Interview transcript: Matt Harmon, Fantasy Football analyst for Yahoo Sports

Liz: Welcome to the show. Matt, how are you?

Matt: Liz, I’m doing so great. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a fun time of year to kind of decompress. I saw the other day a headline came out that Sammy Watkins is not retiring, but he does need some downtime. And I said, yeah, me too, buddy. That’s the sentiment. I can’t believe that this is a headline, man. I mean, well, I get why it’s a headline, but facetiously, of course, like honestly, I need the downtime too. Like, let’s all take a little bit of break from the NFL, but of course, we can’t do that, we have to continue to talk about it because we love it so much and it captivates our attention.

Liz: Absolutely. And thanks so much for joining. Now. I know you’ve had some pretty exciting roles in the NFL, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about your story. So why don’t you start with telling us kind of how you fell into an NFL career in the first place.

Matt: Yeah. Well, to make a long story somewhat short; when I graduated college, which was back in May of 2013, I originally intended to take a year off, kind of get some work experience, but my plan was to go…and I had already started kind of gauging interest from certain programs, was to go back to school and get a Ph.D. in Social Theory. Continue the research that I did as an undergrad and essentially pursue a career in academics. During that year away, a lot of things happened in my life. I’ve kind of talked about that story here and there. There’s a post on my blog, it’s at my pin tweet kinda goes into that story. But, you know, essentially through kind of life’s chaos, I needed something to kind of get me juiced, get me activated.

And from a creative perspective, I always love to write, obviously. If you don’t love writing, it’s kinda hard to be even to like research and want to continue that academic career. So through just that interest and then obviously, I loved the NFL, I played fantasy football. You know, it was just something that, I mean I was obsessed with it. Like I could tell you every player on every roster and you know, all this inane information that no one would need to know. I feel like a lot of people my age and I’m 28 years old, in that kind of like millennial age, we grew up on football, but not just watching the NFL but it was also playing fantasy or playing Madden. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that are like, Hey, yeah, I played Madden and that’s how I learned about plays. That’s how I learned about routes and like same here. 

So I combined those two interests and I started a website and it just kind of grew from there. You know, got out there on Twitter and started interacting with people. I came up with a reception perception, which is the method I use to evaluate wide receivers. And I think that was the thing that kind of launched me into the interest of freelancing at the Washington Post, eventually going to the NFL Network and now I’m with Yahoo Sports. Like through all the through-line, through all that was just like there was something that I offered that was different than what everybody else was doing out there. And I think that really is what kind of has continued to launch me down the path that I’m on now.

Liz: And obviously you mentioned that you reception perception. So I’ve start studies the success of wide receivers and the routes they run. What is it about that position that fascinated you enough to start this?

Matt: Yeah, that’s a great question because I think a lot of it is, it’s just the one on…like there’s so much in football that it’s well…it’s kind of a two-part answer. Number one, I think I just watching the position was always fascinating cause not all the time, but often it’s this one on one matchup between the quarterback or whatever player is covering them and the wide receiver. And it’s really sort of poetic, right? I think I put this actually on the first reception perception post I ever put on my blog, Backyard Banter. There’s a quote in The Office you know, the American version of The Office now, I’ll be respectful here on a UK podcast. The American version of The Office when Michael Scott says that, you know, basketball is like jazz and football is more like rock and roll, you know, smash in the face.

But like I think that that interaction between the wide receiver and the quarterback is very jazz-like. You know, almost the one thing on the football field that is like, you know, a basketball, just one-on-one sort of match-ups and everything like that. So just watching that has always fascinated me. And also then from, you know, more of an analysis and research perspective, this is the case with all football stats, but I feel like the wide receiver position especially is so dependent on other variables to accrue production. So you think of obviously, they have to catch the ball, but the ball has to be thrown to them, number one. That football, you’d like it to be thrown by an accurate quarterback. You’d like it to be on time. Obviously, you’re going to need pass protection for the quarterback to have that time. The play has to go their way, you know, whatever. But the one thing that the wide receiver can control is whether they get open on their route or not. And that’s one thing that’s just not quantified in any football stats. So I want it to be the one to go in and sort of try to put that qualitative reality of route running to a quantitative form. And I think that’s just helped people understand the position better.

Liz: Yeah, it’s really fascinating. I’ve been reading into it and it’s really helped me to understand that position more too. Now you mentioned working at Yahoo. Earlier last year I ended up speaking to Liz Loza who is a bundle of energy, I absolutely love her. What is it like to work alongside her?

Matt: She’s great. I mean, she brings a lot of energy to everything she does. She’s very, very passionate and you know, yeah, she’s a great partner to have on all these things. She challenges me, which I think is the most important thing. Like it’s so easy to find, you know, a person that you’re just going to kind of just easy to rock with and whatever and like you start just kind of mailing it in, you know. It’s really easy, especially when you’re covering fantasy to fall into the routine every week it’s kinda like Groundhog day all over again. You’re constantly doing the same thing, you know, Tuesdays, waiver wire day, Thursdays, matchup day, you know, Monday’s recap day, everything like that. So it’s very easy to fall in that routine. And I think the thing that you have to have is not only do you need like producers to push you and challenge you, but you also need other hosts and other analysts that are on set with you to push you. And I think that’s something that Liz, whether she knows it or not, is really good at doing.

Liz: Oh yeah, she’s brilliant. You barely fall. Now in 2009, you became a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers’ first season. Apart from not winning the Super Bowl, could it have gone any better for you?

Matt: I mean the Super Bowl would have almost been like too much. Right? Like that would have just been ridiculous. Nobody would have been able to put up with me. But yeah, I mean, so we did a five-part mockumentary series on me finding out what team I was going to be a lifelong fan of in 2018, it was a series called The Fantasy and of course, it’s already we’re going to do season two. I was basically kind of, you know…yeah, you have to do it after the success of this. And I mean, a lot of people watch it and people engage with it and stuff like that. It became a fun bit and everything. So yeah, I don’t know that it could have gone any better, especially being in Miami the week leading up to the Super Bowl and everything like that, that it definitely added a nice flavor to it. And you know, you never know. It just was a stupid idea that I didn’t think would be that interesting. But sometimes you throw things out there and people respond to it and you just roll with it.

Liz: The Super Bowl is always an exciting time. And here in the UK, we get to enjoy a very small slice of the flavor when the regular game, a season game is played here. How surprised are you by the popularity of American football outside of the US?

Matt: I mean, I don’t know that I’m that surprised because I think the game rocks. It’d be weird of me to come on and say like, yeah, this thing that I think is so cool. Like I get surprised other people think it’s cool, but I think it’s a great sign for the game because you know, look, like football definitely, I love it but I’m also realistic about the challenges that it has. And I think that one of the biggest problems that it has is it’s not very good about marketing itself. I mean, in a sense like it’s not good about marketing players, I’ll say that for sure. But I think that is something that the league is definitely trying to get better at. So to see the game growing outside of the US, I think is great. And I mean that’s obviously something that, look, it pays the bills. So like many people want to watch football, I’m in on it.

Liz: Now, around the NFL Podcasting, they used to do the segment called wind West is toaster, which you tried to win. For those who may not know I’m talking about, can you explain? Yeah,

Matt: Yeah. Shout out to the ATN guys, they’re some of my absolute favorite. I mean, I love their podcasts. Obviously, I listened to their podcast for like a hundred years, but now I’m very happy that I can like call those guys friends and like, we hang out in LA and stuff like that. So the segment was Chris Wessling, for those who somehow don’t know who he is, he’s one of the writers or I love West’s new bid on the podcast where he’s like, he doesn’t want to write anymore. When I’m like, Wes, you’re one of the absolute best football writers on the planet. You need to cut that crap out. Even if people don’t read anymore, some of us will read it, but you know, he’s a writer for the website.

And at the time, one of the things that he was just really good at it on the podcast is just all these like, league history, league trivia and stuff like that. So he would have guests come on and call in on the phone and essentially take him on in a trivia contest. And I got to do that one time. Like everybody else, he kicked me around, I lost and so, that was that. But it was very fun to like be able to tell those guys after about like a month working there, being like, Hey, by the way, like I was on the pod, you know, back in 2013. Again, this is like when I was, you know, I hadn’t even started my website, I think, or I might’ve just started my website at that point and like was pursuing a career or trying to pursue not even a career, but just trying to pursue something in this and going on the podcast, even if it was just like for a trivia show is like, Oh my God, this is really, really cool.

And you know, like it’s fun now. Like I have those experiences and stuff with people that follow my work and I think it’s cool to just like, it’s just funny how life works, you know? Like now, like I said, I used to work with those guys and like, you know, now, I see them around town and like hang out and stuff like that. It’s really cool.

Liz: Now, you used to be part of a podcast called Fancy Hipsters. Any plans to bring that back?

Matt: No, you’re like the hundredth person that’s asked me that. But no, look, I think that the reality is, number one, Fantasy Hipsters was a fun bit, but I think franchise, Matt Francisco and I who used to work together at the NFL and we’ve since gone to different things. He’s working at EA sports on Madden and everything like that. And I’m obviously, you know, continuing to blab about football just for a different company. But I think we’re both happy that like that bit is kind of in the past, but it was a great way to like do something different and kind of play these weird characters that like we would go on NFL fantasy shows and get to kind of make fun of guys like Maurice Jones-Drew; like, shout out to Maurice Jones-Drew for being one of the guys that really would have some fun with us and like play along with it. And like, we’d call him like Maurice Jones Who on some of the segments and he wouldn’t like punch us in the face.

I mean, it was a good time and I like looking back on that with fond memories, but I’m happy that, you know,  I love any chance I can to like work with Franchise or work with James Co, you know, and he has since moved on to pursue a law degree. But like Marcus is still at the NFL. These are all like all my good friends still. But anytime he and I collaborate and work together again, I would always take those chances. But I don’t think it will ever be under the Fantasy Hipsters moniker again.

Liz: That’s fair enough. And I know you’re from Virginia and you meet to LA when you joined the NFL, how’s your dog, Charlie, embracing LA lifestyle?

Matt: Oh, I mean we were talking about it before we started recording. The guy is, you know, he’s pretty and he knows he’s pretty, so he belongs here, honestly. I mean this is the type of city that is good for him. And I mean it’s been a lot of like life changes, you know. I mean, I got him when we were in Virginia and then we both moved across the country together. So I mean like he’s kinda been here through everything and I think that’s like the beautiful relationship that you have with your dog or whatever your pet is that they’re kind of there through all these segments of life. And you know, I got Charlie when I was 23 years old and he’s six years old now, which is crazy to think about.

 I mean at some point like, you know, hopefully, fingers crossed, all things work out. Like, you know, I’m in a serious relationship now so he’s kind of adjusting to that part of life and like, eventually, hopefully, have some kids someday and like, hopefully, he lives long enough to see that. And like, it’s just fascinating to think about just the segments of life that your dog joins you through. And it’s kind of this through-line, you know, without your life. And it is really a beautiful relationship.

Liz: And the final one just for a bit of fun. Are you still a fully paid member of Team Brussels Sprouts?

Matt: Oh absolutely. Yes. No question. I’m not out there on Twitter like I used to be, you know, re-tweeting every picture of…like, my promise was every picture of Brussels sprouts that people send to me, I would retweet it but I did officially announce my retirement as the head of Brussels sprouts Twitter, but I’m still very firmly Team Brussel Sprouts. I mean eating the green vegetables, everything, that’s a constant part of life, man. I mean, so yeah, I’m always in the hunt for a restaurant with good Brussels sprouts. I mean, there’s plenty out here in LA, but sometimes you will find some bad ones and that is always disappointing. But yes, of course, we’ll still cape up for Brussels sprouts whenever I’m needed. 

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