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How to Win at Fantasy Football*

(*By any means necessary)
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It was the 2011 fantasy football season and Tyler needed a tight end. His good buddy had Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. In their league you could play only one tight end, and with both Gronk and Graham having monster years, there was a valuable asset that Tyler could use and his league mate could not.

But try as he might, Tyler could not trade for one of the tight ends. Quarterbacks, running backs, two for ones, three for ones, Tyler offered it all and was either rejected or ignored. Until one day, Tyler's buddy called out of the blue and just said, "You know what? I'll trade you Graham for Scott Chandler and some of your clean piss."

Tyler rode Jimmy Graham to the championship, and Tyler's friend passed his work drug test. And that, kids, is why you don't do drugs. Someday you might need your drug-free urine to upgrade at tight end.

You may think trading clean piss for a title-winning tight end is extreme for a fantasy football league, but in doing research for my new book Fantasy Life, I found it just scratches the surface.

There are a lot of websites and magazines that promise to have the secret to winning your fantasy football league. Here's the bad news: there's no secret. The best way to win your fantasy football league is to work at it: do your research, draft well, stay active on the waiver wire, and be smart with your starting line-ups.

But what if you don't want to do all that work? What if you want to take some short cuts? Morals, schmorals, you say.

Let me be clear: I do not cheat at fantasy sports, nor do I in any way condone it. But man, I love hearing about people who try. They don't always succeed -- in fact, most of the time, the cheating backfires - but it makes for a great story.

The clean piss trade is one of the Top Five Best Cheating Stories I've heard. What are the other four, you ask?

4. He's What???

"Travis" had done it the right way. As the commissioner of a work league in 2010, he finished first in the regular season. And then, in the first round of the playoffs, he squeaked out a victory, winning by two points.

Or did he?

Late on Monday, the NFL ruled that in his Week 15 game against the Jets, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall had rushed for 99 yards instead of the 100 he was originally credited with. As a result of the stat change a few days later, Travis actually lost his playoff game by two points.

He felt the way you or I would. "I was incredibly upset and felt cheated."

Of course, the way Travis reacted is probably different than most of us would.

"I went in that night before I thought anyone noticed and changed the totals. However, because commissioner changes are listed, some guys noticed. They confronted me and I admitted what I had done and changed it back. They then told everyone at the office about my cheating."

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that's pretty bad. But guess what? That's not the worst part. Tell them what the worst part is, Travis.

"I am a pastor."

You heard him. A pastor.

"At the time, I was a staff pastor for a big church in Oklahoma, as was the rest of the league."

That's right. Travis cheated in a league full of pastors. "We were in our weekly pastoral staff meeting and we all started yelling at each other. Not really angry, just being aggressive and challenging each other's code of ethics. Our boss, the senior pastor, did not play in the league. He just sat there staring at us with this look like, 'I can't believe I hired these idiots to help me pastor this church.'"

Honestly, I can't either.

3. The Ex

Richard Gomez (everyone calls him Gomez) tells me, "Ricky and I are best friends in real life; however, when it comes to fantasy sports we are mortal enemies."

And they don't just fight on the virtual field. It's all-out psychological warfare. Last year, Gomez told me, "I devised a cynical plot to ruin Ricky's fantasy baseball draft. I invited Ricky's ex-wife to join our league. "

Now, this is not a friendly ex-wife. They hadn't seen or spoken to each other since the divorce a year and a half earlier. "The company line is we needed to fill an open slot; however, my personal intentions were much more sinister."

No kidding.

But Ricky found out and gave Gomez an ultimatum. "It is either me or her, you choose who you want in the league." Gomez told him to grow up and deal with it, because the ex-wife had already accepted the invitation and paid her entry-fee. "She was champing at the bit to destroy her ex at something that she knew he loved."

But this is where cheating doesn't pay: Ricky chose to quit and his ex-wife destroyed everyone, winning the league by 11.5 games.

2. Who Traded What?

In 2011, "Ricky L." was in a league with a husband and wife, who were each managing their own teams. On Sunday of Week 11, the husband's star running back, Fred Jackson, breaks a bone and is out for the season. Two days later, on Tuesday of that week ... heartbreak. The wife suddenly and tragically passes away. Horrible, right? Just devastating. As Ricky recalls, "It was a very sad, awkward, and weird situation. We all felt bad for the husband."

But then, on Friday of that very same week, a new transaction pops up on the league message board. The husband has traded out-for-the-year Fred Jackson. To the dead wife's team. For LeSean McCoy!

It's a terrible trade, obviously, as no one would ever trade a stud for a guy who's done for the season, but beyond that, the owner of McCoy is, you know, dead! Clearly, the husband is controlling both teams. But the guy just suffered a tragic and horrific loss. "Who wants to criticize a guy who just lost his wife?" Ricky asks.

Of course. An awkward situation is now even more uncomfortable. So the league comes to a decision. "You know what? People grieve in different ways. There's not a ton of money on the line. It's just fantasy football, doesn't compare to the death of a loved one. It's weird, but whatever." They're just gonna look the other way.

Except, some leagues have a jerk -- That Guy. And in Ricky's league, we'll call him "X."

"X" doesn't care. He starts blasting the husband all over the message board, emailing him privately, calling him names, and yelling about the trade. "I don't care if she's dead! It's a bullshit trade!"

But then, finally, the husband responds: "Hey!!! It was her dying wish."

Ball game, husband.

1. That's How You Win a Fantasy League

"Zack" was working for the Florida Marlins in 2007 and towards the end of year, the Marlins were well out of the race. Zack's fantasy team, however, was very much alive. Playing for the title in a head-to-head fantasy baseball league during the last week of the season, Zack accompanied the team on an end-of-the-year road trip to play the Mets in New York City.

The night in question was Friday, September 28, 2007, and all Zack needed for his title was one last great starting pitching performance along with a win. From John Maine of the Mets. Who was pitching the next afternoon at 1:00 PM against the Marlins.

It was against this backdrop that Zack and his buddy arrived that Friday night to a bar with some of the team and shared a drink with a few Marlins players. And after they all hoisted a few, an interesting, if not exactly kosher, idea occurred to Zack.

"All we need to do is a get a few more of them drunk and my boy Maine should cruise through the lineup."

Fast forward to midnight. Zack continues, "Some front office staff, a lot of players, a couple of female sales interns, and myself meet up at a trendy bar. Drinks were flowing. The bullpen was buying..."

Note to self: Make friends with more relievers.

"... But I was buying more to make sure they got extra rowdy."

Apparently, the party was just beginning. Back at the hotel after closing, Zack says, "We proceeded to play 'Mexican Shotgun,' which was a game I made up on the spot. It consisted of shotgunning a beer and chasing it with tequila (courtesy of the minibar). The next morning, I felt like crap but I also felt confident in unleashing Maine as my last starter to grab a title."

Google the box score for the Mets-Marlins game on Sept 29, 2007. That day, John Maine went 7 and 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit, two walks, and the Mets cruised to a 13-0 win.

"The box score credits the win to John Maine, but deep inside I know that W was earned by me. I went on to win that final week of fantasy and the season, with the John Maine win and his sterling WHIP being the clincher..."

They say there are only three things in this world you can count on. Death, taxes and someone cheating at fantasy. Be it with technology (embedding a computer virus to steal the commissioner's password), social media (writing a fake tweet from football reporters like Adam Schefter or Chris Mortensen about player injuries and "retweeting" it to your league), or ladies using their feminine charms (yes, even that gets traded in fantasy leagues), there is no end to the lengths people will go to to win their league..

Which is shame. Fantasy sports are fun. That's why we play, that's the best part about it, and ultimately, a victory you had to cheat for isn't a real victory. But that doesn't mean people don't do it...

Got a better cheating at fantasy sports story? Tweet it at me @MatthewBerryTMR using the #FantasyLife hashtag.

Matthew Berry is ESPN's Senior Fantasy Analyst. Universally regarded as one of the leading voices on fantasy sports, he is an Emmy winner for his work on ESPN2's "Fantasy Football Now" and one of the most popular columnists and podcasters on His book Fantasy Life was released on July 16.