This is the second installment in the oral history of the OklahomIraqis League, which started in Baghdad in 2006. To start from the beginning, click here.
After the 2006 deployment, most of the men didn't go back to drill until April or May due to the leave they'd accrued. And, when they did, they went back to their respective armories in Lawton, Duncan, Chickasha, Anadarko, and Walters. Guys they worked with every day suddenly became guys they only saw every few months at best. So, when the 2007 football season approached, many of the men in the OIL had not visited with each other since the deployment. That's when Pyle asked OIL commissioner Cliburn if he planned on resurrecting the league.
After being gone from their jobs for over 15 months, the men went back to their daily lives and tried to pretend nothing had changed. But things had changed, and everyone adjusted differently.
CLIBURN: The year we were deployed flew by. And the year after we got back from Baghdad seemed to go by even faster. I bought a small house in Lawton and fellow 158 soldier Earhart was my roommate. I started college at Cameron University and went back to UPS, where I could talk to Duffy about drill and football. We worked in separate areas, but we made time to talk each morning. That helped with the transition from full-time military to civilian life.
DUFFY: Things were different when we got back. Somehow, full-time UPS management was more stressful than Baghdad was.
JESSEN: I was on orders for my ankle on Fort Sill until February. Then I went to work for DCP Midstream.
BRUESCH: I bought a house in Moore, Oklahoma and took a lot of time off before I went back to work for the machinery company I'd worked for before the deployment. I gained 40 pounds during the deployment, so I started 2007 on a diet.
CLIBURN: Wow. 40 pounds? And you still looked skinny.
PYLE: I just went home to Anadarko and started working for the bank again.
COBB: Almost immediately after we got back, I moved back to Arkansas and started going to school at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. I was still in the 158 and driving to Lawton for drill. I also got involved in MMA training.
LEAL: I moved back to Norman (home of the Sooners!) and worked for Fowler Toyota as a salesman.
HENDERSON: After the 2006 mission, I came home to a baby I didn't know and a house I'd bought but never seen. I was still working for Lawton Police Department but living in Grandfield.
MORGAN: I went back to nursing school.
FINCH: I lived in Rush Springs with Baldwin when we got back. We were roommates in Iraq and roommates once we got home. Adjusting was a bitch. I still have road rage issues and swerve to miss every piece of trash on the streets. You know, the normal OEF/OIF problems.
CLIBURN: I remember you and Yancy's place out there. I went to a few parties there; we had a lot of fun there.
FINCH: Yeah. We spent a lot of time just hanging out around bonfires. We were burning trash in the burn barrel one evening. It was kinda chilly that night, so we were kind of crowded around it. Apparently some female had, unbeknownst to us, put her hair spray bottle or something in the trash. Of course, that thing exploded in the fire and, when I looked over, Yancy and I were both lying on our bellies in the stickers and brush like we'd just gotten mortared. In hindsight, it's pretty funny stuff.
BALDWIN: That's what I was going to say. I'll never forget that night.
CLIBURN: I think we all had an experience like that. For me, it was at UPS. I was working the pre-load at 0430 and I got a lot of packages in a row, so it was hard to keep up. I started taking them off the conveyor belt as fast as I could and set them down until I could load them all during a lull. I set one package down and it sounded like that IED that went off on us at Checkpoint 59A. I jumped about three feet. My heart was pounding. I felt warm all over, and I couldn't hear anything for a moment. My ears were fine, but I was in some sort of tunnel vision. When I "came to" (which was just a couple seconds later), I heard my co-workers laughing and telling me how high I'd jumped. It turns out there was a fire extinguisher in that package and, when I set it down forcefully, it went off. It scared me half to death.
COBB: For me, it was doors slamming. That always got my blood pumping.
CLIBURN: That's understandable. I mean, you had like nine IED strikes just a year before.
COBB: Yeah. They got really old.
CLIBURN: Before I knew it, the 2007 season was nearing. That's when Pyle contacted me about the league. I wasn't too surprised, since he'd won that inaugural season. I'd want to play again too if I was the defending champion. Anyway, since I was in charge of the league again I set it up and started inviting guys.
PYLE: I'm glad I suggested we resurrect the league that year.
CLIBURN: Me too. If you hadn't, we may never have started it up again, and it wouldn't be what it is today.
Recruiting the League
CLIBURN: When we got back, I'd lost touch with several original OklahomIraqis, including Peacock (who had left the 158) and Woodman (who was in a different battery). That put us at eight members, and Jessen chose not to compete in 2007 (although none of us remember why). So I had a seven-man league and needed to recruit warm bodies. Some were easy, like Bruesch, Cobb, and Duffy.
BRUESCH: I wasn't in the league in 2006 but I heard Cliburn talk about it a lot that year before we'd go out on mission. So, when he invited me, I thought why not?
CLIBURN: I knew he'd be a great addition. We talked fantasy football (and even fantasy NASCAR) a lot during the SECFOR mission. We became pretty close over there, so I sent him an invite.
COBB: I wasn't in the 2006 edition of the OIL either. I didn't even know about it until later. But I'm not surprised. Cliburn didn't tell me about his treasure trove of books until our last week there, so it wasn't a shock that he kept the OIL from me, too.
CLIBURN: Man, you were so pissed when you found out I had all those books.
COBB: Yeah! I was going to the company TOC and borrowing crappy John Grisham novels I was so hard up for books and you had a whole foot locker full of non-fiction the whole time!
CLIBURN: How was I to know that was what you were looking for? Anyway, we were hanging out during drill weekends, so I invited Cobb to the 2007 edition of the OIL.
JESSEN: I wasn't in the OIL in 2007, even though I was in it the original year.
CLIBURN: I remember that. Why didn't you join?
JESSEN: I don't think I got an invite.
CLIBURN: No, you definitely got an invite. I just remember you not wanting to be in it that season.
JESSEN: Well, either way, if I had been in the league, the OIL Bowl would have turned out differently that year.
CLIBURN: Whatever. The league ended up being 16 teams that year, and several of the managers weren't even in the 158. It was hard to keep up with everything. Trying to put the league together the second year was more difficult than it was in Iraq. Over there, we all lived on the same pad, so it was easy to get a hold of guys: just go to their trailer. But the next year, in the real world, things were different. It was like herding cats trying to organize it.
PYLE: I do remember it being a lot of new guys. Some were on the SECFOR mission (like Bruesch, Cobb, and Duffy), but some of them I didn't know at all.
CLIBURN: Yeah. Duffy was an easy choice. About a year before the deployment, he gave me a heads up on a job at UPS. I was hired, and we saw each other every morning at work. Our shifts barely overlapped, so we didn't get to talk much. But then we went to Iraq and back together, so we had a lot more to talk about. And I knew that Duffy loved football. So I invited him to join the OIL.
DUFFY: I remember him asking me. I feel like there were days of buttering me up beforehand. I had my doubts about fantasy football, but I wasn't completely against it. Something I said seemed to require Cliburn to give me a few days of discussion as a bridge to the invitation. What's funny is that now I can admit my initial hesitation had nothing to do with fantasy football. It had to do with feeling inferior around Cliburn and other football fans when they talked about it. Their knowledge and memory of trivial NFL facts and stats was overwhelming. I remember thinking as I agreed to join that some homework would be necessary if I wasn't going to embarrass myself that first season.
CLIBURN: After adding the 158 guys, my longtime friend was definitely getting an invite. But my mistake was allowing managers to send official invitations to the league. The numbers swelled pretty quickly.
JOSH HASTINGS: I was glad Justin invited me. I had just moved backed to our home town. It was good to re-connect like that. And he didn't mind that I invited my brother-in-law (Lauren McLaughlin) to come with me.
LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN: I remember Josh said you guys had an opening, so I asked if I could join. That was the first year that I'd ever played fantasy football, so I had a lot to learn and had to learn fast.
CLIBURN: That was your first year?
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Remember? Josh and you both helped me out that year during the season as I adjusted to learning roster management.
CLIBURN: That's right. Man, that was so long ago, it's easy to forget little bits of advice here and there.
MCLAUGHLIN: I had a good time that season and learned a lot about fantasy football. I've played every year since then, so that was definitely the year that got me hooked.
CLIBURN: Anyway, the league swelled up fast. No offense to McLaughlin or anyone else, but it felt like that episode of Doug where Doug was trying to put together a band. Each person he asked would only join if they could bring a friend or have a solo of their own. So Josh brought his brother-in-law. Pyle invited his cousin. Then I brought in another longtime friend, and he invited his cousin, too. That's how the 10-man OIL of 2006 turned into the 16-man OIL of 2007. But, still, I was happy we kept the league going, and I was glad to have Josh in the fold.
HASTINGS: My team name wasn't very original; it was named after Justin's and my high school football team: The Highlanders. But I was glad Justin was back and was glad to be in the league. I was in the Air Force and rarely saw Justin after high school. We used to both post on OperationSports.com as a way to keep in touch, and now we had the league to do that just as we were both leaving active-duty and moving home.
CLIBURN: And Josh fit in well in the league. He was an Oklahoman, and he was in the military himself. He knew his football, and he liked to talk trash. He was a longtime friend at that point. Conversely, I had only known Trovillo for several months, but I didn't hesitate to invite him into the fold, too.
CHRISTOPHER TROVILLO: I wasn't in the 158, but I happily joined the league at Cliburn's suggestion. I was an active duty soldier at Fort Sill at the time. I was originally from Kentucky and Tennessee, so I was surprised I was invited to such an Oklahoma-centric league.
CLIBURN: Of the non-158 managers added in 2007, you're the only one still in the league . . . which is weird since I knew you the least amount of time out of all those guys. And I only met you because of my brother.
TROVILLO: We met after I befriended his brother at The Dragon West in Lawton. We became fast friends, and I ended up spending most of my off-time at his house. Weekend parties there provided some great memories: I had syrup poured on my head there to settle a bet. I got drunk and laid there. And I talked to the cops on more than one occasion.
CLIBURN: He fit in well from the beginning. I wasn't sure if he'd played fantasy football before or not, but I thought his wit and trash-talk would serve the league well.
MORGAN: I didn't know who Trovillo was, but he turned out to be a good addition. I was glad Cliburn kept the league going in '07. I loved the idea of keeping in touch with the guys we deployed with. And football was such a good way to do that.
CLIBURN: The 2007 draft went much smoother than the 2006 one, mainly because we were state-side and had decent internet again. Just about everyone was able to draft their team live online. There were no excuses.
DUFFY: I went with Peyton Manning in the first round, which is weird because I never go QB early now. But I was still learning fantasy football, and it's not like Peyton disappointed.
CLIBURN: We tried something different that year and included individual defensive players. But Yahoo's scoring settings never quite tracked their stats correctly. It was a mistake, and we never did it again. LaDainian Tomlinson was the top-scoring RB in 2006, so it was no surprise he went number one overall.
MORGAN: My draft kicked ass that year. That's all I remember.
CLIBURN: If I remember correctly, Morgan was one of the few who let Yahoo "autopick" his team, so he should get zero credit for that draft.
CLIBURN: Unfortunately, it's hard to remember the details of that season. After all, we're compiling this oral history seven years after the fact. And the Yahoo! archives only show the final scores of games rather than the lineups with individual scores.
DUFFY: But I'm glad we're doing it. It was my first year of fantasy football, so I probably remember it better than others.
CLIBURN: But we still have the message board posts, and they illustrate what would become a familiar theme in the OIL: Pyle panicking after week one.
CLIBURN: I feel like you draft Bush every year only to sour on him and trade him away.
PYLE: Pretty much.
CLIBURN: We should have known it was the Whackers' year when Morgan had three WRs in a game that ended up 51-45 in week two. Cincinnati went to Cleveland and an Arena League game broke out. Morgan had Braylon Edwards, TJ Houshmanzadeh, and Chad Johnson. I couldn't believe it.
CLIBURN: Seriously. Look at the stat line for that game. It's insane. And Morgan had three of those receivers.
MORGAN: What can I say? I had a good draft.
CLIBURN: I wonder how Schmidt got me to trade Drew Brees and Santonio Holmes for Ernest Wilford and David Garrard? I must have had my reasons, but, in hindsight, it looks like I got screwed big time.
Weeks 8 and 9
The league was pretty quiet after week three, but Purdue broke the radio silence just before week nine by announcing a big event in his life:
CLIBURN: It wasn't until week eight that Josh Hastings won his first game. His Highlanders (later, ThroatPunchers) were the only winless team at that point, and I was a little disappointed.
CLIBURN: Looking back at that season, I can't help but wonder who Duffy and Hastings started in their week 10 matchup. That game is the lowest-scoring game in OIL history.
DUFFY: I don't know. It's too bad Yahoo doesn't save the individual lineups.
HASTINGS: I may have quit caring by then to be honest. You're right though; that was pretty awful.
CLIBURN: Heading into week 13, I knew had a real chance to make the playoffs. I'd missed the playoffs by one game in the first season, and all I needed was a good game from Wes Welker.
CLIBURN: A good game from Welker seemed inevitable. This was during the Patriots' record-breaking 2007 season. Brady threw 50 touchdowns that year. But Welker only caught three passes for 18 yards that day, and I missed the playoffs.
Only six of the 16 teams made the playoffs, and only four of those six were in the original league in Baghdad. They were Leal (Norman Nobodies); Morgan (Whackers); Finch (fuckwads, now Hard Targets); and Schmidt (my team sucks, now Dead Again). The other two playoff spots were clinched by newcomers Chris Trovillo (Dirty Hippies) and Josh Hastings's brother-in-law, Lauren McLaughlin (SoonerTrash, later wolverines).
LEAL: Going into the playoffs, I was a little worried. I was dominant all season, but I had a pretty poor showing in week 13. I was afraid my team had peaked.
CLIBURN: At least you were there. For the second-consecutive year I'd finished one spot away from a playoff berth. Regardless of your week 13 stumble though, you were the favorite to win it all. You were 11-2, after all.
LEAL: Yeah, but the playoffs are different. You know that.
CLIBURN: That's true. Of course, you had a first-round bye, so you didn't know who you'd be playing in the semis. It was either going to be Finch or McLaughlin.
In the first quarterfinal, Finch went up against fifth-seeded SoonerTrash, managed by McLaughlin (Hastings's brother-in-law).
MCLAUGHLIN: I couldn't believe I'd made the playoffs. And I really couldn't beliee it when I beat my first-round opponent. I was ecstatic.
FINCH: I was pissed. I really thought that might be my year.
CLIBURN: Wasn't that your first playoff season?
FINCH: Yeah, it was. But at least I made it. That was one step closer to the goal.
In the other quarterfinal, Morgan's Whackers faced Schmidt's Dead Again franchise, which was going by My Team Sucks at that point.
CLIBURN: Morgan knocked Schmidt out of the playoffs 106-92. Schmidt would have beaten Finch that week if he'd played him, but he still would have lost to McLaughlin. So the two highest-scoring teams won in the first round.
SCHMIDT: I certainly didn't like that, but I had fun. And that's what it was all about, right? Keeping up with buddies, etc.?
CLIBURN: Exactly. I didn't even make the playoffs, but I loved following them. It just meant that much longer to keep in touch with the guys.
MORGAN: I was really busy with school that season, but I started paying attention when the playoffs came along. I was really hoping to play Leal in the semis since we were roommates overseas, but I settled for the new guy (Trovillo) instead.
In the first semifinal, Leal's Norman Nobodies met McLaughlin (Hastings's brother-in-law).
LEAL: Like I said, I wasn't very confident going into my first playoff matchup because my team had lost in week 13.
LEAL: But we rallied and won 87-73. I was headed to the OIL Bowl with my confidence back. I just felt bad for the guy who lost, since he was so close to the OIL Bowl.
MCLAUGHLIN: I wasn't too upset by losing. That was my first season playing, and I was just "happy to be there."
CLIBURN: Man, your first season of fantasy football and you make the playoffs in a 16-team league? Nice.
MCLAUGHLIN: I thought so. I was disappointed I didn't make it further, but I had a blast. Like I said, I've played fantasy football every year since then.
But in the other semifinal, the second-seeded Dirty Hippies were upset by the third-seeded Whackers, setting up an OIL Bowl featuring two rivals who were roommates in Baghdad.
Leal's magical season culminated in his Norman Nobodies meeting his arch-rival, Morgan, in the OIL Bowl. It remains the only OIL Bowl featuring designated rivals.
LEAL: I had my confidence back going into the OIL Bowl, and I thought it was a sure thing I'd win it all. Yes, I had a bad week 13, but we'd rebounded in the semifinals and won by a comfortable margin. Plus, I'd beaten Morgan in the regular season 122-75.
LEAL: On top of that, Morgan wasn't even paying that much attention.
MORGAN: But that was the regular season, buddy.
CLIBURN: Leal was upset by Morgan in the OIL Bowl. Leal was stunned; we all were.
LEAL: I still think it's bullshit and a tainted title for Morgan. I put so much into that season, and he won despite not making any add/drops. There should be an asterisk next to that title.
MORGAN: But I won, fair and square. I wasn't going to apologize for it, either.
CLIBURN: Duffy didn't too well that year. But Trovillo did pretty well that first year. He finished the regular season 9-4 and earned the two seed in the playoffs.
TROVILLO: But that's where my luck ran out. I ended up finishing fourth, but I was hooked on fantasy football and the OIL.
MORGAN: I still can't believe I won. I didn't make any add/drops. Zero. None. I was in nursing school and only joined the 2007 OIL to keep in touch with the guys.
CLIBURN: I was pissed. I felt cheated because I actually tried and fell just short of the playoffs for the second straight year.
MORGAN: But I did have a good draft and my team got hot at the right time.
CLIBURN: Everyone knew you were the luckiest guy in fantasy football. You broke Leal's heart, and he actually tried.
LEAL: Morgan trolled all of us after the OIL Bowl. His winning the league was such bullshit. Plus, we knew each other before the Guard and were roommates in Iraq. I hated losing to him.
MORGAN: Hey, I had a good team. I drafted Cutler during his first good year, and my WRs were great.
CLIBURN: It was pure luck, and I let him know it.
CLIBURN: Trovillo agreed with me. Everyone agreed.
HASTINGS: That includes me. I finished in last place that year, and my damn brother-in-law finished third. That pissed me off because I knew football. I played football for 10 years. He didn't. I decided at that point to take an entire year off to get serious . . . to actually learn instead of winging it and relying only on football knowledge. And that's what I did.
DUFFY: Yeah, well I wasn't too proud of my season either.
CLIBURN: You went 3-10 that first year (competing as Left of Center), and we played each other in week 11. I won 78.00-53.00 but I don't remember bragging too much. I mean, you were 3-10, and I didn't make the playoffs anyway.
DUFFY: Yeah, but at least you had a winning season. You knew what you were doing. That first season for me was a major learning experience, or so I thought. But, still, I looked forward to competing in 2008. I was hooked.
TROVILLO: I was pissed. By November of the season, I had gotten out of the Army and moved back to Tennessee. I'd planned on rooming with Cliburn, but I had a job offer back home.
CLIBURN: I remember that. I was surprised you left.
TROVILLO: Yeah, but then the job offer fell through and I ended up essentially homeless for six months.
CLIBURN: Damn, man. I didn't realize that.
TROVILLO: Well, the point is that I was living out of my car at a Love's truck stop (asking truckers for shower tokens before I went to job interviews) and I still managed my team. I would go to the public library and borrow people's phones to make sure I didn't have any injured players in my lineup. Seeing Morgan win it with no moves was demoralizing.
CLIBURN: And that's why you're still in the league today. Even dealing with all that, you made the playoffs. Meanwhile other managers didn't have nearly as much working against them and fell far short of the standard.
CLIBURN: It's hard to believe that, with 16 teams, there were only three trades that season. But the league was still in its infancy. The year before, no one had a lot of time to ponder trades. We were in Iraq and just happy to be in a league. That's partly why, in 2007, the trade market was slow. No one had developed those trade connections yet. And there was an influx of new managers with no connection to the existing managers.
PYLE: I think you and I were the most active on the trade block. That kind of became the norm for us two. Schmidt seemed to get the better end of his trades.
CLIBURN: It was bad enough that, in a conversation with Pyle on the message board, I posted this about Schmidt's ability to screw people over:
CLIBURN: But Schmidt had a good sense of humor about it. This all makes more sense if you remember that Schmidt is a funeral director.
The Rest of the Story
Click here to read the 2008 chapter.
The following are the 15 teams that did not win the championship in order of finish:
CLIBURN: Immediately after the season, it was clear that 16 teams was too many. I started thinking about culling the numbers and some of the guys made it easy to cut. Plus Josh dropped out (along with his brother-in-law), so that helped too.
TROVILLO: Like I said, I'd moved away from Oklahoma, but Cliburn kept me in the league each year. I can't express how happy I am to be a part of the OIL, because it has helped me stay in touch with a life long friend.
CLIBURN: Yeah, I'm glad you joined that year. You've been a good addition and we've stayed in touch. 2007 wasn't the best year of the OIL, but it was the year that brought the OIL back. Going into 2008, I was determined to make the playoffs though. I missed the playoffs by one game in each of the first two seasons. I hated that.