Fantasy Football For Poets: Week 3

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THIS CHARMING MAN

We are entering the third week of the 2013 NFL season, and Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett already has as many touchdowns, three, as all of the Bears tight ends, combined, had in 2012. He made what is, so far, the most physically challenging, gorgeous catch of the year last week against the Vikings, when he threw his his 6’5” body into the rainy Midwestern air, and extended his right arm into the sky.

His quarterback, Jay Cutler, had applied all of his torque and furious arm strength into placing a football at a height where only Martellus could conceivably catch it, and hurled this cold, fiercely rigid, wet object at a speed that, if your high school gym teacher was standing in the end zone, body squared towards Cutler, waiting for the ball, it would break your gym’s teacher’s hands.

With a single, outstretched palm, Martellus pulled this football from the air like a sock out of the dryer, lifted it paternally to his chest, and tumbled out of the end zone onto a camera operator, where he lay, like Cool Hand Luke, exhausted by a feat both incredible and meaningless.

Martellus went on to score two touchdowns that day, and this was not one of them. He was out of bounds on the play – there was no catch, no number in the box score to recognize this, except for some modern sports statisticians who credited him with a target—a pass intended for him—but not a catch. In baseball terms, it was the most beautiful swing and miss I’d ever seen; it was the physical apotheosis of failure as fine art.

We as an audience often console ourselves with the speculation that the men and women we witness executing these acts are communicants of a devoted physical culture beyond our means or comprehension. This is all that these people do, we tell ourselves. They cannot have meaningful lives; it is a novelty if they say anything besides a sports cliché in an interview, and the ones who do have a presence outside of their sport often seem like bad prototypes of either Flavor Flav or Tim McGraw. This is what makes the phenomenon of Martellus Bennett, at last, so bizarre.

Eleven Things To Think About When You Watch Martellus Bennett:

1. Sitting on what appears to be his front steps, he recorded a You Tube rap song about Cap’n Crunch cereal that begins “I love Cap’n Crunch / It’s my favorite kind of lunch” and ends with him pouring two boxes of it on his head.

2. His business card reads “Visionary Architect.” He keeps a notebook by his bed for both ideas and poetry. One of his ideas is a round table for children with built-in cup holders. Another is a nearly completed science-fiction novel he likens to Narnia and Harry Potter.

3. On the subject of children, he also wrote a children’s book about a family of bees called The Wannabees. The pages, he explains, are blank, so the readers can simply draw whatever they imagine the characters to look like. “You see?” he told the New York Times. “It’s written by me, but illustrated by you.”

4. He named his dog Sebastian Janikowski, after, one assumes, the kicker for the Oakland Raiders, a team he has never played for.

5. Like many athletes, he is interested in a career in television when his playing days are over, but not in broadcast sports. “Bill Nye the Science Guy was awesome,” he tells the Times. “I would love to have a show like that some day.”Martellus-Bennett-SSC-TATS

6. His self-given nicknames include “Martysaurus Rex” and “Black Unicorn.” “One day I had on black tights, I was running down the field, and I felt like a unicorn,” he says. “I didn’t feel like a horse. I felt like a unicorn. It’s magical.”

7. He’s actually not that crazy about unicorns. “I prefer dinosaurs, honestly,” he said.

8. When he first signed with the Chicago Bears, his initial statement was “I’m excited to be a Chicago Bear. Bears are one of my favorite animals– after dinosaurs. I don’t think there are any dinosaurs in the NFL, so a Bear is a good thing to be.”

9. He doesn’t like the Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire,” which he often heard in the locker room while playing for the Dallas Cowboys. “This is [Cowboys quarterback Tony] Romo’s favorite,” Martellus explains. “A lot of the black guys hate it but the white guys – even the trainers – love this stuff. Romo and [Cowboys tight end Jason] Witten and a lot of the guys will sing along. It’s pretty funny; it’s like how we get into it when we hear our favorite rap song. So it’s cool. I just shake my head. It reminds me of The Beverly Hillbillies.”

10. Nor does he care for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. [Cowboys halfback] “Marion Barber plays Bone Thugs-n-Harmony all day long,” Bennett said. “It’s like all he has are Bone Thug CDs. We are always saying, ‘Cut that off!’ But he always keeps playing it. Nobody else likes them.”

11. He is a TE1 lock for the rest of the year and he will be healthy enough to play in Sunday evening’s game against the Steelers. If you watched A.J. Green get shut down by Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor on Monday, you know that the Bears will have to look for other targets beyond Brandon Marshall. Ride the Black Unicorn.

I STARTED SOMETHING I COULDN’T FINISH

My irresponsible prediction of the week is that former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, now in his first year as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, will win in his return to a city that booed him out of town, booed his drafting of an quarterback who went on to become the all-time franchise record holder for wins and touchdowns, booed Santa Claus, intentionally vomited on an 11-year old girl, cheered career-ending injuries, threw batteries at the head of their baseball team’s first black player, and has a dog-killer at quarterback and a racist at wide receiver.

We want Andy to win. Well, most of us outside Eastern Pennyslvania and parts of Jersey do, anyway. So why does watching this game to root for Andy Reid feel like watching Breaking Bad to root for Hank?

There are great forces of evil at play here. When I think of how the Eagles’ fanbase has been notoriously cruel for generations, I think of a quote from James Baldwin. “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them,” he writes. “They must, they have no other models. That is exactly what our children are doing. They are imitating our immorality, our disrespect for the pain of others.”

That’s why the previous Eagles stadium had a courtroom and a jail.

I WANT THE ONE I CAN’T HAVE

The Fantasy Football Disappointment Report

JacksonConcussed-1(Note: for the uninitiated/disinterested, ADP means “Average Draft Position,” referring to what overall position the player was typically chosen at in a 12-team fantasy league, with “1” being the first player chosen overall, and so on)

C.J. Spiller (ADP: 5.2) Oh the sadness. Everyone said that THIS, at last, was the year that Spiller would escape from the tyranny of a timeshare with Fred Jackson, that 32-year old who’s surely on his last legs, and who was only in Buffalo at all because he attended the same obscure Iowa college as erstwhile Bills coach Marv Levy. You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done, because this situation is the same as it ever was.

Who you could’ve had instead: Marshawn Lynch, Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy

Trent Richardson (ADP: 9.7) Make it stop. Why does Richardson only have 31 rushes total over two games? Richardson is wasted in Cleveland. It’s like buying a wine fridge for your Sunny Delight. Maybe it will be even worse this week, when Jason Campbell starts at quarterback for the Browns, on the road at Minnesota. I guess I wish you all the best.

Who you could’ve had instead: Aaron Rodgers, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall

Stevan Ridley (ADP: 21.5) “The worst possible case of unrequited love was feeling abandoned by a parent,” Edwidge Danticat writes in her beautiful new novel, Claire of the Sea Light. The second worst possible case is being abandoned by Bill Belichick, which happened to Ridley in Week 1. The Patriots remain a pass-first team, even with almost no one left to pass to, which means that they simply get off the field quicker and score less. Until Tom Brady somehow makes stars out of KenBrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Zach Sudfeld, Stevan Ridley is going to be as much fun as the swimming pool at a pay-by-the-hour motel.

Who you could’ve had instead: Reggie Bush, Randall Cobb, Victor Cruz

Danny Amendola (ADP: 45.2) Everyone said, watch out for this guy, he always gets hurt. Yep.

Who you could’ve had instead: Jordy Nelson, Vernon Davis, DeSean Jackson

STILL ILL

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is perhaps the best at his position in the league today. Last year, Sherman led the Seahawks in interceptions (eight) and the NFL in passes defended (24). He earned more votes for the All-Pro team than any cornerback or safety in the league. He is the linchpin on a defense that has only allowed one touchdown this year.

About that touchdown, to Carolina receiver Steve Smith in Week 1: Smith was lined up in the slot in the red zone, not against Richard outside. With a linebacker covering him, Smith positioned himself in front of the end zone’s referee, effectively using the ref to pick off the linebacker just as Cam Newton threw Smith the ball. It was a savvy veteran move on Smith’s part, but more significantly, it did not happen on Richard Sherman’s watch.

Richard has always been a perfectionist. He was a straight-A student at Dominguez High School in Compton and was the first player from that school to earn a football scholarship to Stanford. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Richard’s father, Kevin, still gets up daily at 4 a.m. to drive a garbage truck. His mother, Beverly, works with disabled kids in the inner city. They were a rock-solid influence, but Richard was also phenomenally self-motivated.

“It didn’t seem like Richard even lived in the inner city,” the Dominguez coach told the Mercury News. “He read a lot. His vocabulary was totally different. He didn’t talk slang, and the other kids teased him about it.”

You think he’d get along with equally perfectionist coach Jim Harbaugh, now the San Francisco 49ers coach, and the coach of the Stanford program while Richard was a student there. It’s quite common for college coaches to continue to mentor their players into their NFL years and beyond.

Richard, however, regards Harbaugh as a “bully” who chafed him with a rough coaching style. “I think with any player, nobody loves to be dogged,” Richard told the Seattle Times. “There’s some hard coaching out there.”

Harbaugh may also have cost Richard millions of dollars. According to NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, Richard believes that Jim Harbaugh said bad things about him to NFL teams before draft day, which led to twenty-three other cornerbacks being chosen ahead of Richard, and his now-comparatively paltry salary for a player at his skill level.

“I don’t have a relationship with [Harbaugh],” the cornerback said during an appearance on NFL Network. “I don’t try to go any route with him. I don’t deal with him; he is not my coach. So I deal with what is going on in Seattle and I keep it there.”

Richard’s Seattle team defeated Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers last week, 29 – 3. During the game, Richard went out of his way to pat Jim Harbaugh on the butt. “I told him good job, good game, but he didn’t give me nothing back,” Sherman told NFL Network. “I guess sportsmanship doesn’t go both ways.”

“For seven daring and dangerous years, he indulged himself in that luxury called anger,” Borges wrote of Billy the Kid. Richard Sherman, just as feared, could last twice as long. Harbaugh will certainly get his revenge, and Richard will retaliate, in a dogfight between two perfectionists, former teacher and former student, each among the best in the world at what they do, actualized and glorious in their beautiful, public failure to ever completely dominate the other.


J. Ryan Stradal is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest and the forthcoming The Lager Queen of Minnesota. His shorter writing has appeared in Hobart, the Wall Street Journal, Granta, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other places. More from this author →