Compared with Mule Train, the fantasy football league my co-workers and I belong to is pretty boring.
Our gatherings feature polite chitchat, a little ribbing, barbecue and a few beers.
The Mule Train guys are pulling stunts like transporting topless dancers across state lines.
This Saturday, Mule Train — perhaps one of Austin’s oldest fantasy football leagues — will hold its annual draft at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Just wondering: have any Mule Train members done time?
“That’s not funny, John,” said Mike “Catfish” Sissom, a contractor coordinator for 3M and a Mule Train member.
So how many Mule Trainers have been locked out of the house because of the antics of this league? “Oh, you know, that’s a good question,” said Sissom, who is divorced. “I know there have been people drop out of the league because they were told to. I guess they were told it was ‘either me or the (#$%&) league.’ And I’ll tell you, we were very disappointed in those guys.”
Mule Train team names have included the Whining Cart Jockeys, the Sand Crabs and the Okie Dokes. A lot of the team names I can’t share in the paper.
The pole dancer caper happened in 2000 when Austin businessman Salem Joseph stopped at the Landing Strip, a topless club out near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Joseph, who has a limo business, had lined up a couple of private planes to fly the Mule Train bunch to a draft party at the Coushatta Casino in Louisiana. He figured the guys needed some female companionship for the trip. So he hired a couple of gals to tag along.
“The dancers jumped in the plane and went to Louisiana with us for three days,” Sissom recalled.
“Well, you know, it’s on the way to the airport,” said Joseph, explaining why he stopped at the Landing Strip. “And my car was overheating so I pulled in there.” Yeah, right.
There was a catch. Before the dancers would make the trip, they wanted money up front to pay for the baby sitter. So the league is family-oriented, sort of.
Fantasy football has become a national obsession. Yahoo has declared Saturday to be National Draft Day. So many football fans play the fantasy game that every year Sports Illustrated comes out with an issue devoted to the gambling game, which works like this:
You put up some money to join. Our league has a $50 entry fee, while Mule Train charges $200. You pick real players from the NFL for your team. You score points throughout the NFL season based on their performance. The better your players do each week, the more points you get, and the more money you win.
None of this requires a hot tub. But the Mule Train archives include photos of team members sitting in one — with babes. Out by Lake Travis.
“In fact, we give tetanus shots with our draft,” said Milton Van Dusen, who puts together the Mule Train newsletter. “We have a lot of material we cannot share in the paper,” added Van Dusen, who works as a sales rep for a book company. His fantasy team is called the Love Slaves.
Mule Train members exchange tacky greeting cards. Sissom’s fantasy league team, the Cousins, sends out a Christmas card showing team members’ faces attached to illustrations of sheep. “Wishing You A Very Cluster Cousin Christmas!” it says.
Mule Train started up in 1989 with its initial draft at a club on Sixth Street. Back then fantasy football was a brand-new toy, a new form of gambling that caused suspicion. People weren’t sure it was legal.
“Back in those days they were saying, ‘Fantasy football. That’s horrible. It’s going to ruin the country,’” Sissom recalled.
At that first draft, Sr. Sgt. Byron “Bubba” Cates, supervisor of the Austin Police Department’s vice unit, was snooping around, checking out the action.
The Mule Train members got lucky. Cates left them alone, and he instead headed over to Scholz Garten on San Jacinto Boulevard to bust another fantasy draft. That bust made national news.
The next year Cates was fired from APD amid allegations by the feds that he was running a prostitution ring. Consequently, Mule Train honors Cates by naming one of its divisions the Bubba Cates Memorial Division.
Then there’s Mike Arnold, aka Pfabio, another Mule Train participant and a handyman who lives in a double-wide in Granger. Pfabio was so named because, like Fabio, he had great hair.
One year Pfabio bet he’d win at least five games. If he didn’t, his colleagues would get to shave him bald. Pfabio came up short. And so did his hair. Out came the clippers.
“That night at the draft, we shaved his head,” Sissom said. “Everybody took turns shaving his beautiful” hair.
No one will ever accuse the Mule Train of being stuffy.