Wednesday, December 28, 2011

General Sherman

In the episode of The Simpsons titled, "The War of the Simpsons", Homer and Marge host a cocktail party at which Homer gets overtaken by the drink and subsequently tells off one of his guests (whom he has never met before), quits his job, ogles some breasts, puts a lampshade on his head and then passes-out flat on his back in the middle of the living room prompting Dr. Hibbert to tell Marge on his way out the door, "if you want him to live through the night, I suggest you roll him onto his stomach."

"No, no, no . . . I want the
ones on the bottom."
After the guests have left, Marge stands over Homer berating him and they have the following epic exchange:

Marge: "I've never been so embarrassed in my whole life."

Homer: "Why, what'd you do? (and then passes out again)."

The next day, it is decided (by Marge) that she and Homer should attend a marriage counseling retreat hosted by Reverend Lovejoy at a lake. On the drive up, Homer stops at a gas station to secretly buy bait so he can go fishing during the retreat and, while in the store, he learns of a legendary fish in the lake that many have unsuccessfully tried to catch called "General Sherman." Homer announces to the shock and awe of the store's regulars that he will catch General Sherman and proceeds to blow-off the second day of the retreat while successfully doing so.

Suffice it to say Marge is not pleased and she greets Homer at the dock to tell him that the fish is symbolic of his selfishness. He responds that the fish will actually mean a better life for both of them further explaining...

Homer: "But Marge! If I catch this fish, I'll be a hero, respected and admired for years!"

Marge: "BY whom?"

Homer: "Those weirdos down at the worm store!"

And with that, the writers of The Simpsons perfectly summed-up fantasy football right down to the fact that Homer sings his own rendition of Queen's We are the Champions as he rows back to the dock with General Sherman on board (We are the Champions). You see it's not about catching the fish. It's about being the GUY who caught the fish and being forever admired by the weirdos down at the worm store. 

What day did God create the
Fantasy Golf Report and couldn't
he have just rested instead?
I've caught a few fish in my time. Four to be exact (we're talking about fantasy football now because I don't go fishing. I only get up that early to play golf). But I had never caught General Sherman. The Holy Grail of fantasy football. That's right. The undefeated season. This year I had a shot. Entering week 16, I stood on the doorstep of immortality in my own mind and on the verge of having a story that would bore friends and acquaintances for years to come. (Warning: This is about to get more self-indulgent than The Gospel According to Spinal Tap).

I knew I was onto something early when my top four picks of Drew Brees, Calvin Johnson, Darren McFadden and Wes Welker all came out of the gate strong. LeGarrette Blount showed bust potential early but I had fortunately grabbed Fred Jackson in the next round and then took a flyer on Jimmy Graham as my tight end. I cruised through the first seven games riding Megatron's historic start but then McFadden went down with the worst kind of fantasy football injury - the one where your star player is literally day-to-day for 10 straight weeks and ultimately never sees the field again. Now that Fred Taylor has retired, we should just start calling this injury a "McFadden".

My closest scare came in Week 9 when Johnson had a bye, Fred Jackson struggled and the Chiefs gave me the dreaded -2 points by getting shellacked by a Dolphins team that was still vying for the number one pick in the draft. I eked out a two point win in a week where I would have only beaten 4 out of 12 teams. I got it rolling again in Week 10 and then lost Fred Jackson for the season. (Let's face it. Fred Jackson was just too good to be true. We all knew it and those of us who had him should be thankful for the nine week run). But then I caught another break as Drew Brees and Sean Payton started smelling records and Brees proceeded to reel off an epic flurry of fantasy points (39-28-24-37-27) averaging 3.6 touchdowns and 353 yards per game down the stretch. (I'm sure glad the Ravens didn't get involved in the Brees free agency negotiations because at some point, that 2005 shoulder injury is really going to come back to haunt the Saints).

The title game fittingly came down to me against the last team in the league I could handle losing to (yes, THAT team).  By this point, the rotting carcass of Legarrette Blount was no longer an option as a  starter so I had the following choices:  (1) roll the dice on Felix Jones gutting his way through a sore hamstring (you never want to start a guy who's less of a gamer than Chas Osbourne in Back to School), (2) roll the dice on Jeremy Maclin gutting his way through a sore hamstring (where's Kerri Strug when you need her?), and (3) going with the always ill-fated theory of starting Santana Moss to counter the fact that the other guy is starting Rex Grossman because you couldn't handle the devastating emotional fallout of losing while the other team's quarterback is throwing multiple touchdowns to a guy on your bench.  I went with option (3).

"Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!"
So it was Brees, Bush, Megatron, Welker, Moss, Graham, Bironas and the Titans D versus Grossman, Lesean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Hakeem Nicks, Julio Jones, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Nugent and the Texans D. Fortunately, the Texans D made Dan Orlovsky look like Roger Staubach  so I dodged a bullet, however, I still faced Grossman against a woeful Vikings defense, a ridiculous backfield of McCoy and Peterson and the scariest thing of all....the fantasy football beast that is Rob Gronkowski (has a tight-end ever had a seven game stretch comparable to his 42 catch, 687 yard, 10 touchdown bonanza?)  Every time they cut to the Patriots' game on Redzone, I had to look away.

Saturday started badly. Michael Bush could get nothing going against the same Chiefs defense that screwed me eight weeks earlier.  Grossman was throwing touchdowns but to Gaffney and Stallworth, not Moss (Stallworth?!?!). Peterson scored an early touchdown and Mike Nugent was literally lining-up for a field goal every five minutes. The only good news was that the Dolphins were all over Brady so that Gronkowski wasn't doing anything crazy (I would have taken a Gronkowski-Welker push in a heartbeat if offered).  Then just like that it slowly started to turn. It was subtle at first with Nugent missing two field goals for the first time all year and Bironas answering with a couple of his own (amazing how often the battle of the kickers decides these things). And then BAM....the tipping point. A yell from the basement, "Hey dad, they're carrying Adrian Peterson off the field."

Now anyone who loves football loves Adrian Peterson. (I always start sentences that are going to put me on shaky moral ground with "now"). In my lifetime, there have only been two speed/power backs who thrash like a shark when someone dares to try to tackle them: (1) Walter Payton and (2) Adrian Peterson. I wish it had it had just been a minor sprain but business is business and Peterson's torn ACL combined with Rex Grossman's two inevitable turnovers set the tone for the rest of the contest. In the afternoon games, Calvin Johnson outscored LeSean McCoy and Hakeem Nicks 19-6.  (I've started calling a certain part of my body "Megatron" in Calvin Johnson's honor. My wife is not amused. Especially when I tell her we need to get Megatron more involved in the game plan).

"I'm looking for an old cup, it's
probably guarded by a knight. 
Seen anything like that?"
So I entered Monday night up by 10 with one hand on the Grail and I had a quarterback on the verge of breaking one of the most hallowed records of all time along with his elite pass catching tight end. The other guy had a rookie receiver being thrown to by an above average quarterback. To me, it seemed like a recipe for disaster so when Jones caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter and the Saints seemed less than interested in covering him, I was sure I was going to lose. 

And then came one of those plays that convinces a guy in my position that he must have pissed on an Indian burial ground at some point in his life. 

Brees threw a pass that hit Graham in the hands in the back of the endzone and as I was rising off the couch to celebrate what likely would be the perfect season clinching play, I saw a Falcon kneeling with the ball. Huh? It turns out the ball popped out of Graham's hands and was going out of bounds when a defender slapped it back to one of his teammates in the endzone resulting in a 14 point reversal of fortune for me and a sudden shooting abdominal pain. The old tap the ball back to the guy in bounds play?  Are you fucking kidding me? That never works. At that point I couldn't watch anymore so I switched over to the last 45 minutes of Horrible Bosses (which was (a) much better than the first 45 minutes and (b) a clear indication that it's time to stop ripping-off The Hangover and find a new comedy crutch). When I went back to the game, I was able to fast forward right to a successful Brees-Graham touchdown connection which effectively sealed the deal. By the time Brees was finished shredding the Falcons' secondary, I had cruised home with the title 107-79. Never a doubt.

Nothing you fight this hard for
can be truly meaningless.  Can it?
Is it pathetic how much satisfaction I derive from this? Of course it is but I don't care. I caught General Sherman and for now I am a hero to the weirdos down at the worm store.  I will again defer to the professional writers to explain it.  As the The War of the Simpsons goes to credits, we see the bait store clerk regaling another customer with the legend of General Sherman:   

Clerk: "Yep, General Sherman.They say he's five hundred pounds of bottom-dwelling fury, don't you know. No one knows how old he is, but if you ask me, and most people do, he's hundred years if he's a day." 

Customer: "And, uh, no one's ever caught him?" 

Clerk: "Well, one fella did. Went by the name of Jerkstore.  Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel: cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red . . . like the fires of Hell!" 

Endnote


This Drunk Homer Simpson Montage includes Homer's recollection of the party the next morning (at 1:48) which hits pretty close to home.