In Chains founder Jerry Cantrell is known among hard rock fans as one of the
best songwriters of his generation, as well as an innovative guitar god. But some may not be aware of his enthusiasm for pro football.
“Football to me was just always part of neighborhood life. My friends and I used to play ‘rat ball’ out in the yard, and I just loved the game,” Cantrell tells Rolling Stone. “I never missed a chance to go out in the snow and the rain and mud and play football with your buddies. It’s a great thing, ya know?”
A lifelong fan of the gridiron game, Cantrell says he developed his football loyalties early in life.
“I was born in ’66, and we didn’t get the Seahawks until ’76, when they came into the league with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” he explains. “But I was already huge Steelers fan, and that era was just tremendous – four Super Bowls in six years.”
Cantrell doesn’t spend as much time these days with the football “out in the yard” as in his younger years, but he and some music colleagues rev up their hyper-competitive juices through fantasy football.
Along with Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez, a huge Oakland Raiders fan, Cantrell runs the annual Alice in Chains Fantasy Football League and Auction. Other participants in the this league consist of some well-known rock & roll names, including Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses and thrash guitarist Scott Ian of Anthrax.
“If you’re gonna watch the games anyway because you’re a huge fan like I am, it’s a great way to keep an eye on stats and injuries, what’s going on throughout the league, histories of teams against each other, dealing with bye weeks, and everything,” says Cantrell.
The league, which also does a yearly auction for charity, has its share of hard football street cred, too. Sports world participants include former NFL receiver and SiriusXM host Torry Holt, the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, WWE wrestler The Miz, NFL.com fantasy football columnist Michael Fabiano, along with actor-director and SiriusXM host Michael Rapaport.
“We have a good time doing it, the money goes to a good cause, we have a laugh, and it lets some people win some cool shit,” Cantrell says.
This year’s fantasy draft took place at Cantrell’s home and was broadcast live on SiriusXM’s Fantasy Sports Radio channel. Two SiriusXM fantasy football experts, John Hansen and Bob Harris, hosted the live draft broadcast. Going forward into NFL Week 4 and on, listeners can follow the league and how the guys fare on Sirius channels.
It’s probably not surprising that Cantrell’s fantasy football league satisfies not just competitive urges and what he calls his “analytical” side – but some good old football trash talk livens it all up too.
“I’ve been friends with Vinnie for over 20 years, and he’s about as rabid a Cowboys fans as I am for the Seahawks. So, yeah, it all comes out,” Cantrell says, adding that his band’s tours sometimes collide with the NFL football season.
“Mike and I will find ourselves in some unfriendly football places, like in Europe, maybe Turkey or somewhere, and so you try to watch it on your computer or on the Slingbox. It keeps you engaged in the game, and I love it.” Cantrell mentions that if he is onstage performing while his teams score, his guitar tech keeps track on the laptop computer and will always let him know.
Despite Cantrell’s decades of following the NFL, he says winning in fantasy football still ain’t easy. That said, so far the rock stars in his league might have an edge over the pro sports guys and media experts.
“The only two-time winner [of the league] is Scott Ian. Vinnie won it once. I won it last year – finally! And Mike, he’s still not won.”
Another important part of the Alice in Chains Fantasy Football League is the charity component. Every year, participants kick off the season with an auction and donate special items and memorabilia to raise money.
“We all kick in personal items: guitars, amps, drums, whatever. Others donate signed jerseys, Hall of Fame stuff. People outside the league have started to donate to the prize pool for our auction,” Cantrell added. “Elton John gave us a private box last year for the top bidder to sit in to watch his (live concert) show.”
In past years, the cash raised has gone to the fantasy league winner’s charity of choice. Proceeds from this year’s auction are to be split between a donation to MusiCares, in the name of the late Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, and a donation to Music For Relief, in remembrance of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, who also died this summer.
From their very first recording sessions and earliest live shows, Alice In Chains has been heavily influential upon rock music. When asked about today’s pop-friendly singer-songwriter music scene, Cantrell is steadfastly optimistic about rock.
“[Music] goes through changes and permutations,” he says. “And as a band we’ve been through many changes and permutations too.” He concedes though that most often classic songs are the best listen, no matter what the occasion.
“I got up today and was feeling a little old and creaky and had myself a massage. And while I did, I listened to [Led Zeppelin’s 1975 double album] Physical Graffiti from top to bottom – because it’s a fucking masterpiece,” Cantrell says. “Another great thing about music is, once it’s down on a disc, it lives. The only thing that will prove it out is time.”
Cantrell also mentions that one of his more favorite things about being a musician is experiencing music’s random, unexpected moments. “Last year, a bunch of music buddies and friends came to my birthday party. Robert Trujillo [Metallica’s bass player] was there and he brought his son [12-year-old part-time Korn bass player Tye Trujillo] who is fucking awesome. Suddenly, people were playing Iron Maiden in my living room. Music will go where it wants to go, and lives as it wants to live. It’s exactly what should happen.”