Fantasy football draft weekends have certain rituals that cannot be avoided. Keep the sports magazines close at hand. Test the connection to the draft website. Make sure the caffeine is well-charged.
And this year, there’s one added detail. Cross Andrew Luck off the quarterback list.
If you’ve paid even one scintilla of attention to the sports world lately, you know what I’m talking about. Luck, the highly-talented and often-battered 29-year-old quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts finally decided that he had taken one injury too many and retired.
“It’s taken the joy out of the game,” he acknowledged in a hasty press conference about a week ago.
The decision drew boos from the fans in the stands. No surprise. Fans are notorious for calling on players to tough it out and earn their paycheck. Players with a history of frequent injuries often get wisecracks rather than sympathy (I still remember Chris Chandler becoming “Crystal Chandelier”) and musings on how the old school would have kept going with one leg and no arms, uphill, through a snowstorm, both ways.
Players know better. They should. They’re the ones who take the shots, who have to decide how much pain is enough.
All for the game. You know, that thing that’s supposed to be fun?
If there’s no joy in a game, why are you playing it? Whatever the score, you yourself are bound to lose.
Oddly, that’s when my mind went back to the 1980s. No, not to the horrific Joe Theismann injury. To Matthew Broderick.
Some of you may remember the film War Games, about a teenager who accidentally hacks into NORAD’s supercomputer and nearly triggers World War III. The final scenes are well known, where the computer runs scenario after scenario of global thermonuclear war – from the most predictable strategies to the least likely incidents – and comes up with the same result every time: No winner.
“A strange game,” the computer concludes. “The only winning move is not to play.”
In short, the computer had to be taught the concept of futility. That some games cannot be won. That some battles have to be walked away from rather than fought.
It doesn’t take a silicon genius to learn that. Or an NFL superstar.
In fact, if you have any kind of chronic illness – physical or mental – you likely have learned that constantly.
Regular readers may remember that my wife Heather has a number of chronic illnesses. The list includes Crohn’s disease, MS, and ankylosing spondylitis (the last of which is guaranteed to crash any spell-checker on the planet). She’s accomplished a lot despite all that, including being a wonderful mom to our disabled ward Missy.
But she has to pick her battles.
It took me a while to learn that as a young husband. Like a lot of people – including a few football fans – I thought that if you pushed hard enough, you could make anything happen. That disappointment would only make matters worse.
I know better. A lot better.
Sometimes all the effort does is leave you in the same situation, but with less energy and more pain.
You have to know when the game is worth playing.
This isn’t a recipe for despair. For me, hope is one of the most powerful virtues there is, and hope requires work and commitment to be more than just vague optimism. But hope needs to be paired with judgment.
And if the judgment is that you’re starting a chess game with just three pawns, one king, and a knight, then you’re better off leaving the board and looking for a deck of cards.
So you have my best wishes, Mr. Luck. May you find joy in the path ahead.
And since you’re free – have you got any good fantasy football tips?