Fantasy in the arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”                                Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena”

Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become his most famous speech of his career more than a century ago. The former president—who left office in 1909 – had spent a year hunting in Central Africa before embarking on a tour of Northern Africa and Europe, attending events and giving speeches in places like Cairo, Berlin, Naples, and Oxford. He stopped in Paris on April 23 to deliver a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” which would come to be known as “The Man in the Arena.”

A sickly child with asthma, Roosevelt overcame his health problems with a fiery disposition. His exuberant personality and a vast range of interests and achievements made him a character who was bigger than life. Two years after he gave this speech he was shot in the chest by a saloonkeeper while campaigning in Milwaukee. He assured his friends and political cronies he was fine, in spite of the blood, and delivered his speech.  He spoke for 90 minutes before accepting medical attention.

I want to be like Teddy, living my life in the arena, striving with my last ounce of courage until the battle is won, or lost. At the end of my life, my feats will pale in comparison to Roosevelt. But I want to be remembered as a man who didn’t quit in spite of the obstacles and hardships I face. I lost my wife when I was 32, and I raised two small boys as a single parent after losing my job the same year. I started a new career and a new business the following year. Somehow, I stayed on my feet.

So, three paragraphs into this column, you might be wondering what these ruminations have to do with fantasy football. If you’re competing in a league in 2020, it’s almost certain that you’ve had to overcome significant setbacks this season. For me, it was the quick decline of Ezekiel Elliott, beginning in Week 6, which came two weeks after Nick Chubb hit the IR. That’s my top two draft picks doing little, or nothing, respectively for my home league team for more than a month.

Somehow, I made it to 6-2, but then I suffered three straight losses. Everything seems to be going wrong. James Conner, my third-round pick, had three straight clunkers as his volume dropped sharply. The reason was his quarterback began throwing the ball more than 40 times a game. Ben Roethlisberger inexplicably threw the ball 46 times in each of the last two games – in spite of holding huge leads in games against the Bengals and Jaguars. The key word is inexplicable.

It wasn’t just my running back woes that led to the longest losing streak I’ve suffered since 2017. Calvin Ridley, my WR1, got hurt in Week 8 and didn’t return until last week. My quarterback, Tom Brady, managed only 2.36 fantasy points in Week 9. I benched him in Week 10 after acquiring Lamar Jackson, but Terrific Tom got the last laugh. He put up 31.84 that week. That same week, Robert Woods had 8.60 points, so I benched him in Week 11 and he put up 30.60 points.   

Woods is not the only unpredictable wide receiver on my team. Look up the definition of unpredictable in the fantasy football dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of JuJu Smith-Schuester. I benched him early in the season after two single-digit games. That was back when Big Ben only threw the ball 25 or 30 times a game. With the ascent of Diontae Johnson and Chase Pool, there were too many mouths to feed. After two straight 20+ games, I put Smith-Schuester back in my starting lineup last week, and he got only 5.9. With the air full of footballs, JuJu was targeted only five times.

You get the picture because you have your own war stories to recount. Perhaps, you drafted Saquon Barkley with the second pick of the draft and lost him in Week 2 to a torn ACL. Or, you drafted Christian McCaffrey and have been blessed with his presence in your starting lineup only three times this season.  My son drafted Elliott, Joe Mixon and Austin Ekeler in the first three rounds of a draft and has been scrambling to find players to fill his running back slots the entire season.

If you read this column, you know I’m a huge advocate for hitting the waiver wire. I have worked the waiver wire the same way Lyndon Johnson told his constituents to vote – early and often. In Week 10, I had Duke Johnson at flex, and he had 5.40 points. I benched him in Week 11 and dropped him after another single-digit game. I picked up Travis Fulgham on the waiver wire in an ESPN league and enjoyed some good games before he inexplicably put up 1.8 points the last two weeks. 

Whatever has happened to you, so far, has happened. But if you’re no worse than 5-6 right now, you are still standing. But what you do now matters most. Don’t panic. If a player with a proven track record has underperformed, you need to understand why he’s underperformed. For example, Elliott had four subpar games in a row after Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury. But things stabilized a bit last week with Andy Dalton, and Zeke put up 19.4 points.

It’s possible that your war stories haven’t been that bad so far. Notice that I said so far because the season isn’t over yet. Last year, I played a team in the finals in an ESPN league that wYas 12-1. My team was 8-5 during the regular season, but I beat him easily in the two-week finals because my team peaked at the right time. If you’re on top in the standings, the last thing in the world you should do is get complacent. Always be looking for ways to improve your team.  

You are standing right now in the arena of fantasy football. Your face may be covered with sweat and blood. Don’t give up! You must keep a calm head and continue to strives valiantly until you have won the championship, or have been eliminated in your effort. There’s no time to work, or play, or sleep. Grab a cup of coffee and make those difficult roster decisions for Week 12. If you come up short, you must only fail while daring greatly in your quest for the Holy Grail.                                 

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter at ThomasLSeltzer1.

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