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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Heartbreaking Upsets

I was born ten weeks before Junior Seau, and I was just a stupid, clueless kid attending the University of North Texas when I first learned about Seau's unrelenting and ferocious style of play at the University of Southern California. I did not follow the Chargers avidly when I was in graduate school, but whenever I caught an interview with Seau, I could not help thinking to myself, "If I had actually become a professional athlete, I would not have been able to handle my own success with anything approaching the grace and humility of that extraordinary linebacker." Now it is June of 2012. I am a stupid, clueless man--and Seau has been lost to the world.

I listened to radio coverage of Seau's suicide the day the news story broke. The first thing commentators wanted to discuss was the suspicion that he had shot himself in the chest instead of the head in order to allow his brain to be studied for damage caused by multiple concussions. The second thing they wanted to discuss was a lot of theorizing and armchair psychologizing about what would drive one of the most beloved and successful sports stars of the past two decades to take his own life. And the third thing they wanted to discuss was how difficult it was to transition from the topic of Seau's death to the stiff penalties meted out by the NFL to New Orleans Saints players, coaches, and management in the wake of the "Bountygate" scandal.

I felt sorry for the commentators. There was no graceful way for them to move from Seau's death to Bountygate--no transition from a suicide to a scandal that could strike the listeners as anything but callous and unfeeling, perhaps even base and insulting.

But life does go on, and the commentators had a professional responsibility to talk about other sports news--even though it was obvious that some of them considered Seau a personal friend and would like to have dedicated their entire broadcast to a discussion of his impeccable work ethic, his irresistible charisma, his numerous charitable activities off the field, and his enduring sports legacy.

Unfortunately, human beings do not seem to have much of a capacity for talking about a person's most admirable qualities for any length of time. In one telephone interview after another, Seau's friends commented on his work ethic, his charisma, his charitable activities off the field, and the importance of his sports legacy. That took about thirty seconds to a minute in each case.

But then they kept talking. They explained how difficult it is for retired athletes to switch from being the center of attention to living life as someone who "used to be" important. They speculated on Seau's emotional state. They guessed at what he must have been thinking. You could hear the surprise in their voices as they tried to explain Seau's suicide not to the people listening, but to themselves.

In an article published by ("Justified or not, Seau's death puts football under scrutiny again"), Andy Staples responded to Seau's suicide by rehashing some of the most pervasive concerns about concussions for football players at any level (from little league to the NFL), but the part of his article I like best is the introduction, in which he writes: "We don't know why one of the greatest linebackers of his generation shot himself in the chest . . . We don't know."

We don't know. And we never will. I suppose there isn't any harm in speculating about what Seau may have been thinking or feeling in his final moments, but there are probably more satisfying ways of honoring his memory.

If your fantasy football league is doing anything to honor Junior Seau, who spent his professional career being one of the classiest athletes of this or any other generation, I would like to hear about it. Are you sending a portion of your purse to one of the charities that Seau cherished and supported? Are you naming a trophy after him? If you're doing anything at all to commemorate his legacy, I hope to be able to share that with readers in this column. I realize that fantasy leagues based in Southern California, where Seau made a name for himself both as a Trojan and a Charger, are the ones most likely to honor him. But some Charger fans may be surprised to discover how beloved Seau was throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.


Heartbreaking Upsets

In my final column for the 2011 season, I featured three fantasy upsets that should never have happened. These were head-to-head playoff or championship matches in which a marginal fantasy team somehow managed to overcome an opposing team filled with studs and consistent performers.

As I expected, more responses from readers drifted into my email account over the offseason. A lot of them came from fantasy owners who were shocked to lose their championship games because they overestimated the strength of their own teams. I understand the disappointment many of these owners felt when they lost, but the teams that defeated them were, in many cases, solid or even strong squads that might have been favored to win in the opinion of some fantasy experts.

A reader named Jordan, for example, explains how disappointing it was for his team (with 11 wins) to lose to a team that defied all odds to squeak into the playoffs with just 7 victories. Jordan may have managed his team much better throughout the season than his opponent did, but a quick eyeballing of the two starting lineups shows that there was solid talent in most skill positions on both rosters:

 My Team (11-1)
Player FPts
Tom Brady 31.0
Ray Rice 11.2
Darren Sproles 21.2
Dwayne Bowe 4.9
Julio Jones 15.1
Antonio Brown 8.9
Jimmy Graham 12.0
Dallas D/ST 5.0
Billy Cundiff 2.0
Total: 111.3
 His Team (7-6)
Player FPts
Tony Romo 32.7
Adrian Peterson 6.0
LeSean McCoy 26.7
Miles Austin 11.3
Plaxico Burress 6.9
Jabar Gaffney 8.5
Dustin Keller 7.3
Lions D/ST 4.0
Stephen Gostkowski 11.0
Total: 114.4

I think what bothers me the most is my team had so many chances to put up points and didn’t: Brady failed to sneak in from the 1 twice that week, Rice didn’t score that week, Spoles had one called back, Brown had been one of my more consistent players and he didn't put up, Cundiff missed a FG...Plaxico got a garbage time TD for him...McCoy scored 3 against the Jets D...ohh the frustration.

I understand Jordan's frustration, but it is hard for me to see this matchup as pitting a bunch of scrubs against a squad of studs. Jordan's MVP of the season was presumably Ray Rice--the top RB in most fantasy leagues for 2011. But his opponent's MVP is almost certainly LeSean McCoy--the second-ranked RB according to most scoring methods. Brady is a better QB than Romo in the real world, but in terms of fantasy productivity, there are plenty of weeks when we would expect them to be about equal, just as they were in this matchup from Week 15 of the 2011 season. Peterson may not have lived up to expectations in 2011 even before the ACL/MCL injury, but he certainly wasn't a scrub. When I look at the lineups Jordan mailed to me, I see two teams that both feature strong QBs and RBs along with solid (if unspectacular) receivers. I might have expected Jordan to win this matchup, but it hardly stuns me to discover that the other team edged him out.

A reader named David, however, sent me the rosters of two consecutive upsets that occurred in his league. He called these matches "double-whammy upset specials":

Our league this year was set up, playoff-wise, for 6 teams (four division winners and two wildcards), with the top two teams on a bye the first week. In the preliminary round, the bottom two seeds [both pulled off upsets. The first,] a 7-7 wildcard defeated a 9-4-1 division winner. [The second, our] version of the 2010 Seahawks (a division winner with a lackluster 6-8 record) beat a 10-3-1 wildcard.

On to the semifinals, where the two teams with a bye are projected as pretty heavy favorites. I'd been struggling late, as I had three starting running backs (Fred Jackson, DeMarco Murray, and Matt Forte) all go down with injury and end up on IR. Still, I back-filled their spots pretty well (although Roy Helu fell victim to the injury bug too). I went into Sunday afternoon's late game with the following matchup:

 My Team (11-2-1)
Pos Player
QB Tony Romo
RB Arian Foster
RB C.J. Spiller
RB/WR Santana Moss
WR Calvin Johnson
WR Steve Smith (CAR)
TE Greg Olsen
D/ST Denver
K Jason Hanson
 My Opponent (7-7)
Pos Player
QB Matthew Stafford
RB Beanie Wells
RB Ryan Grant
RB/WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
WR Dez Bryant
WR Malcom Floyd
TE Tony Gonzalez
D/ST Tennessee
K Stephen Gostkowski

I watched Romo walk off the field with a hand injury after the first Cowboys series in the late afternoon game, and I knew my shot at a championship was done. 0 points in the QB slot. Final score, 84-67. Late season injuries killed my season.

An even bigger upset, though, occurred in the other semifinal game. Our joke-of-a-division-winner team, at 6-8, managed to beat the one team in the league that had steamrolled through the season and hadn't been hit badly by the injury bug:

 The 12-1-1 Juggernaut Team
Pos Player
QB Aaron Rodgers
RB LeSean McCoy
RB Darren Sproles
RB/WR Ahmad Bradshaw
WR Wes Welker
WR Mike Wallace
TE Rob Gronkowski
D/ST Green Bay
K Mason Crosby
 The FF Version of the 2010 Seahawks
Pos Player
QB Rex Grossman
RB Steven Jackson
RB Kahlil Bell
RB/WR Kevin Smith
WR Brandon Marshall
WR Jabar Gaffney
TE Jason Witten
D/ST Seattle
K Alex Henery

The mostly patchwork team won 110-104. The two worst playoff teams matched up for a Week 17 championship game. I guess that's what we get for going with a Week 17 championship game... I'm thinking it's bad mojo.

Now David's matchups are more of what I had in mind. If I have Arian Foster to your Ryan Grant; if I have Calvin Johnson to your Dez Bryant; if I have Aaron Rodgers to your Rex Grossman; if I have Welker and Wallace (who finished 4th and 7th among 2011 receivers) to your Marshall and Gaffney (who finished 12th and 30th), then yes--I do expect to win! And most people would share that expectation.

Thanks for sharing your double-whammy upset David, even if it is heartbreaking just to look at those last two rosters in light of the final score. If I had Rodgers, McCoy, Sproles, Welker, Wallace, and Gronkowski as my primary players (as did the 12-1-1 team above), then I would expect to beat just about anyone, but I would have guaranteed myself a victory against the 6-8 team on the right.

David, your league wins the "Heartbreak Upset of 2011" award from me, Mike Davis. There is no certificate or cash prize, but this award is not easy to come by. The rigorous nomination process requires fantasy football players to go through the grueling first step of cutting and pasting FF scores into an email message, which then, despite all of the perils involved, must be sent to my yahoo account. All submissions are subjected to ferocious review by a panel of exactly one judge (yours truly) working tirelessly (thanks in large part to frequent naps!) under stringent timelines (from say about mid-December of 2011 to mid-June of 2012 or so). At the conclusion of this review process, after unstinting and painstaking research (i.e. an alcohol-stained recollection that Gronkowski was the top tight end in 2011), the Q&A column of FFToday, with neither the authorization of the website nor the endorsement, support, or even the passing interest of editor Mike Krueger, must formally recognize the unnamed owner of the 12-1-1 juggernaut team mentioned above as truly having been the most robbedest of them all.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.