by Kevin Burton
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, the Greek philosopher who was said to have driven people to distraction with his constant questioning.
“There were times where I feel like I was just out there thinking too much instead of just playing instinctual football. It’s definitely something that I’ve been trying to work on here, just go out there and let it run,” said Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
Both thinkers, with their differing approaches, are on my mind this week as I head improbably, to the fantasy football playoffs. Both contributed greatly to my ongoing season as a most unlikely playoff manager.
I eulogized my fantasy season last week on Page 7 “Here’s My Farewell To Fantasy Football,” Dec. 15). But a funny thing happened on the way to my team’s demise, we won!
Fantasy football is about examining everything, statistics, injuries, opponents, weather, coaches, to death, at least it was for me in my first year. But it was Kelce with his just-let-it-run approach that got me to the playoffs.
We were 19-point underdogs going into the week. But in a Thursday night overtime win against the Chargers, Kelce scored more than twice as many fantasy points us expected. That put the game back into play. Through Sunday I led by 20 points.
Monday night I sweated as my opponent’s Minnesota stars, running back Dalvin Cook and wideout Justin Jefferson, took the lead away from us. But the two were merely good, not great, and my team was down only four points going into Tuesday, when I had feared we would be down 20.
If I were buying a jersey to commemorate the win, it would be Kelce’s. If I were to buy a second one it would be that of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson who did next to nothing in his Tuesday night game to help my opponent. The result was a 113-100 win that I didn’t see coming.
So “Cel-e-brate” good times with Kool and the Gang for sure, but Socrates would ask, what does it all mean?
“Socrates was teaching the need to live a life where all things are parsed for their meaning. A life lived on auto-pilot, following the great mass of humanity, takes most of life for granted,” writes South African pastor and blogger David de Bruyn. “It is a life lived without reflection, without much meditation, and consequently, without much understanding.”
If I understand this correctly, that means not just following the Bengals like some common face-painting, towel waving fan, but knowing which running back to pick up if Joe Mixon is injured.
A part of me feels I should apply Socratic thinking and reasoning to something more lastingly relevant than the status of running back Tony Pollard’s foot injury. But this is where the competition thing kicks in. Fantasy fuels it. This competition gene, is it an unconquerable curse?
Consider: I had myself convinced that I was “just happy to be here,” accepting of a playoff berth as accomplishment enough for a manager who knew nothing of how to build or manage a team or even how to use the draft software before the season started.
Then comes Thursday morning. I find out I didn’t get all the waiver players I wanted because a consolation bracket exists and those players got waiver claims for the post-season too along with the top teams.
That is wrong, I thought. But wait a minute, these are not the musings of a just happy-to-be-here guy. These are the grumblings of a competitor on overdrive. How did it all come to this?
I talked to Rob Weigand, the league commissioner and the one who set me up for this splendid misery. He just laughed.
“I know how competitive you are and that you can’t resist a challenge,” he said. “I kind of suspected you would and hoped you would get hooked.”
I love Michael Jordan for his competitiveness. Not everyone gets his superior athletic ability. But that will to compete, that attention to detail, that focus. That is available to all who will put in the work.
So my team has a semi-final this week, either a championship final or a third-place game next week.
Rob says we will have the league back next year. Sometime between now and then I will need to find a way to one, limit myself to one or two layers of player analysis instead of seven or eight, and two, stop second-guessing myself so much.
Otherwise I will wind up with my life being examined not by philosophers or sports pundits, but by psychologists.