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Defining Demoralization

They say that anything can happen on any given Sunday in the NFL. They're right, of course. And the fact that anything can happen is precisely what most of us love most about the game.

When I was 4-1, I didn't mind going to 4-2 after losing to another good fantasy team because it stands to reason that if anything can happen, even fantasy owners as accomplished and ingenius as myself will lose to lesser owners from time to time. My love for the NFL and fantasy football continued through the next week, when 4 players on my 16-player roster were unavailable because of their byes. I lost. But I didn't mind losing to a better team because it was, after all, a better team. And since anything could have happened, I never gave up hope. (My opponent's kicker was Martin Gramatica. Since I was only down by 6 points, I went into the Monday Night game in week 6 hoping for six missed field goals/extra points. And everything Gramatica did right early only meant that he would have to add to the number of things he would do wrong in the end. He disappointed me, of course.)

The next week I lost to the only undefeated team in my league. Even with the mighty Kurt Warner on my side and a career day from Rod Smith, there was little my players could do in the face of Marshall Faulk's stellar performance vs. Atlanta. I was 4-4. But I still loved the NFL and the fact that anything could happen. After all, I was going to get to play 2 games in week 8. And I intended to win both of them.

One of my opponents, the one with a record of 1-7, sent me his lineup on Tuesday. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. With most of his running backs off for the week, he had to go with a run-and-shoot. His fourth receiver was going to be Rocket Ismail (who, I mused, could only catch a ball if Troy Aikman threw it to someone other than a defensive back). Even worse, his sole runningback was Brian Mitchell. And as if that were not enough, he intended to start the wretched Cade McNown at QB. As a fairly alert fantasy player, I am always relieved to see a name on an opponent's roster that I do not recognize. And that was the case with his kicker, K. Brown. I didn't even know whether the K was for Kevin or Keith or Kris. I had to do a search to find out that he played for Pittsburgh. I was not at all worried.

As far as I could tell, he was going to have to beat me with his three primary receivers: Harrison, Carter, and Morris. I knew that a good day for Morris would be possible against the Rams defense. But frankly I felt very good about New England's ability to shut down Peyton Manning and guessed that Carter would have an average day against the underrated Buffalo Bills.

How could his 3-man crew best my roster of 8. I had a real quarterback in Kurt Warner, not some Chicago poser. I had Tyrone Wheatley running against the sieve-like Seattle defense. Moreover, I had the fairly dependable Ricky Watters as my second RB. At wide receiver, I expected Rod Smith to do well against the Bengals, Donald Hayes to have a nice day vs. the terrible 49er defense, and Joe Horn to be adequate vs. Atlanta. My receivers, as a group, weren't nearly as good as his. But at least I had a few other players to go with them. I wasn't merely confident; I was completely unconcerned.

But then the games got underway. When Warner went out with a broken finger, it was bad. But even worse was the 70 yard TD run by Ricky Watters that was called back on a penalty. When I flipped over to the Steeler game, I saw that this K. Brown character had kicked five field goals (the number a kicker needs in order to get his bonus in my league). And whenever I flipped through the other channels, it seemed as if all of my opponents' receivers were simultaneously catching touchdowns. (Needless to say, my other opponent, who had a roster of 8 real players, trounced me.)

I have had better rosters available in past weeks. But this week I thought my lineup was solid--certainly solid enough to dispatch the likes of Cade McNown and Brian Mitchell. I am not supposed to be 4-6. My players are better than that. I am a better owner than that. Not knowing what else to do, I called Tony Dungee so that the two of us could discuss the ways we might help our teams out of their respective funks. But we didn't really talk; we just sobbed uncontrollably. I had to hang up on Tony when Tom Coughlin showed up at my door with Vince Tobin in a playful headlock and a bottle of Chivas in his free hand.

We tried to cheer each other up. But somehow it isn't enough to receive support from other losers. Tony, Tom, Vince and I have decided to request the support of football fans everywhere. We will be accepting flowers and chocolates (along with condolence cards) sent to our homes. If you choose not to send gifts, please feel free to make charitable donations in our names. If you're not a part of the NFL, maybe you have to play fantasy ball to understand what demoralization really means in the NFL: It means knowing that on any given Sunday, anything can happen--except for a win by your team.