So, I am playing Fantasy Football for the second season. My first season, last year, started out miserably but with a little luck and blind determination, I was able to rise from the ashes of a 1-4 start and claim the league championship. Was I smarter? No. Was I better than the other team? Some weeks. Was I determined not to give up? Absolutely! Life is less about how we experience our success and more about how we cope with and emerge from failures, right? Keep reading.
Each week our “League Commissioner,” and close friend, Todd Gleason writes a “Week In The League Recap.” It’s a thorough, often hilarious, and always spot-on/gut-shot discussion of what went on, what didn’t, and why the fuck we care about it all anyway. Todd is a WRITER, first and foremost. A powerful writer. This week’s recap was so good, I had to share. Ignore all of the league specific shit and just focus on the message. It’s poignant. It’s Lombardi-esque. It got me out of bed this morning by urging me to suck it up and stick my chin back out there. It’s just fucking good.
If you dig what and how he writes, and how he helps promote other writers doing their thing, check out his website at Drunk In A Midnight Choir. That is all.
Without further ado, I give you Commissioner Todd Gleason:
Subject: WEEK 7 RECAP: I’m A Loser, Baby…
“I failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”
“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
-Bob Dylan – “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”
It may not be true for every athlete out there, but to any athlete that plays at a professional level, winning is far and away the most important thing. The bottom line. What all the work and pain and sacrifice is for, to be the last one standing at the top of the mountain after all the others have fallen away. Integrity, guts, style, resilience, broken records, amazing feats of agility – these are all a part of what makes sports great, and worth playing and watching. But what every player wants, no matter how modest they may be, no matter how much lip service they play to “it’s how you play the game,” is to be a champion.
The problem with this, of course, is that losing is the norm. The real bottom line is that everybody loses a lot more often than they win. Every year, there is one Super Bowl Champion, and 31 also-rans. One World Series winner and 29 get-em-next-years. Even The Cubs, the best team in baseball, who won 103 games this year, still lost 59 others. Fifty-nine times this year the National League Champions still had to go home and shake off a loss. The Warriors set an NBA record last year by winning 73 regular season games. Yet they still lost nine of them, as well as their subsequent bid for a second consecutive championship after having a 3-1 game lead in the series. And we all know what happened to the 18-0 Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl against the 14-point underdog Giants.
For even the best players and teams, perfection is essentially impossible. Hell, the best batters in baseball still get out in 2 out of 3 at bats. But the beauty of perfection is our belief in it. The fact that we strive for it even when it always remains just out of reach. One of the things that makes Jim Harbaugh such a successful coach (as well as an extremely difficult and not always very likeable man) is that he drives into his players the belief that no matter how good you have become, no matter how much success you have attained, you have to keep grinding and pushing to get better. You can’t rest for one minute during the season If you’ve been coming in at 5 am to study and practice, tomorrow you better come in at 4:30 and stay an hour later. You caught 20 passes in a row? Well, tomorrow it’s 25, and you gotta do half of them one-handed. You can always add to your edge, even if only by inches. Sometimes inches are all there is between a TD and getting stuffed on 4th down, or between being safe and out, or between a swish and a rebound.
As my Dad’s Jesuit professor at Fordham once told him “A is for God, B is for me, and C is for you.” A is always going to be out of reach for us mere mortals, but we are put here to strive for it anyway. You have to believe in your own divinity, your own potential for perfection. Terrelle Pryor recently told the media that he believed his Browns team, which has literally fielded six different quarterbacks in 7 games, could win all the rest of their games this season. Everybody scoffed, and laughed him off as ridiculous. But what else is the guy going to say? Winning starts with believing you are a winner. And you can see it on the field when they play — they believe it, even against all odds and all evidence. They are a sorry 0-7, but most of those games have been one score losses. Their offense, even on the shoulders of a fifth string quarterback is dynamic and gusty never gives in. Like the runt kid who takes on a bully twice his size and keeps getting flattened and he gets back up and keeps going back for more so that the bully has to laugh at his tenacity even as he’s knocking his lights out. There is some denial in this, sure, but the fact is, one of the secrets to life is “You are what you think you are.”
This is a game of inches. Everyone is looking for the edge. As Seahwaks WR Doug Baldwin said in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, “[A]t this level in the NFL, everybody is an athletic freak and there’s not much that differentiates us from the athletic side or standpoint. The mental game of it is what can ultimately give you an edge over the competition. So I’ve studied that as much as I could to make sure that I had every possible advantage in my toolbox.” He also talked in the interview about how he uses negative criticism to fuel improvement. If the criticism isn’t valid, then he does everything he can to go out there and prove them wrong. If there is some truth to what they are saying, he uses that information to correct and improve his performance.
Failing matters. Pain is important. It lets you know you are alive. It shows you your limits, so that you can try to push beyond them. And it teaches. I don’t know about you, but I am far more motivated by pain than pleasure. I gotta take a few licks before I’m forced to get up and really fight. And I took some this weekend against a good, high-scoring team. When debating who to put in as my flex, I happened to pick the one guy out of four who only scored one point. The other three who stayed on the bench would have won the game for me. It was a bad call, and also a bit of shitty luck. I mean, I know I’m not special. Every week, it happens to at least one of us. But my point is that I failed by settling for what I thought was a decent floor, a basic 10-12 points off of high volume against a tough run defense. I knew the others had higher upside, but they seemed riskier because of their spotty records, and I just hoped hoped that my studs would carry the rest of the weight.
So I kicked the extra point instead of the two-point conversion, and I paid for it. Sometimes the extra point is the way to go. But sometimes minimizing risk is actually the riskiest play of all. Against a lower scoring team, I still would have won pretty easily. But at that score level, I needed that edge, and I didn’t take it. Well, hindsight is one thing that is perfect, but it’s the kind of perfection that is useless except in helping you shape the future.
Certainly, that appears to mean Fuck the so called experts. Go with your gut. Trust your guys.
We’re all losers. Losing and loss, like entropy, is the natural state of being. Life is one epic, beautiful state of decay. The key is to embrace it while also transcending it. That is the heart of what makes us spiritual, transformative, badass beings. In 2014, I started my first fantasy football season 1-4. It seemed like no matter what I did I lost. I was so irritated by it that I nearly quit, but after a few deep breaths, I talked myself out of it. I resolved to finish what I had started, even if it meant losing all the rest of my 8 games. I had to embrace what it meant to be a loser, an idea that on the surface I couldn’t stand, but it was the only thing I could do. I had to remind myself over and over that the only real failure is giving up. At the same time, I still had to surrender. Surrender to the cosmic forces beyond my control. My only job was to give it my all, and leave the rest to the universe.
Chop wood. Carry water. Let god take care of the results.
Of course, by embracing my loserness, but not giving into it, from that moment on I won every single game after that except one, and went on to take the championship. That was both a blessing and a curse, I suppose. If I’d turned in a losing season, I probably would have given up this sordid, gut-wrenching hobby for good, and I might be free from spending so much time thinking about what is essentially a complicated form of sports gambling. My Sundays would be spent doing other things, free from the tension and angst that comes from watching people beyond my control doing impossible, chaotic, magical, terrible, amazing acts that decide my (imaginary) team’s fate. But then I’d be missing the opportunity to experience this rollercoaster of winning and losing, this joy and impotent frustration. I’d be missing out on a clear microcosm of life itself. Beneath all the grime, hurt, sadness, disappointment, messiness, savagery, brokenness, injustice, and boredom of life, in every fool and loser and invisible person, there beats the heart of a champion.
In every one of us.
We are all buddhas. We are all gods. We are all losers. We are all cockroaches.
We are all motherfuckin champions.
Don’t forget it.
Now who’s up next for the Fuckwads? Ima beat yer sorry ass, LOSER!
Go get ’em Geeks.
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