SOUTH KINGSTOWN, Rhode Island — Ryan Stone found a silver lining in what could have merely been a personal walk of shame.
His trip across the state of Rhode Island on Monday served as both fantasy football penance and a fundraiser for rescue animals throughout the region.
Stone covered more than 31 miles from Connecticut to Massachusetts to pay off a wager among friends made at the start of the 2021 season. That it was his own idea in the first place tinged the 10-hour journey with more than a touch of irony.
“Unfortunately, it was my idea at the start of the season to do the walk,” Stone said. “We all voted on it and that’s the idea that won.
“A little bit of controversy in the end — I finished last in the regular season. But in the consolation playoffs, I beat Andrew Burnap. He should have been last. He should have done it. But they ended up deciding I was going to be the guy.”
Burnap is a former high-school tennis player who now stars on Broadway — the Tony Award winner was ultimately spared. How and when Stone would make good on his punishment was left up to him. He’s back in town this week for the wedding of fellow league member Steve Siravo — an extended vacation started with some exercise.
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“I did kind of say it jokingly, but you might as well do it,” Stone said. “It actually motivated me when some money started coming in to get out there and do it and stay true to my word.”
Stone’s team succumbed to the great fantasy football equalizer last year — injuries. Titans running back Derrick Henry (foot), Seahawks running back Chris Carson (neck), Rams wide receiver Robert Woods (knee) and Lions tight end TJ Hockenson (thumb) all suffered premature ends to their respective seasons. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was placed on the non-football injured list and subsequently suspended by the NFL amid gambling allegations.
Those players accounted for five of Stone’s top seven draft picks. No waiver wire is deep enough to cover that number of personnel losses. He gradually faded to the bottom of the standings.
“As a manager, there are things you can’t really plan for,” Stone said. “It was actually a pretty good team until guys started dropping like flies out there.”
A quick scan of social media reveals a more severe price for failure in some leagues. Mandatory tattoos leave some owners with a lifetime reminder of their futility. The Waffle House Challenge is more common in some areas of the country — a 24-hour stay at the diner with one hour cut off for each waffle consumed.
“This is the first time we did it,” Stone said.
He started in Sterling, a town in eastern Connecticut that borders Rhode Island. He didn’t hit much vehicle traffic until Providence and finished at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Seekonk, Massachusetts.
“The money was kind of coming in while I was running,” Stone said. “That helped motivate me seeing the Venmo notifications going off. It was real nice.”
Stone’s wife, Karlie, and their infant son, Jack, were waiting at the finish along with their two rescue dogs. He raised roughly $3,000 in donations — Project Precious Rescue and Animal Lighthouse Rescue will split the proceeds. Stone encouraged any future in-state contributors to seek out the Rhode Island SPCA and its list of member organizations.
“I’m super stoked with the turnout,” Stone said. “People I haven’t heard from since college — for years — messaged me because they liked the content and liked the story.”
Stone, a former soccer player at Bryant University, stays in contact with that tight group of peers partly through this fantasy football league. That’s not an uncommon story in 2022 — an April piece from Yahoo estimated an additional $6.11 billion in industry growth through 2026. Preseason drafts online connect fantasy sports owners across multiple states — Stone lives in Stamford, Connecticut, and commutes to a white-collar job in New York three days a week.
“We don’t do anything too formal for the draft — it’s just a Zoom call,” Stone said. “But it kind of keeps us together and playing jokes on each other just like old times.”
Bill Koch is a sports reporter at The Providence (RI) Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BillKoch25.