by Neal Kitterlin
Sometimes you are in a room very near to things happening around you but with little awareness of those things. I have never been to a party where I didn’t feel that something better was happening in the room adjacent, that I was missing out on the best part of the night, that perhaps the fact of my mere presence made other rooms more interesting, other lives more exciting.
This weekend I was at Soldier Field but saw considerably less of the Bears extended overtime victory over the Ravens than I have seen of any Bears game in recent years. I was working a concession stand to help raise money for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. It was a surreal experience, to be close to the game yet to take in very little of it. Even the television most readily visible to me in my stand displayed the feed shown on the scoreboard Jumbotron inside the stadium, and so was bereft of any information regarding the quarter, the time, the down and distance, or the current score.* Seeing random plays unfold without any inkling as to where they fit in the overarching narrative of the game was odd but interesting, a bit like being born or waking up after a bender, but with less crying and screaming.
So there was a football game and a crazy storm happening all around me. Whoever makes those decisions evacuated everyone from the stands into the concourse, and eventually shut us down and had us close the shutters. It got hot in there, with the pizza ovens still on, but things never felt safe or out of hand, even when people began cracking “Walking Dead” jokes as restless fans began banging on and attempting to lift the shutters as the delay in play stretched deep into a second hour.
That little respite was the only chance I had to check my fantasy scores, and in just about every league the outcome was uncertain until at least Sunday night in one league, and Monday night in two others. In my keeper league DeMaryius Thomas pulled out the victory on Sunday night, though it was a fairly pathetic performance all around on both sides of the ball, with only Thomas, Marshawn Lynch, Colin Kaepernick, and Andre Johnson sneaking into double digits.
It took me all the way to Monday night to lose a burn barner in my fourteen team league. In that league, a triple digit total is usually a guaranteed victory, but my opponent was able to overcome a season high performance by Ben Roethlisberger and a great day from Vincent Jackson. Ben was my quarterback of last resort, with Jay Cutler and Terelle Pryor injured, and I didn’t expect much from him, but he surprised me and everyone else with a breakout game. Seeing his performance, and the slow start from RGIII for my opponent, I was pretty confident while the storm raged around me and the temperature rose in the concession enclosure, but I didn’t expect the second-half turnaround of RGIII, the solid performances of Ray Rice, Garrett Graham and the NY Giants defense. Nor did I expect Jimmy Graham to once again play like a mere mortal.
After it was all over, after I had watched an overtime Bears victory on a tiny television while counting food items and cleaning up pizza remains, after the Black Unicorn made a great catch putting the Bears in field goal range and all the fans had dissipated after a five-plus hour contest, my head was swimming and my body exhausted. Nothing on my fantasy score apps made sense. I was in need of big games from Broncos kicker Matt Prater and the Carolina defense (I had the Carolina D in two leagues) and subpar performances from the New England kicker and Carolina’s veteran pass-catcher Steve Smith.
I won one of those games, but the fourteen team league victory was not to be. Carolina’s D held for the most part, but they still allowed 20 points and never scored. Defense is the only position where you start out with a high score and then watch your points, and in my case on Monday night, chances of victory slowly dissipate with each point allowed, each little penalty and mistake a step toward the minus column, toward diminished returns.
And you look up and the night is over, and you’ve won or you’ve lost but there is both a sense of resignation and urgency. The playoffs are just a week away, and there are still so many things to get in order, so many people to see and talk to, waiver wires to check, injury reports to pore over and scan like tea leaves. Always there is that voice in your head that wonders if you did all you could, if you were in the right place, if you missed that key piece of life that would open everything else up and take you all the way to the top of the league, would make you a champion, would clear out the dusty places and leave your life shining as bright as a star, illuminate the world and alleviate the need for choice.
But then you are still there and you have what you have on that roster, the party is winding down and you see your friend sleeping soundly on a couch, softly snoring, mouth open wide, and you know this is what you need, to let it lie for a while and see where we can stumble, what we can find through the door down the hall.
* Is there a word more aggressively bloated and American than “Jumbotron”?