There comes a moment that is the culmination of all prior moments, some call it the singularity, the moment of truth, the magic hour. For Adventure Team, the moment is fast approaching, the 14-team championship game against BAMF*, the Super Bowl of comic book nerd fantasy football. BAMF has run through the league this year with a single loss, and has already beaten my team in a very close Week 1 match-up. BAMF is, and should be, the heavy favorite to prevail, but I like my chances regardless.
The thing is, somehow, I’ve managed to align the interests of my fantasy team with a good portion of my real life rooting interests. My quarterback is, for good or ill, Jay Cutler. Cutler can be hit or miss, but I have high hopes for him this week, going against a putrid Eagles defense in a likely prime-time shootout. The Bears-Eagles match-up typifies the new, high octane, minimal defense NFL borne of concussion fears and the desire for ratings dominance. Fans love both spectacular offensive plays and bone-crushing hits, but only the latter has the potential for massive legal liability and out-of-commission star players, so the rules continue to skew toward the latter. It would be unsurprising if the losing team of Bears-Eagles scores over 40 points, which is good news for Cutler owners.
Jimmy Graham is probably the biggest fantasy star on my team, and though I was able to get a fairly easy victory with a sub-par outing from him last weekend, I will need a big game from him on Sunday in order to secure the championship.** Usually the Saints in general and Graham in particular bounce back well after embarrassing, and somewhat inexplicable, losses, so despite playing a tough Carolina team on the road, I think he’ll do fine.
And as an added bonus, BAMF is starting both Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford, rivals and stumbling blocks to the Bears’ playoff hopes. They play a truly bad Giants team, but are also in the midst of what could be an implosion for the ages, so it’s anyone’s guess how that game will shake out. I will likely be watching and giddily hoping for more Stafford interception and some rare Megatron drops. In any case, it will be really easy to cheer for my guys and against BAMF’s this Sunday as I go for the (red and) gold.***
Normally this rare alignment of rooting interests would make me nervous. I usually make it a point to stay away from players on teams I root for in “real” football, especially if many other league participants are also fans. Bears players are consistently drafted above their actual value in most of the leagues I participate in, and I want no part of a fantasy bidding war based on brand loyalty. When it comes to mixing fantasy football with real life fandom, I am of the Joy Division school – love, love will tear us apart.****
And maybe here it will, this doubling down of rooting interests, maybe Adventure Team, the Bears, and the Saints will go down in defeat and I will be despondent, and then will feel angry at myself for caring so much about a series of football contests that, in the ultimate context of my life and relative importance of the things I want to accomplish on earth, is vanishingly insignificant.
Or maybe I will win and I will feel it all line up for one brief moment, a cascade of happiness that is perhaps at bottom petty and pointless, a false sense of accomplishment and narrative control that is both fleeting and fragile.
But whether the attendant happiness or sadness is transitory and meaningless is sort of beside the point, as those rationalizations will do nothing to diminish the intensity of the feelings in the moment. Sports, and fantasy football in particular, is an entrée into a world of frightening clarity (there are no gray outcomes, only good or bad, and points are assigned accordingly), and artificially heightened consequences, as well an escape from the mundane world where one particular action is unlikely to carry outsized importance or be easily assigned a positive or negative value (the decision to eat a peanut butter sandwich isn’t exactly quantifiable on a good-bad continuum).
This altered state may seem silly or nonsensical to outsiders, but in the thick of it can provide all-consuming highs or lows, can be easy to get lost in, to disappear inside for large swaths of time and warp our perceptions. It’s a state that is not unfamiliar to many of us, and to poets in particular, I think.
*BAMF is, quite cleverly, both an acronym for Bad Ass Mother Fucker and the noise the X-Men’s recently resurrected Nightcrawler makes when he teleports from place to place.
** Securing the championship is key, as I have heard rumors the prize for the victor will include a statue of Iron Man with a football helmet glued to his head. It is very very important to me in ways that will probably be incomprehensible to the average human being why I feel that I absolutely need the company of such an object in my home throughout the upcoming year. I have big plans for football helmet Iron Man and I – we are going to be best of friends.
*** BAMF is also starting Eddie Lacy, who is on a Packer team that has a good chance to steal the division even absent Aaron Rodgers.
**** I’ve always understood the “us” in this line, and song in general, to be about a couple that is being torn apart by love, but recently I’ve wondered if it might not apply to a more universal us, i.e. to “each of us,” instead, and in that context it is almost more sad and sinister, that this thing most of us consider to be one of the most important and sustaining in life is something that is ripping us apart from within, undoing us at the seams.