LARAMIE, Wyo. — The rewards of playing fantasy football just became a huge dose of reality for Tony Windis.
The Rawlins native and longtime Laramie resident became an overnight national celebrity when he won a grand prize of $300,000 and a trip for two to the Super Bowl.
In his second year playing in the high stakes World Championship of Fantasy Football Main Event, he was a risk taker during the draft and made the right decisions at the right times during the National Football League season.
And as any fantasy player will divulge, his steady climb to the top was also fueled by an immeasurable amount of luck from too many variables to count.
Nearly all fantasy football leagues are now done over the Internet. They are constantly improved for easy access, constant information and news, unlimited research, programs for complex scoring and instant live game updates. Most leagues offered online are free to set up and play.
The WCOFF was organized nine years ago and offers leagues with many levels of entry fees. The Main Event is the highest category and requires players to be present for a live draft.
The draft was at the Venetian Hotel, Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on Sept. 9-12 during the first weekend of the NFL.
"You are in the Venetian ball room, which is about the size of two UW Fieldhouses, draft tables are filled with celebrities," Windis said. "It is the biggest fantasy draft in the country. All you want to do is to get down there, do well, enjoy football and have some fun."
Windis entered two teams: Gem City Raiders I for $1,750 and Gem City Raiders II for $1,250, which finished 7-4.
Windis said both teams did well, but it was Gem City Raiders I that went the distance.
"The weird thing was that I actually thought my second team was better. Then in the playoffs, my second team just laid an egg," he said.
Each team consists of 20 players and Gem City Raiders I took advantage of having the second pick overall, which Windis used on Adrian Peterson of the Vikings.
The core of his team consisted of QB Kevin Kolb (Eagles), RB Arian Foster (Texans), WR Pierre Garcon (Colts), WR Santonio Holmes (Jets), WR Hakeem Nicks (Giants), WR Deion Branch (Patriots), TE Jermichael Finley (Packers), K Rob Bironas (Titans), D Pittsburgh.
"I never thought I would get Foster with the second pick and Nicks would be in the fourth," Windis said. "The key pick for me was in the third round for Jermichael Finley, and I centered my team around him because I thought he would be a specialty tight end/receiver. But I also have a lot of Packer fans, who knew he might get hurt. So I took Jason Witten (Cowboys) in the ninth round."
The regular season is 11 weeks long and teams are matched head-to-head while also accumulating overall points.
There is also a fake budget of $1,000 to spend on acquiring free agent players through a wavier system.
"It's a blind draw. You put a price on a player that nobody else can see and at 6 p.m. on Friday nights when the waiver period is up, it goes to the highest bidder," Windis said.
Windis lost his starting quarterback in Kolb during the first quarter of the first week, and it turned into a blessing in disguise when he made his move to acquire Michael Vick (Eagles), who was the backup.
"I was naturally going to go after Vick to protect my quarterback," Windis said. "Well everybody thought he would be a one-day wonder and the next day after the waiver period came through, (Eagles coach) Andy Reid announced that Vick would be his full-time starter. If I waited, it would have cost me around $600. The $259 I got him for was still a quarter of my money, but it could've been a lot."
He also made several other key transactions when he surfed the waiver lists to pick up RB Ryan Torain (Redskins) and WR Ben Obomanu (Seahawks). He purchased Torain for $9 and Obomanu for $2.
"When Washington's Clinton Portis got hurt at about week six, I had already picked up Ryan Torain in week three," Windis said.
Torain became a starter at the flex position, which is a utility player that could be a running back, wide receiver or tight end.
"Then for the two weeks that Hakeem Nicks was off from during the championship round (weeks 12 and 13) when you are trying to advance to the Main Event championship, I picked up Obomanu. He was huge for those two weeks, and I never played him again," Windis.
Obomanu led the Seahawks with a combined 246 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints and Chiefs during those two weeks as Windis' emergency band-aid.
Windis lost the first week of head-to-head after he lost Kolb, he then won out the rest of the way by going 10-1. He averaged 147.02 points per week.
At the end of 11 weeks, the teams with the two best records and two best total points qualified for the playoffs in weeks 12 and 13.
"So if you play that one team every week and have a bunch of points, but play the wrong guy one week, you still get rewarded for having a good team scoring points, which is what it is all about," Windis said. "I was No. 1 in points and No. 1 in wins, so I got to pick my opponent and got an extra $2,500 for that. Then you play head-to-head for weeks 12 and 13.
"After weeks 12 and 13, you have to win your division to advance to the championship round. There were 117 teams (out of a total of about 900 teams) and 73 champions of their divisions.
"Then they take the next 44 teams with the most total points. My average in points (in the playoffs) was around 180 with two big weeks and after taking an average from the 147 in the regular season, I was No. 1 in the country."
Luck tilted in Windis' favor in Week 16 the final week during a critical game between the Vikings and Eagles.
"They said there was going to be 16 inches of snow in Philadelphia," he said. "I cringed with Peterson being banged up anyway and he might not even play and Vick would be slowed tremendously why now?'
"Then, which you hardly ever hear, they said they moved the game for Tuesday night."
Windis was down by 17 points at kickoff.
"The guy that was leading had (WR) Jeremy Macklin (Eagles)," Windis said. "I also had Peterson and knew that I had 10 points from him and needed to make up 10 points to win it. But Macklin was having a pretty good game as well.
"At the end of the third quarter I was down by one point and I thought, God, am I going to get beat by one? I knew I had second place tied up already for about $60,000.
"Then it started to get nerve-racking. People were calling and texting at the wrong times wondering how I was doing. We were all actually watching it by then, and I was thinking, do not throw it to Macklin."
With 4:57 left in the game, Vick scored on a 10-yard run up the middle. With 3:34 left, Peterson scores a touchdown from 1-yard out.
"Now I am up 13 points with five minutes to go," Windis said. "Friends are bringing over champagne and people are calling and crying over the phone."
Vick finished the game 25 of 43 for 263 yards and two touchdowns, one running and one passing. Peterson rumbled for 118 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Macklin finished with 74 yards receiving on six catches.
It was a meaningless game. The Vikings were already eliminated from the playoffs. Although the Eagles missed out on a first-round bye with the 24-14 loss, the NFC champions were already headed to the postseason.
But it meant everything to Windis.
Windis instantly started receiving calls from sports channels, radio shows and major national newspapers.
"I am shoveling my walk on Sunday morning and I see my phone ring," Windis said. "It had from New Haven, Conn.' on it. I thought, who the heck is calling me from New Haven? It was (ESPN radio host) Erik Kuselias.
"He said for anybody to walk out of that room with so many players paying that kind of money and then to win it, we are going to put you on the Fantasy Football Now show.
"The show lasts 1½ hours and he was trying to get in it. It was his last show because he is going to the Golf Channel. He said, from all sorts of players at the World Championship Of Fantasy Football, here's to Tony Windis.'
"It was something small, but I still have his voice message on my phone, which is really cool and will be on my phone for a while.
"It's weird because they are calling me to know what I did. Erik Kuselias is actually in this league. To see them on TV all the time and your name pop up on ESPN is crazy."
When the dust settled and all the playoff awards and final grand prize were tallied, Windis was $308,000 richer and proportionally humble.
"To be honest, I helped out my mom and paid off her credit card and car payment. She is 70, and if she wants to quit working now, she can," he said. "My life is pretty simple. I fish and golf, but there is a lot less stress about working with that kind of money."
Windis has lived in Laramie since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1985. He has worked for a collection agency out of Colorado for the past 13 years and is currently a marketing director.
His father is Tony Windis Sr., who still lives in Rawlins and is a UW 1999 inductee of the Athletics Hall of Fame for leading the Cowboy basketball team in 1957-59. The three-time all-conference and two-time Player of the Year in the Rockies player still appears among the top of many school records for shooting and scoring.Comment on this story
His mom is Marilyn Wood, who lives in Laramie.
Windis lives with girlfriend, Karla McClaren, and her 7-year-old son, Jackson. McClaren will accompany Windis to the Super Bowl Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"I get my trophy and check (a big cardboard check) during a ceremony the day before with Suzy Kolber (ESPN) presenting it to me," Windis said. "It's kind of crazy. There have only been nine world champions and you think about all those guys from Las Vegas, Atlantic City, N.J., or Reno, Nev., or bigger parts of the country.
"Then a guy from Laramie, Wyoming ends up winning it. It's overwhelming."