward to begin with (still am!), and the constant moving didn't help develop those skills any. Add in big, frizzy hair and thick glasses, and it's no wonder I had trouble fitting in. Or why I tried so hard to fit in, which of course only made it worse. A sensitive, tennis-playing Jewish kid in a football-obsessed smallish Texas town didn't play well in the '80s, and my classmates let me know it. Constantly.

I've written about my experiences of being bullied in high school, and if I am being honest, that article just scratched the surface and really focused only on the most traumatic aspect of high school for me.

I had a small core of close friends, and I thank God for that group of kids, because I don't know what I would have done without them. Every other moment of high school was a struggle. I don't want to relive all the bullying -- you can read about that at the link above if you want -- but I will say, even if you take the bullying out of it (and it was A LOT), high school was still a daily struggle.

Whether it was hearing about parties you weren't invited to, walking by a group of kids and hearing laughter and wondering if it was about you, or even trying to find a place to eat lunch every day in peace where you wouldn't be stared at or, worse, told to leave (both of which happened multiple times), it was just a constant minefield of small rejections and an everyday existence of tiptoeing around, wondering when I would do the next stupid thing that would have people laughing at me and making me somehow feel worse about myself than I already did.

Among the things in which I found solace was playing this weird and super dorky game called Rotisserie league baseball.

"See, Rotisserie baseball is this game where you 'draft' real-life Major League Baseball players, and how well those players do statistically in their real-life MLB games is how well your Rotisserie (or "fantasy") baseball team does. See, USA Today prints all the statistics from all the games once a week, and so then you add up all the numbers in a bunch of statistical categories to see how your team is doing, and then you do it for the other nine teams ..."

Yeah. It was about that moment when I knew I'd fully lost her, the girl who saw me crunching these numbers during lunch and wondered what I was doing. It sounded even nerdier as I was explaining it to her back then, and her look of "OK, freak, sorry I asked ..." was enough for me to know I had just made yet another horrible high school mistake.

At least at that time people had heard of "Dungeons & Dragons." This game was both nerdy and obscure. And as word quickly spread about whatever "chicken baseball" was, I didn't think it was possible, but somehow, I became even more ostracized.

It has taken a lot of therapy to unpack all that and get comfortable with owning where I come from, and there is still work to do. But the important part is that those scars last, man.

I had thought about blowing off the reunion, but my friend Andy Wichern -- my best friend in high school and to this day a very close friend -- said he'd go if I went. So, there I was, back in College Station, Texas, and no matter how much I feel like I've accomplished or succeeded in life, when I walked through the doors of the bar where everyone was meeting the Friday night before the official reunion, I was right back to being that nervous kid in high school.

It's why I feel, on some weird, small level, that I can appreciate what Tom Brady might be going through this week. Yes, he left the Patriots and Belichick, started over with a new team and won the Super Bowl at age 43, proving every critic who said he was too old or that he was just a byproduct of coaching very, very wrong. I won't get into all the speculation about what went wrong with Brady and New England, and who is responsible for what, but clearly something happened, and whatever feelings bothered Brady enough for him to leave, they are likely still there and will reappear when he walks back onto that field, this time as the opponent. The visitor.

It was under that umbrella of insecurity and nervousness that I walked in with my buddy Andy. I wondered if any of my high school tormentors would be there. And what would I say or do if they were? Andy and I agreed we would do one lap, stay for a drink, two at the most, see the few people we wanted to catch up with and call it an early evening.

You know what? It was actually great. People I hadn't thought about in years were there, and it was genuinely good to see them. I had spent so much time focusing on the negative of high school that I had pushed the good stuff way in the back of my mind, and as I visited with a lot of folks whom I played tennis with, or shared classes with, or went to dances or games with, we would reminisce. I would be reminded about "Oh yeah, that was actually a really fun ..." whatever it was. There was some talk about career and kids and what people were up to now, but it was mostly about the old days. There were lots of laughs, and over the course of the night, a lot of negative memories about high school had been replaced with the good ones that I had buried.

As it turns out, none of my tormentors showed up. One apparently couldn't make it because he was in jail. It's incredibly petty of me, but yeah, that made me smile. I got asked to take some pictures -- "My son is a big fan" -- including by the husband of one of my big high school crushes, who had no interest back in the day. I enjoyed that more than I should have.

Lots of drinks, smiles and group selfies, and then, toward the end of the night, class president Ben Mathis announced it was time for the awards. To be honest, I wasn't aware there were any awards and I hadn't voted, so I listened as they read off the kinds of reunion awards you'd expect.

Who traveled the farthest to be there (we have a few living overseas), who was the first of our class to be a grandparent, an award for the couple who had stayed together the longest (shout-out to David and Staci Groff, high school sweethearts still together more than three decades later), etc., etc.

And then the last award of the night. "Coolest job: Matthew Berry." I was genuinely shocked as I heard the legit applause. And as I walked up to the stage to accept a small piece of paper, I thought back to how ostracized and nerdy I felt playing fantasy sports. And now my classmates had all just voted that it was the coolest job of our graduating class. You have no idea how much winning that silly award meant. Full circle, indeed.

I stayed to the end of the event and reconnected with a group of friends I really missed, a small group of people I have seen multiple times since the reunion and with whom I have been on a very funny text chain for over three years now. But most importantly, I learned a few meaningful lessons. How you see yourself is often not how others see you, and if you focus on the negative, the positive has no chance to creep in there. And yeah, sometimes you can go back again.

Thanks as always to The Fantasy Show producer Damian Dabrowski for his help at various points in this column. Let's get to it.

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