Football season is underway, and so too is the grueling and emotionally taxing side game of fantasy football, a platform by which even the most casual fans are given a reason to scrutinize every game and root for each player individually, no matter how obscure. The season is a bitter test of will and endurance that leaves the richest minds bankrupt, replacing any shred of hope with one simple question: “why?”
I swore to myself I would never endure such agony again. Yet, I am beginning this 13-week journey with high hopes and steady resolve, but not without the wariness of past defeats. Only a year ago, I was elated with my first overall pick. It was as close to a sure thing that this league provides, and I giddily pounced on the opportunity to proudly place the crown jewel of fantasy football on my roster: Adrian “All Day” Peterson.
For those who don’t know, Peterson is a man who runs with such an astonishing combination of grace and unforgiving ruthlessness that it can be argued that his athletic equal exists only outside the walls of his specific sport; figures like Mike Tyson or Michael Jordan are the only comparable athletes who come to mind. Adrian Peterson is among the most gifted runners in NFL history, and his toughness and durability is second to none.
Because I wouldn’t forgive myself for not stating it plainly: This is a man who, in 2011, suffered what experts called a career ending knee injury. They said that Peterson may never play football again and that, if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be the same player he was. In response, Peterson said “nah,” and returned to the league less than a year later, ultimately missing the NFL’s all-time single season rushing record by nine yards (unofficial quote).
With my fourth round pick, I was fortunate to happen upon another tried and true fantasy runner by the name of Ray Rice, a then six-year veteran who had proven himself a solid fantasy commodity and, at the time, what appeared to be an excellent value for my RB2 position. At the time, he was serving a two-game suspension after being charged with the assault of his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer, but two weeks were a small price to pay for a roster which would eventually consist of Rice, Peterson, Tom Brady, Alshon Jeffery, Victor Cruz, Martellus Bennett, and (what ended up being an outstanding) Houston defense.
Football aficionados will look at that squad and agree that it held promise, to say the least. In fact, I’d venture to guess that most fantasy football players would leave that draft brimming with confidence. I was thrilled with my prospects for the season, and was grateful that I had finally been fortunate enough to secure such an excellent squad built around two of the league’s strongest runners.
Unfortunately, Peterson doesn’t seem to believe in time-outs, and Roger Goodell was astonished to learn that violence is generally an aspect of domestic violence. As a result, neither Peterson nor Rice took the field after week one and my nucleus evaporated in a matter of days.
So why return to fantasy football when I was so clearly ordained by God himself to never to dabble in this realm again?
It isn’t for the money. Money is nice to have, but the lure of fantasy football speaks to something so much deeper. Perhaps it’s our primal need to compete with and one-up our social rivals, although it may boil down to our need to express our analytical prowess. After all, to succeed consistently in fantasy football undoubtedly speaks to a person’s understanding of positions, statistics, probabilities, and coaching philosophy. Sure, there is always an element of luck in any given season (injuries, suspensions, sleepers, etc.), but ultimately it’s incredibly unlikely an individual could win games consistently without having a somewhat advanced measure of understanding of professional football. For those who approach the game in ignorance, this leads to a truly crushing outcome.
In preparation for the arrival of this heartache, fantasy football players must engage in grueling hours of research and data analysis ranging from a running back’s average yards per attempt to a quarterback’s career completion percentage, and finally organize individual players on the basis of their projected output over the course of a season. In order to be done effectively, it requires diligence and mountains of free time, and there are no assurances that the hard work players put in will pay off.
Currently, as of week two, there are several individuals in this writer’s league who are hanging onto their sanity by the thinnest of threads. Others seem simply to be living in denial. Perhaps blinded by delusions of grandeur, these fools wander aimlessly into September’s abyss without understanding the horrifying implications of their tepid rosters. The coldness of failure will fall on them before winter drops its first snowflake.
Tragically, therein lies the ultimate truth of fantasy football, and competition in general: The elation of the highest victories will never parallel the horrific devastation of the smallest failures. When we triumph it gives us peace, but peace is our default condition. Misery captivates us because it’s so radically against the flow of our daily lives. Pain disrupts the harmony of normalcy and leaves us slack-jawed and paralyzed by its overbearing presence.
Already this season, nearly a dozen highly coveted players have either failed to perform to standard or have endured serious injury which threatens the bulk of their season. By week two, many fantasy players have been emotionally battered by the tumultuous rollercoaster of this terrible game, with no promise of relief to come. So, collectively, we brace for the solemn misery which awaits us. As we plunge forth into the unknown, all we can do is reflect on the eternal “why” of this unbearable heartache, and confront this awful burden head-on.
Featured photo courtesy of Jay Thompson.