“Oh, s—,” I thought. “I’m having a heart attack.”
It is three weeks ago today, at 1:17 p.m. ET, and I am standing behind the host desk in Studio B. We are taping an episode of The Fantasy Show, and there is a man kneeling behind me, holding a puppet.
And that’s when I feel tightness around my heart. You know how sometimes you get heartburn and after a moment or two, it just subsides? That’s what I initially think it is, but then it keeps going and gets more painful. I’m being told in my ear that we need to set up for the next thing we’re doing, a complicated dream sequence.
“Uh, gimme a minute here,” I manage to get out.
I try to walk away from the desk and, after a few steps, I stumble. My producer Ed catches me, and suddenly everyone in the studio realizes this just got real. I am quickly ushered to a chair. Ed takes my suit jacket off and recoils as he puts his hand on the back of my shirt. It’s soaked. I have broken out in a cold sweat.
I feel dizzy. Someone brings me an aspirin. And I, uh, I can’t keep it down. I start dry heaving. There is basically nothing in my stomach (I didn’t eat that morning), so I’m dry heaving. Over and over again. I can’t stop. I can’t control it. I look up to see some of my producers, surrounding me, looking worried as I keep heaving into a trash bag I’ve been brought. I see the studio crew in the background, staring at me. Because the only thing better than dry heaving repeatedly is dry heaving repeatedly in front of a bunch of co-workers. I feel dumb and humiliated, like some sick animal on the side of the road as there are people in the back, just staring, but there’s nothing I can do because it’s at this point I lose consciousness.
Soon after I come around, I am surrounded by campus EMTs and they are telling me an ambulance is on its way. I am mumbling to Ed asking whether he can contact NFL Live and the meetings I have after that (I am supposed to do all that after this show) and he is smiling in a kind, fatherly way. “Stop it. We’ll handle. Don’t worry about it.” Suddenly the ambulance is there. With a stretcher.
Instead of letting me climb onto it, they lift me onto it (more embarrassment) and I am quickly wheeled out of the studio into an ambulance, followed by Ed. He is told to sit in the front, and now I’m in the back of an ambulance all alone but for someone I just met two minutes ago. Mike the EMT, he tells me, all business and gruff as he starts shoving and pasting things into and onto my arms and chest, hooking me into I don’t know what. I am half out of it at this point as Mike the EMT is peppering me with questions. “How old are you?” “Where do you live?” “How many kids do you have?” “What are their names?”
I am dozy and in pain, and the last thing I want to do is make small talk. Can’t he leave me in peace? I answer all his questions because something in my haze seeps through to realize he doesn’t care about any of this; he’s probably just trying to keep me alert and talking and this is his job. I answer him, but my mind drifts.
Is this how it ends? In an ambulance, alone, driving through the streets of Bristol, Connecticut, with Mike the EMT?
I’ve never been in that moment before, where I actually thought about mortality in a real, present way, and I have just one thought.
I wonder if my daughters will remember me?
I have quick, fleeting thoughts as I consider this. I know it would be awful for my wife and the boys, for my parents, my brother and his family and my longtime friends. They love me as I do them. They would remember me. And I am comfortable with how I and my career would be remembered by everyone else.
But my daughters are 5.
I spend as much time with them as I can, but it’s not enough, especially during football season when I am in the office Sunday through Friday every week. I think about what their life would be like without me, growing up and going to various life events. They’d know they had a father at some point, of course — but would they remember me? Us? The time we spent together?
I quickly try to remember something from when I was 5. I draw a blank. I am filled with tremendous sadness at this point.
I don’t have time to linger on that as we get to the hospital. I’m sure most of you have been to an emergency room at some point, for a broken arm or if your kids swallowed something or whatever? Well, you know how they make you wait forever? Like, you sit there, fill out a billion insurance forms and it’s three hours before you get seen?
We get to the ER, we pull right up to the back, and they wheel my stretcher right in. As I’m wheeled straight in from the ambulance to a (private!) room, I think “Oh man. I must be in bad shape.”
Meanwhile, back on campus, my podcast producer and TV show co-host Daniel Dopp has called my wife. “Beth? It’s Daniel Dopp. Something’s happened to Matthew. You need to get to the hospital ASAP.” Beth, naturally, asks a bunch of questions, to which Daniel doesn’t have a lot of answers. Last he saw me, I was being wheeled into an ambulance. So all he can say is that she should get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Beth was doing an errand about an hour from the hospital when she got the call. The 13-year-old can stay with a friend, but she has to go home, get the kids off the bus and drive them to our good friends’ house, as Beth (correctly) figured I wouldn’t want my kids to see me like this.
She told me later that, as she’s doing this and trying to get to me, she was seriously wondering whether I was dead. As you might imagine, when you go unconscious in front of a bunch of people and suddenly have to cancel a bunch of other appearances, word spreads. My wife worked at ESPN for a long time, so she starts getting texts.
“Just heard about Matthew. Let me know if there’s anything you need.”
“OMG I’m so sorry about Matthew. Are you OK?”
And so on. Daniel had since been able to tell her more about what happened on follow-up calls and texts, and she had been assured that I was still alive, but as she told me later, “If you were dead, your co-workers weren’t going to tell me over the phone. They would make a doctor do it at the hospital.”
So you can imagine what she must have been going through during the two hours it took for her to get to me, all the while wondering whether I was dead and what that might mean for her and our five kids.
I’ve been there for about an hour now, still in my suit, still lying in the original gurney, hooked up to who knows what, when finally, there is some good news. Original tests came back negative. Does not look like it was a heart attack or cardiac-related. And color is starting to come back into my face, I am told, after being pretty pale and weak looking.
Ed and Daniel were with me pretty much when I got there, and soon they were joined by Pierre Becquey, my longtime friend who runs fantasy editorial for us, and Beth, of course. Field Yates and Stephania Bell also came, with Stephania grilling all the doctors and asking all the questions I’m too dumb to know to ask. If you ever get put into the hospital, I highly recommend you bring Stephania with you.
More waiting, more tests, more good signs. Pierre ran to a nearby store to get me some sweats and a T-shirt, as a suit is not the most comfortable thing to wear for eight hours in a gurney. By the way, trying to get out the suit and into the sweats while still hooked up to a billion machines was high comedy.
And then I got texts. So many texts. As word spread throughout ESPN, I can’t tell you how many kind texts, DMs and emails of concern I received. It meant so much, as did the many tweets and posts from fans during the next few days who noticed I wasn’t on various shows and hoped everything was OK. My bosses, to the very top of ESPN management, all said the same thing: Let us know if there’s anything we can do. Take as much time as you need.
And so I did, missing some podcasts, the Sunday show and a couple of episodes of the daily show. Thank you to all who filled in for me and carried the load, especially Field, who did the bulk of it. And to the rest of ESPN who, well, respected my privacy. Things have a weird way of escaping this place and finding their ways to the public, so I was happy that I could tell this story my way instead of having to respond to a story written elsewhere. Or maybe outside places knew about it and just didn’t care. Either way, thank you.
It was a weird and scary thing to go through, but ultimately I’m glad I did.
It is an unfortunate reality that we often have to go through something massive to make change, both personally, and, too often, globally, but I have made some changes in my life and am working on making more. After many tests at the ER and a bunch of follow-ups later with my doctor, a cardiologist and other specialists, the consensus is that my heart is in great shape. “If this were gym class, you got an A. At your age, I would be very happy with these results,” my cardiologist said after a stress test. So it officially was not a heart attack.
Apparently it was something called a vasovagal syncope. According to Mayoclinic.org, this “occurs when the part of your nervous system that regulates heart rate and blood pressure malfunctions in response to a trigger, such as the sight of blood.” I still have a few more tests to take, but I feel great and my trigger, best we can figure out, was lack of sleep, stress and diet.
It happened on a Thursday. After getting to work at 7 the previous morning, I had stayed up until about 4:30 that morning finishing that week’s Love/Hate. This is typical for me, as I have a crazy schedule with the pod, the daily TV show, the rankings, the various other shows and of course all the research, so writing is an all-night affair. You’d be amazed at how long it takes me to write mediocre fantasy advice that is often grammatically incorrect. I had gotten back up at 8 a.m. to come in for the TV show that day and, other than a diet soda to wake up, I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. Smooth, Berry.
So I am now eating breakfast every day, with a healthy dose of fruit, and am eating more healthily in general. I am drinking much less soda and much more water these days. ESPN is working with me on my schedule, trying to find both areas and additional help to ease the burden. We’ve already started, as I no longer am on the Thursday podcast, and as you’re about to see, I am changing the format of Love/Hate to be a still sizable but less mammoth undertaking each week. I am sleeping more, but mostly, I’m just trying to eliminate stress in my life.
I’m choosing to be happy and not sweat the small stuff. I’m not 100 percent there — baby steps, don’t you know? — but I have started on my way and that’s big for me.
Mostly I am making sure I no longer have to worry about who will one day be at a graduation or walk my daughters down the aisle.
Let’s get to it.
As noted above, you’ll see the format is a little different this week. There are still the same number of names; it’s just presented a bit differently. I’m going to write more about one or two guys I feel strongest about and then share general thoughts I had while ranking some others. If you want to know who I recommend playing of two options, I urge you to always check my rankings. I keep them updated throughout the week and into Saturday night.
Thank you for still being here. I would have missed you guys.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 6
Kirk Cousins, Redskins: You’ve seen that meme with the guy, right? The one where he’s walking with a girl but looking back at another? Well, Cousins is the guy, the girl he’s with is the Redskins and the girl he’s looking at is San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan.
When you’re out on the dance floor, you want to look as attractive as possible to someone you’re interested in, so expect Cousins, an impending free agent, to come out with a “you’re damn right I’m worth all that money” game, especially off the bye. We all know Kirk takes a while to get going, and there’s evidence of that to the right, in terms of his per-game output the past few seasons.
The pattern should continue in a big way against a 49ers team that has coughed up 299 passing yards per game the past three weeks against Jared Goff, Carson Palmer and Jacoby Brissett. That matchup – and Rob Kelley already being ruled out – means there will be even more emphasis on the passing game against a team that has allowed the sixth-most deep completions per game this season.
Others receiving votes: Is there anyone in the country who has Deshaun Watson on their roster who isn’t starting him? The ride continues Sunday against a Browns team that has allowed the highest completion percentage in the NFL and the third-most touchdown passes. … It’s looking like Marcus Mariota is going to play Monday night, and if he does, I like his chances at a big game against a Colts team that has allowed a league-high 28 deep completions (15-plus air yards) this season. More than a quarter of Mariota’s attempts this season have been 15-plus yards downfield. … Philip Rivers now has multiple touchdown passes in 12 of his past 14 games, at least 38 pass attempts in four straight games and a matchup with a Raiders team that is top 15 in most fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks this season, despite facing the likes of Joe Flacco, Trevor Siemian and Josh McCown. Rivers has thrown for 300 yards and multiple scores in five of his past seven at Oakland, including a 359-yard, 4-TD game last year. … Need streamers? Every quarterback to face the Patriots this season has thrown for more than 300 yards, and they’ve all scored more than 20 fantasy points, except Jameis Winston, who scored 18 (and should have had well over 20 if not for a ticky-tack flag on a rushing score). So Josh McCown — yes, Josh McCown — is a firm, midtier QB2. … As stated above, I expect Mariota to play on Monday night, which means the Titans should score a lot, which means Jacoby Brissett is in play in a potentially sneaky high-scoring game against a Tennessee squad that has allowed a league-high 12 touchdown passes this season.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6
Carson Wentz, Eagles: It’s always nerve-wracking making this call on a Thursday night game because, you know, if he blows up on Thursday night, it makes for a long Friday for me – especially since Wentz is coming off an impressive performance on Sunday. But in a week where the pickings are slim at quarterback, especially for those to make the “hate” list, I’m not crazy about Wentz traveling to Carolina on a short week. The Panthers are no joke, having faced Tyrod Taylor, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford over the past four weeks, yet still are just one of only six defenses to not allow 21-plus fantasy points to an opposing quarterback this season. They are blitzing at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, while Wentz completes just 54 percent of his passes against the blitz (25th in the NFL). That’s not great, especially considering Lane Johnson will miss this game with a concussion. As my friend Adam Levitan points out:
Wentz with Lane Johnson in 2016: 64.8 completion pct., 6.95 YPA, 10 TDs, 2 INTs, 5-1 record.
Wentz WITHOUT Johnson in 2016: 61.2 completion pct., 5.87 YPA, 6 TDs, 12 INTs, 2-8 record.
Look, it’s a different year, Wentz has more weapons and I actually think he’s a legit star QB, for both the NFL and fantasy. But the Panthers have allowed just seven deep completions this season (lowest in the league), so I don’t see Wentz putting up a top-10 week.
Others receiving votes: Have I said sorry enough for the Ben Roethlisberger call last week? Yeesh. After all that, watch Big Ben go out and just go nuts, because, you know, that would make no sense on the road against the Chiefs. But even if he does, I can’t imagine starting him in this setting, against a Chiefs defense that has allowed the lowest completion percentage in the league this season and, you know, Ben on the road. … I am more of a Jared Goff believer than not, but I believe in the Jaguars’ defense more. They’ve given up just three passing touchdowns all season. Expect a lot of Todd Gurley in this one, not anything usable from Goff. … Even if Josh Norman misses the game, I’m not counting on a repeat from Brian Hoyer on the road against a quality Redskins defense that ranks seventh in the league against the pass.
Running backs I love in Week 6
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders: If not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, maybe Jalen Richard? Look, if this isn’t a get-right spot for Lynch, then maybe nothing is. While the volume hasn’t been there yet for Lynch the way we thought it would be, game script and this matchup with the Chargers should help, as will Derek Carr‘s return. I mean, the Giants lost all of their receivers, haven’t been able to run the ball all year, and yet Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman had 19 carries, 126 yards and a score. The Bolts have allowed 5.47 yards per carry to opposing RBs this season, last in the league, and 26 fantasy points per game to opposing runners.
Fantasy points by RB1s vs. Chargers this season:
Lynch got into the end zone last week and I say he does it again Sunday.
Others receiving votes: The Lions have allowed the fourth-most running back receptions this season, so give me Alvin Kamara as a legit RB2 this week in PPR in his first post-Adrian Peterson game. … No team in the NFL has allowed more RB receiving touchdowns this season than the Houston Texans and in a game I expect Cleveland to trail, gimme Duke Johnson Jr., who leads the Browns in targets, receptions and receiving yards. … Expect a lot of work and a top-20 day out of Javorius Allen at home against a Bears team traveling on a short week that is in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points per game allowed to RBs. … All the talk is about Peterson, but I prefer Andre Ellington, who leads all running backs in targets this season (I expect his usage to be close to the same, even with Peterson around) and gets a Tampa Bay defense that, yes, is getting healthier, but still is tied for the third-most receptions per game allowed to opposing running backs. … Since Pat Shurmur took over as Vikings offensive coordinator in Week 9 of last season (past 14 games), Jerick McKinnon is RB17. In a game where Minnesota will need to keep up with Green Bay, expect McKinnon to once again dominate RB snaps for the Vikes. … Start your running backs against the Patriots? Start your running backs against the Patriots. New England is allowing the most fantasy points to opposing running backs this year, so Elijah McGuire should be useful, as Bilal Powell is likely to miss the game and Matt Forte might as well.
Running backs I hate in Week 6
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins: I can’t imagine you have better options, so you’re probably gonna have to play him, but I’m not using him in daily and I’d certainly lower expectations, if, you know, they’re not already low enough. Ajayi is currently RB39 for the season in terms of points per game, and Miami is the only team without a rushing touchdown this season and has the second-fewest rushing yards. And as you may have, ahem, seen, Miami’s offensive line coach resigned this week. He also was their running game coordinator. Regardless of whether you think he was doing a good job or not (he was highly thought of in the NFL), a change like that is not something that happens easily overnight, especially when you already are struggling. Ajayi ranks 40th out of 46 qualified running backs in yards per carry before first contact this season, and the going doesn’t get any easier facing a Falcons squad that is fifth against the run, sixth in fewest yards per carry after first contact and should be fired up at home, coming off a bye. Ajayi is a low-end RB2 for me.
Others receiving votes: Similar to Ajayi, I can’t imagine not starting Lamar Miller. You have to start him, but for all the flaws the Browns have, they can play good run defense. They are giving up just 2.88 yards per carry overall this season and are allowing a league-low 1.11 yards per carry BEFORE first contact to running backs, so you’re going to need to bank on a lot of volume for Miller here, which he could get, but he’s just an RB2 for me. … I don’t care that the Giants have no one else. You’re not starting Orleans Darkwa or Wayne Gallman this weekend against Denver. The Broncos have yet to give up a rushing score this season. … Carlos Hyde is splitting carries with Matt Breida so, on the road against the Redskins’ 12th-ranked run defense, I don’t love Hyde’s chances at a big game on Sunday.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 6
Devin Funchess, Panthers: Funchess is the eighth-best wide receiver in fantasy since Week 2, and it’s not as much of a fluke as you think. Yes, obviously the touchdowns help, but over that same time frame he’s top 15 in the NFL in receptions and targets. He has at least eight targets in three straight games, and I like his chances at another big night on Thursday. Funchess runs 74 percent of his routes from out wide, the area where the Eagles have been beaten worse than any other team this season.
Others receiving votes: Since I expect Mariota to play, that makes Rishard Matthews a strong play against a Colts defense that has allowed the most completions on passes thrown 15-plus yards in the air this season. Matthews has twice as many targets on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield than anyone else on the Titans this season. … You know I like Cousins this week and one of the reasons is how bad the 49ers are against the deep ball. So expect Cousins to take a few shots to Terrelle Pryor Sr. and connect on at least one. … And in a DFS tournament, I’d take a flier on dirt-cheap Josh Doctson. … Back home against a struggling Tampa Bay secondary, I’m back in on Jaron Brown. The Bucs have allowed the second-most catches and receiving yards per game to wideouts lined up wide this season. … With the injury to Mohamed Sanu, look for an uptick in targets to Taylor Gabriel against Miami’s 21st-ranked defense. At home and on the turf, all he needs is one. … Tight end is fairly bleak this week, so it’s worth noting that since returning from suspension in Week 3, Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been the ninth-best tight end in fantasy. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but the Patriots have struggled on defense. That includes a touchdown to a tight end in four of five games this season. … Death, taxes and start your tight end against the Browns. This week, it’s Ryan Griffin. … In all four Redskins games this season, the opponent’s leading receiver has been a tight end (Zach Ertz, Gerald Everett, Jared Cook, Travis Kelce), which means off his huge game last week, George Kittle (who is 14th in tight end targets this season) is once again in play. … A cheap DFS dart throw might be Denver’s A.J. Derby, who faces a Giants team that has allowed the second-most receptions, most receiving yards and most receiving touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 6
Mike Evans, Buccaneers: Insert wide receiver facing Patrick Peterson here. In the Eagles’ thrashing of Arizona in Week 5, the one Philly pass-catcher not to have a big day? Alshon Jeffery, who had three catches for 31 yards. Add him to the list of No. 1 WRs shut down by Arizona: Marvin Jones Jr. (two catches for 37 yards in Week 1), T.Y. Hilton (four for 49 in Week 2), Dez Bryant (two for 12 yards in Week 3) and Pierre Garcon (four for 36 in Week 4). To be clear, you HAVE TO start Evans. But I’d certainly lower expectations and he’s a DFS contrarian play in tournaments, not someone I am building a cash game lineup around.
Others receiving votes: Based on matchup and, frankly, his usage, I have no idea how you could consider using Sammy Watkins this week. He has one weekly top-30 finish among WRs this season. One. The Jags have yet to allow a deep touchdown pass this season. … If Stefon Diggs is active, I think you’ve got to start him, but previously whenever he has been banged up coming into a week, he usually has struggled. Diggs is currently dealing with a groin injury. I have Diggs as just a shaky WR2 right now. … I do believe better days are ahead for Amari Cooper (nowhere to go but up, amirite?), but I don’t see how you can start him with any kind of confidence this week, especially as there’s a chance Casey Hayward could shadow him, as he has in the past. … If you’ve read me for any amount of time, you know I never need a reason to fade Jared Cook, but here’s one anyway: the Chargers. For all of Los Angeles’ struggles, the Chargers have allowed the second-fewest receptions per game, the third-fewest points per game and zero receiving touchdowns to opposing TEs this season. … Even against the Saints, Eric Ebron and his two receiving touchdowns in the past 109 targets (over two seasons) aren’t worth a spot in your top 12.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is pretty damn thankful. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.