by Neal Kitterlin
I’ll lead with the type of confession you don’t usually get from people who write about sports or politics – I was wrong. Perhaps I even led you astray in your own decision-making process (if I were to indulge myself in the presumption that anyone who reads this actually considers me an authority on this stuff). I started Mike James over Andre Ellington, and look what it got me – my first loss in seven weeks, while my chief rival continued his undefeated streak.
I’m sure to bounce back this week, despite the fact that I can truthfully say the words, “I am starting Dexter McCluster” in that league, due to byes and injuries and the fact that I still have a really low waiver priority, which prevented me from picking up one of this week’s hot waiver wire commodities, such as Kenny Stills or Marvin Jones (both of whom I wholeheartedly endorse picking up in your league if they are still available, Stills more than Jones, because Breezus over Dalton, forever and ever, amen). The owner I am playing against has officially given up the fantasy ghost, thrown in the towel, sent his team on a one-way trip to Belize. Barring any last-minute changes, his lineup includes Eli Manning (bye), Roddy White (injury), and David Wilson (bye and injury), as well as a phantom kicker also on a bye.* Normally, this type of competitive imbalance would irk me, even if it went in my favor, because I believe in the sanctity of fantasy football, that the game should be played the right way, in honor, in duty, in apple pie and America, goddammit, but right now I am in win at all costs mode and those things simply don’t matter.
And so we trade principle for expediency. We want to say we won’t but we will do it almost every time the choice is presented. The road most taken is most taken for a reason – it requires less effort, it feels comfortable, it feels safe. So we start the guy most likely to get more touches, who is definitely going to have that football in his hand, instead of the guy who is likely to make that one brilliant, spectacular play that leaves our hearts in our throat, but also more likely to fail spectacularly, or maybe to never even get the chance. All this is to say – Andre, I’m sorry.
But even as we take the easy way, motor down that comfortable well-lit road studded with fast food franchises, the ghost of the second path stays beside us the entire way. We see the bench scores too, feel the way things could have been, the cumulative weight of the choices we felt good about at the time but have their truth revealed in the cold calculus of hindsight. And sometimes it doesn’t make a difference anyway – TerrellePryor had a 93-yard touchdown run then nothing, but he was still a better choice than Ben Roethlisberger, on both a moral and numbers scale. He wasn’t enough, though, and guess what – Ellington wouldn’t have been enough either. If I had started him in place of James, I would have merely lost a closer game.
By this time you are probably wondering if I am getting to a point, if I even have a point, and I am here to tell you the lack of a point is sort of the point. As Hank Williams famously sang, “No matter how I struggle and strive, I’ll never get out of this world alive.”* Running four fantasy teams simultaneously this year has taught me that all the scheming, the trading, the lineup tinkering, is much less likely to influence the outcome of a game than random chance. I thought the absence, or severe limitation, of Jimmy Graham would be downfall last week, but he performed well. I thought Kansas City’s defense would be a force – they provided almost nothing. In the end you are going with your core players and tinkering a little around the edges, and that tinkering isn’t likely to make much difference at all.
Then why do it? Why spend so much time and effort for an outside chance at marginal improvement that isn’t going to have much of an influence on the outcome anyway? Because it’s fun; because the thrill of playing around with things, of interacting with the world, is worthwhile regardless of the outcome. You buy the ticket, you take the ride, even if the ride ends at the exact spot it started. Sure, you can play the game on auto-pilot, but you’re not going to get much out of it that way.
CODA: With the Bears on bye and the good folks who decide which games play in which market deciding, probably rightly, that there would be little local interest in the Saints-Bills contest, I didn’t watch much football on Sunday. What I did watch was colored, and somewhat diminished, by the news earlier that day that Lou Reed had died. I may be wrong, but football seems like something that Lou wouldn’t have much been into.
I am by no means a Velvet Underground or Lou Reed superfan, but I had my moments. The Trainspotting soundtrack was always on pretty heavy rotation in my teens, and Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” was one of my first, confusing, mysterious glimpses into the world of grown-up relationships (if it was such a perfect day, I wondered, why did he sound so sad?)* Later, I started listening to the Velvet Underground, and it made me feel like part of an elitist, secret club who could rightfully sneer at people driving pick-up trucks and listening to Wal-Mart country. Even later, I could always count on those songs to be there for me anytime I felt like my life was careening out of control, and they would somehow both calm me and encourage me to steer into the skid, to smile as I woke up (or found myself still awake) exhausted on a beautiful Sunday morning and be glad for the dawn, for the glowing world out there still waiting.
* The fact that he has Eli Manning and David Wilson on his team is probably a heavy to his decision that this year is simply not his year and the attendant loss of interest. Even so, I still can’t totally understand it. I am the type of person who will continue to obsessively tinker with lineups and work the waiver wire even in a completely meaningless match-up. I’m not sure if this means I care too much or others don’t care enough.
* Within a year of this song charting, both Hank and co-writer Fred Rose were dead.
* I later learned that the song was most likely actually about heroin, but, despite the fact that I was introduced to it via the soundtrack for a movie about heroin addicts, this interpretation never occurred to my teen self.