- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chris Cooley has never helped hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

The Washington Redskins tight end soon, however, might earn something slightly less prestigious: a sculpture of a chubby man holding a football and a remote control - the top prize for winning his fantasy football league.

Cooley, the commissioner of a league that includes his wife, Jason Campbell’s girlfriend and several teammates, will receive a 12-pound trophy as a gift from a Brooklyn-based artist who came across an online video of the players’ preseason draft.

“It’s pretty cool. We’re excited to get it,” Cooley said. “And I will also be excited to award it to myself when I win the league.”

Dave Mitri of Fantasy Trophies was among the throngs of people intrigued by Cooley’s draft video, which became a YouTube sensation after Cooley posted it on his Web site because of its depiction of baffled fantasy football rookies, including wide receiver Santana Moss and cornerback Fred Smoot.

Campbell, kicker Shaun Suisham, quarterback Colt Brennan and safety Reed Doughty are among the other players in the league.

“What was cool about his video is that anyone who watched it wouldn’t necessarily know [Cooley] was a professional athlete,” Mr. Mitri said. “He’s totally the kind of guy I could see in my league. I think he’d really get the humor in this, and I’m totally sure that when they get it, they will be blown away.”

Mr. Mitri’s gift is not a typical, run-of-the mill trophy handed out at Little League or Pop Warner banquets. The trophies are molded from a handmade sculpture of Mr. Mitri’s design, made out of a rigid urethane with a bronze finish and placed on a solid oak base. Depending on size, the sculptures sell for between $125 and $329.

The trophy being sent to Cooley, dubbed “The Throwback,” is inspired by the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s best college football player. Except in this case, the player depicted is holding a television remote control in his right hand, and the figure is a bit more … chunky.

Mr. Mitri’s cousin Johnny was the model.

“He had to brace himself against the wall, and his wife’s yelling at me that he’s going to pull a muscle,” Mr. Mitri said.

While “The Throwback” is Fantasy Trophies’ most popular design, the company also sells the “Armchair Quarterback” - a helmeted man in a chair drinking a beer - and a trophy modeled after a toilet bowl for the “Ultimate Loser.” The company sells trophies for football, baseball and basketball and recently introduced a NASCAR trophy.

Mr. Mitri has been playing fantasy sports with friends from his native Cleveland since 1991. The idea for a fantasy trophy came during his time at art school in Brooklyn.

“I said, ‘I should make a fantasy trophy for my league, as a joke,’” he said. “I unveiled it, and my buddies went crazy.”

In the past 15 years, he has filled orders from all over the country as well as Canada. He recently was asked to ship a trophy to Switzerland but found that the shipping was more expensive than the trophy itself. Once, Mr. Mitri got up at the crack of dawn in New York to personally hand a trophy to a man who wanted it in time for a pregame tailgate later that day - in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Mitri sells between 60 and 100 trophies each year, but he expects to increase production now that he has hired two additional sculptors and a staff to help cast, assemble and ship. And he has drawn the attention of some professional sports teams, including the Utah Jazz, who hired him to provide the trophy for the team’s online fantasy game.

While Mr. Mitri expands his business, Cooley and his friend and business partner, Jake Stewart, have discussed expanding their fantasy game next year to include other celebrities, perhaps even holding the draft before a live audience as part of a charity benefit.

“This was kind of a test year, I guess, for what we could possibly do,” Cooley said. “It was actually a pretty big hit. A lot of people liked it on YouTube. People are definitely into fantasy football. There was a lot of criticism that, ‘Oh, why would people care about your draft?’ But I think we kind of put that aside.”

And however Cooley’s fantasy league evolves, he can be comfortable in the knowledge that there will be a grand-prize trophy for the winner.

“I had conceived of trying to have some sort of season-ending award or something cool,” Cooley said. “So it really kind of worked out.”

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