It's Week 13 of the NFL season. Week 12 didn't get put to bed until Wednesday afternoon, but it's onward and upward. Fantasy football managers finally know where they stand and can move on to figuring out lineups for the weekend, which already will extend to Tuesday. Matthew Berry's Love/Hate Week 13 is here to help.
As we do every year, this week is Jimmy V Week (extending through Dec. 12). From storytelling to live events to philanthropy to (in my humble opinion) fantasy sports, this company does a lot of great things.
Jimmy V Week and the 24/7/365 support ESPN gives to the V Foundation for Cancer Research is the best thing this company does.
And it's not close.
As part of Jimmy V Week, on Friday, we celebrate Stuart Scott Day. His courage in the face of cancer was the embodiment of the V Foundation's motto: Don't give up. Don't ever give up.
We are about a month shy of the sixth anniversary of Stuart's passing, and his impact is still felt here every day.
When Stuart died in January 2015, I wrote some thoughts about him. But whether it's because there's not a ton of fantasy football in January or there was just so much written about Stuart when he died (deservedly so), not many people read it.
So some of what follows I have printed before, but because it's nearly the sixth anniversary of his death, because it's Jimmy V Week, because it's Stuart Scott Day and, honestly, because we should never stop remembering him, I want to tell my Stuart Scott story.
Because here's the thing.
Everyone has a Stuart Scott story.
That was one of the first things I learned after he died.
There were stories upon stories upon stories. On TV, online, on social media. Some were small, some were big and not a one of them was the same, except for one common thread: Stuart Scott meant something to people in a significant way.
I moved to beautiful Bristol, Connecticut, in 2007. ESPN had bought my website, and my job, both internally at ESPN and externally to our fans, was to analyze, discuss and ultimately promote fantasy sports on all our platforms. Now, writing was easy -- I had been doing that forever and we were still a few months from launching our podcast. But TV? That was fairly new to me. And, honestly, to anyone who did fantasy analysis. There wasn't a lot of fantasy sports talk on TV in those days (and I still don't think there's enough, but that's a soapbox for another day).
Anyway, that was a legit part of my job in those early days. Trying (along with some help from a few fantasy-playing ESPN executives) to convince all the producers at ESPN that we should do more fantasy on TV.
As part of that effort it would certainly help the cause if, you know, I wasn't a complete train wreck on TV. So OK, some big-time exec must have twisted someone's arm, because at some point after I got there, I get booked to do SportsCenter.
I'm told what time during the hour of my segment. I'll be on for 60 seconds maybe. It's short, but still. I'm gonna be on SportsCenter. Holy crap.
And I get there, they're throwing a mic on me and I see a monitor showing the show and I realize ... I'm gonna be on SportsCenter. WITH STUART SCOTT. HOLY CRAP INDEED.
Realize three things at this point:
1. I'd never met Stuart Scott.
2. At that point in 2007, fantasy football was still thought of as somewhat nerdy and niche and you never saw it on TV. Certainly not SportsCenter, the crown jewel of ESPN.
3. Perhaps most important, no one in America has any idea who the hell I am or why they should listen to anything I have to say. And yet, when it's time for my segment, Stuart sells it hard. "Now what does all this mean for fantasy? Here's my main man, Matthew Berry, to break it all down. Whatcha got, Matthew?"
For the viewers who didn't know any better, they thought Stuart and I were close friends and that even though you hadn't heard of me and probably didn't even play fantasy football, what I was about to say was really important.
I was a nobody, but people trusted Stuart, so when Stuart told you to pay attention, you paid attention. He passed his trust with the audience on to me.
Which, when you're starting out and trying to convince a whole network to do more fantasy and, you know, do it with me, was a really big deal.
After the show, I went over to introduce myself and thank him for the intro, especially since we had never met. He shrugged it off as no big deal, something anyone would do. (Which, I would later find out, was not true, as many of the anchors in those days were not as supportive or enthusiastic as Stuart.)
It was a big moment for me, one of those times that I felt like I had "made it." I was on SportsCenter. With Stuart Scott! But I couldn't bring myself to say any of that, so I just thanked him again. Stuart patted me on the back and welcomed me to ESPN and offered to help if I ever needed it.
OK, so six months later, I hadn't done a lot more SportsCenters, and of the ones I did do, none of them was with Stuart. But one night, a few friends from work and I went to a local bar in West Hartford, Connecticut. It's a cold Saturday night, and the place is standing-room only. There are also, randomly, a number of other ESPN folks there.
It's later in the evening and my friends and I are all standing around a table. I had put my coat on the back of one of the chairs at the table. And suddenly this random guy, who clearly had too much to drink, is getting sloppy and spills his beer on my coat. He notices that he does and shrugs it off. Doesn't care. He looks up at me and says nothing.
Me: You just spilled beer on my jacket.
Dude: So? You don't want beer on it, you shouldn't hang it there.
Me: What are you talking about? This is our table.
Dude: Blank you.
Me (incredulously): Really?
Dude: Really. (He now takes a menacing step toward me.) What are you going to do about it?
Now I'm angry. I don't like confrontation, but I'm not scared of it. And this guy was a couple of words I can't print.
So now I take a step toward him, as if to say I'm not scared of you and I'm ready for whatever goes down.
And just as I do that, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around and it's none other than Stuart Scott. He just shakes his head slightly, with a stern, fatherly expression that is equal parts firm and sympathetic. A look that says, "I get it, but this isn't worth it. Walk away."
As I pause, he gently pulls me toward him, saving me the embarrassment of having to back down. The dude goes on his way and Stuart pulls me into his group. Quietly he says to me, "I get it, man. He's wrong. But the headline tomorrow won't be about him, you know?"
I nod my head. He's 100 percent right, of course. I'm just starting my ESPN career and the last thing I need is "ESPN's Matthew Berry in bar fight" as the headline in some blog. He pats me on the shoulder and says, gently, "We've all been there. But you live in a different world now. Gotta walk away."
It was a small thing to him, but it meant a lot to me. He didn't really know me; frankly, I was amazed he even remembered who I was. We'd met only the once, six months earlier. And he certainly didn't have to insert himself into my situation. But he did. He was looking out for me, something he did for many others, many times.
OK, cut to four years later and I'm taking my then-12-year-old stepson to his first Monday Night Football game. Maybe the best part of working for ESPN is being able to do cool things for your kids, so I'm showing off before the game, taking him into the production trucks, seeing the inner workings of the stadium, going on the field, the whole deal.
And while walking to the field we run into Stuart, who would soon be anchoring our pregame coverage. I introduce him to my kid, who is wide-eyed at meeting him, and Stuart is, as always, exceedingly gracious. Takes photos, engages with us, the whole nine yards. And as we are winding down, he puts his hand on my shoulder and breaks into a wide grin. "Your dad ever tell you about the time I pulled him out of a bar fight?"
Kid looks at me wide-eyed. "Really?" Stuart laughs. "Have him tell you the story sometime." He pulls me in for the handshake/hug combo and he's off. As I watch him walk off I shake my head in amazement. I can't believe he even remembers that story. He had never brought it up since.
I last saw him at the ESPYS in 2014, where he accepted the Jimmy V Award. (And I highly recommend taking some time to watch the speech. Will be a very worthwhile eight minutes.) Afterward, we ran into each other, where I congratulated him on the award, told him how amazing the speech was and that it was great to see him.
My brother, who was with me that night, expressed similar sentiments. It was Stuart's big night, everyone wants to talk to him or get his attention, and as we now know, he was not well that night, so sick he wasn't sure he would even be able to make the ceremony. But as always, you wouldn't know any of that. He was unfailingly gracious with his time and attention to me and my brother, thanking us for coming. Us? We thanked him.
It would be the last time I saw him.
I'm not going to claim I knew him well or that we were close friends. We weren't. If we saw each other in the hallway or something we'd say hi, but we didn't work together very much, so our interactions were mostly limited to run-ins in the ESPN café, hallways or at various ESPN events throughout the year.
But to me, that's sort of the point. Even though we weren't close, I still feel a strong connection to him, even almost six years later, and I think of my Stuart Scott stories often. But like I said ... everyone has a Stuart Scott story.
As always, in honor of Jimmy V Week, if I have blocked you on social media (or muted you -- I mute a lot. I mean A LOT), you can get me to undo that by making a donation to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Just go to V.org and donate whatever you can. Then send the receipt and whatever social media handle I've blocked to UnblockMe@espn.com. Doing this doesn't mean you get free rein to be a jerk -- you can always be blocked again, but it's a small way I try to make something good out of what is often just a bad moment on social media. We've all had bad moments, and not everyone has a Stuart Scott to pull you out of it. So let's get to it. As a great man once said to me ... "Whatcha got, Matthew?"